Perhaps the biggest story heading into the NHL trade deadline in just twelve days is the way the league appears to be circling the carcass of the Colorado Avalanche like a bunch of vultures. Two major names – Landeskog and Duchene – are apparently in play, and as such, you can expect that duo to dominate coverage until the deadline passes.
As recently as yesterday, some rumblings started to come about regarding the Leafs and their interest in what the Avs might be selling. Until now we hadn’t really heard anything about Toronto being involved in something that big, or much of anything at all. Now they have their names thrown into the hat with most of the league, and those rumours only gained momentum last night with assistant GM Kyle Dubas and head of pro scouting Dave Morrison in Buffalo to see Colorado.
Tor. among teams with multi-scouts @ Buff. tonight to watch the sell-mode Avs, inc. Dave Morrison and Dubas. Leafs were in Denver last week.
— Lance Hornby (@sunhornby) February 17, 2017
But while this is all exciting and makes for great discussion and daydreaming, it’s difficult to imagine just how the Leafs could make something work for players of this caliber, especially considering how the current roster is structured.
Make no mistake, even with a less-than-stellar output this season, Duchene is the top prize here. He’s an elite player who often makes for a great highlight pack, and outside of the mediocrity of the Avalanche, he has the resume – appearances with Team Canada at the Olympics and World Cup of Hockey – to solidify his place as one of the premier skill-guys in the NHL.
But how can the Leafs make a play for a forward of that level? Any deal for Duchene would likely include names like Van Riemsdyk or Gardiner from the main roster, plus picks and prospects. Trading JVR would signal somewhat of a lateral move, but could be spun as an attempt to get speedier with Duchene, who might fit the style Babcock wants to play a bit more. Either way, between that option or trading a big piece from the blue-line, I just have a hard time seeing Lamoriello making that sort of franchise-shaking move without filling a major need.
Landeskog is an interesting case because while he’s also not producing at a high level (no one in Colorado is, really), it seems the Avs could be more desperate to move him. This reeks of a potential “change the culture” trade with the captain being the moving part.
Based on a likely much-lower acquisition cost, it’s easier to envision Landeskog in blue-and-white than Duchene. But again, there isn’t exactly a pressing need for another young winger in Toronto, and Colorado is going to want futures with the potential for big returns. It’s just another scenario that’s difficult to see the Leafs getting into.
What might make the most sense is that Toronto isn’t eyeing either of these two prime targets, and are looking further down the lineup. I’d actually wager more that they’re looking at buying low on Tyson Barrie, a right-handed top four defenceman who’s seen his usually-obscene offensive output limited this season on the heels of signing a brand new contract.
Barrie is in season one of a four-year deal that pays him $5.5-million AAV, and while the contract was looked upon as a tidy piece of business when it was signed, you can imagine the Avs getting a bit nervous about it as the wheels have come off the entire team this year. If they’re nuking this roster, Barrie will probably be in play as well, and swooping in to grab him for pennies on the dollar would be something for the Leafs to think about.
Barrie is in the middle of a down year, and there’s no other way to put it. His boxcar numbers are down a bit from his usual pace (a 40-point pace this season compared to the 51-point pace of the past three seasons), and his underlying numbers have also suffered, as he’s been a negative relative Corsi player for the first time in the last five seasons at even strength.
But the Avs are bad. The worst. And I’m sure managers around the league see that.
Basically every player in Colorado has seen their numbers hit the skids, and it would be unwise to take this recent 50-game sample at face value instead of the rest of their careers to this point. Plenty of these players are still young.
I mean, Barrie himself is just 25-years-old. And if the Avalanche are afraid of paying out the rest of his contract (which ascends in real money value, mind you) as Sakic lights that roster on fire, a team like Toronto, desperate for help on the back-end, could be poised to pounce. Fit-wise it makes much more sense than Landeskog, and you have to believe the rate of return for Barrie is far, far lower than Duchene, something the Leafs might be able to manage without carving out core pieces.