The last game the Toronto Maple Leafs GM, Kyle Dubas and Director of Player Personelle, Dave Morrison, took in together was the Flyers vs the Coyotes. This time around they attended another game that features two teams that aren’t projected to make the playoffs, in the Columbus Blue Jackets and Vancouver Canucks.
Lets run through a few players that may be of interest to them from each team:
The easy answer here is that they were at the game to get a better look at Vladislav Gavrikov of the Blue Jackets. The 27 year old is bound to be on the move come deadline day and brings a lot of the elements that are missing from the teams blueline. At 6’3″, 213lbs, he’s a big man that plays a more defensive style of hockey. He’s comfortable on the left or the right and would look to boost the teams penalty killing unit. The rumoured price is similar to what Columbus reeled in for David Savard a couple of years ago from Tampa Bay, which was a 1st and a 3rd round pick, but I could see that price dropping a little in the coming weeks. It’s a big price for a rental defender in my opinion. Especially one that wouldn’t automatically draw into your top pairing, which is where the Leafs are really hurting right now.
Besides Gavrikov, there isn’t much to see when you look at the Jackets’ blueline. Some dark horse acquisitions exist, but, for the most part, they have younger defenders that will likely fit into their long term plans and Erik Gudbranson, who is signed for 3 more years at 4M per season, which is a little rich in my opinion. While looking at the Canucks it’s hard not to imagine the return of the Leafs’ former 5th over pick, Luke Schenn. Much like the additions of Zach Bogosian and Ilya Lyubushkin, Schenn would add an element of physicality that is sorely lacking from the lineup. Much like Gavrikov, he would look to bolster the penalty killing unit and add a veteran presence, but also like Gavrikov, I’m not sure he’s doing more than improving your depth when they really need a boost to the top of their ranks. It’s very unlikely that they get a legitimate top pairing defender though, so maybe I’ll give that a rest. Other possibilities exist on the Canucks roster, but all seem a little unlikely for one reason or another. Ethan Bear fits the mold of “defender that isn’t physical” that Dubas likes to add for the long term and would be a restricted free agent at seasons end. He was traded once this season already, for a 5th round selection, but his caphit was likely too high at the time for the Leafs to get into the mix. The Canucks got him with some retained salary and could retain once again. With a 1.8M cap hit, he could come in for the rest of the year with a very manageable price tag. Tyler Myers is also on the trade block and the Leafs could conceiveably fit him into their lineup. At 6’8″ 230lbs, he’s a towering defender that has more experience against other teams’ top players than anybody else listed so far. The knock is that he isn’t the same player he used to be. At 32 years old he has slown a little and the Canucks would have to eat half of his 6M caphit in order to entertain this type of trade. He’s constantly listed among the members of the team that the Canucks would like to move on from in order to re-tool and, as always, teams that aren’t going into a traditional rebuild don’t often want to part ways with their best players.
Of course that isn’t the case when talking about Bo Horvat. A player that has historically produced (or been on pace for) 55-65pts a season, Horvat is having a career year (31G, 54pts in 49GP). A contract extension with Vancouver seems unlikely at this point in time and it’s expected that he’ll be on the move before the final bell rings on deadline day. Horvat would likely slot in as the Leafs’ 2nd line centre, with John Tavares moving to left wing. The cost to acquire him would be high and retaining him after a career year would be costly, but as a pure rental it would be a great fit. Besides that, it would keep Horvat away from the Boston Bruins, who have been reported to have serious interest in him. There really isn’t another forward on the Canucks that would fit into the Leafs’ plans at this time in my opinion. Conor Garland is too expensive and signed for too long to justify talking about and the same can be said for Brock Boeser. A few short days ago I would have suggested Andrei Kuzmenko as an option, but he signed for 2 more seasons at a caphit of 5.5M, which should take him off the trade block.
The Columbus Blue Jackets are similar to the Canucks in the fact that they don’t have a ton in the way of tradable top-6 players, which is what the Leafs SHOULD be looking for. This is especially true now that Gustav Nyquist is out indefinitely with an upper-body injury (side note: Nyquist missed the entirety of the 2020-21 season after having shoulder surgery. For his sake we’ll hope this is something different). If they want to add depth, then Sean Kuraly or Eric Robinson could be good fits. Kuraly especially, as hes a big man that has some experience in the Stanley Cup Playoffs and can play a heavy game. Instead, I’ll talk about Boone Jenner once again. Big, physical, smart and versatile is the name of the game when talking about the Blue Jackets’ captain. He’s signed for 3 more seasons at a very reasonable 3.75M cap hit, can play C or LW, will draw in on the powerplay and can log some penalty kill minutes. He would be a fit as a 2C, 3C or 2LW and is one of the “glue guys” that every team needs an abundance of if they want to be successful. He carries an 8-team no-trade clause, but hailing from Ontario could mean the Leafs aren’t part of his list of teams he won’t accept a trade to. I’ve long maintained that Jenner is the ideal trade target for a team that wants to bolster their top 6 but are strapped for capspace. The cost to acquire would be higher than some would like, as he doesn’t carry the name brand of players such as Horvat or Kane, but he isn’t a rental and that matters.