Only 13 days remain until rosters are set and we are in what you see is what you get mode for the playoffs. Overall, I think it’s ridiculous to be anything but pleased with the roster the Leafs already have, but that doesn’t change the fact that there is still room for improvement, there is a big picture beyond just this years playoff run, and of course, the fact that trades and speculating about trades is an enjoyable pastime for many of us. For that reason we’re going to take a deep dive into the rosters of potential sellers, like they are Sears Wish Book and circle the players we wouldn’t mind adding to the Leafs.
First up is the New York Rangers.
What the Rangers Want
Before we dive into what the Leafs are interested in picking away from the Rangers, we should probably consider their needs. Let’s be generous lovers.
Last year was a major prospect load up for the Rangers, adding three first rounders to their prospect pool, and they selected three pretty solid players. They’ve also done a pretty decent job of shedding term from their organization, with Zibenejad and Skjei being the only two players with longer than 3 years remaining on their deal. The biggest catch is probably the guys who do have three years remaining on their deals, as Brandon Smith, Kevin Shattenkirk, and Marc Staal account for $16.7M of cap hit, but 0% of personnel that are in the Rangers plans for the future. Unloading these contracts seems like a good idea for the Rangers, but nothing about the Leafs current situation says “let’s take on bad defensive contracts.”
If we’re looking at who the Rangers are wanting to add, I’m going to say that young NHL ready players are just as much a priority as draft picks, as I’m sure they’d like to be competitive again quickly enough to give Henrik Lundqvist one last meaningful playoff appearance.
As for their draft pick situation, the Rangers have picked up an additional 2nd from Tampa (that could become a first if the Lightning wins the cup this year), but are without a 4th and 7th round pick. It seems reasonable they’ll want at least a couple more selections, and given a couple of their rental players, they should find some high picks, just not from the Leafs.
Rangers have never been a “bring back the local boy” team, but Jeremy Bracco could be a fit for the Rangers. Andreas Johnsson is a possible target if the Leafs are shopping in the high end section of the Rangers lineup, and pieces like the Leafs 2nd, Semyon Der-Arguchintsev, Filip Kral, and possibly Yegor Korshkov could be of interest. We’ll assume they would also show interest in Liljegren and Sandin, but for the purposes of what Toronto would be pursuing, we’ll assume those players as well as the 2020 1st round pick are off the table.
The rental market for the Rangers is pretty solid as Mats Zuccarello and Kevin Hayes are both name brand scoring options that teams will happily add. The Rangers have also not pretended that either player is a long term option for them, so they’ll be hunting for the max price they can get for a 2nd line winger or center that score at around .75 ppg paces.
Additionally the Rangers have Adam McQuaid, how is full of playoff grit and “been there” experience, and has the added bonus of being a right shooting defenseman, though really, does it matter which way McQuaid shoots? He’ll definitely be an option for a lot of teams, and seems like a candidate for a ridiculous over payment, especially considering his contract is manageable for most teams.
I wouldn’t be surprised if the Leafs have some passing interest in any of these players, but I can’t imagine any of them being players the Leafs would aggressively be bidding on, and if another team wants them, that’s where they’ll end up.
Who the Leafs should want
Looking through the roster there isn’t a lot that leaps out as must have, but the Rangers appear to be excellent partners if Toronto wants to engage is some deckchair shuffling at the deadline or much more likely, over the summer. Vladislav Namestnikov, and Ryan Strome have been underwhelming for the Rangers, and Strome is probably just underwhelming in general at this point, where Namestnikov could be a fun change of scenery acquisition. Jesper Fast and Jimmy Vesey could be usable bottom six forwards, but would need some salary departing to make it worth while for Toronto.
The biggest fish of interest is probably Chris Kreider, who has the speed and offensive ability to be right at home in Toronto’s lineup, as well as his aggressiveness adds some of that heavy hockey that people insist upon adding for the playoffs. Making the salary work would be a challenge, and prioritizing wing upgrades for the Leafs seems a bit silly at this point, but he’s certainly a player worth mentioning.
Dumping the Zaitsev contract needs to be a consideration whenever we look at a potential trade partner, and the Rangers are a mixed bag there. They’ve already got a hodge podge of random defensemen in Smith, Shattenkirk, Staal, and perhaps if they think they can move some of that out they might be interested in Zaitsev. The Rangers have never been shy about adding Russians, as Namestnikov, Buchnevich are present and accounted for with Kravtsov and others in their pipeline as well.
If we were to see an immediate Zaitsev deal I’d imagine it being Zaitsev for Brendan Smith, with the Rangers getting younger and adding a right shot, while the Leafs getting someone familiar with Babcock for the playoffs, that can be bought out for a fraction of the cost that a Zaitsev buyout would set the Leafs back.
Likelihood of a deal?
If there is one thing the Rangers have in abundance it is non repulsive options, and that makes up for their lack of having a truly stellar player to lust after. If the Leafs make a deal with the Rangers it would have to be a fit meeting both teams where they are at. The Rangers wanting to get younger and pick up pieces for the rebuild, and the Leafs wanting to loosen cap space and pick up a piece or two for the playoffs.
I don’t hate the idea of trading with the Rangers because of the sensibility involved, but a top pairing right shooting defenseman could also be fun.