The Red Wings are in that perfect sweet spot of being terrible, but at the same time having players that are worth plucking off their roster. The fact that the Leafs are looking at the Wings (or Hawks) is some fuel for the fire.
3 scouts from Toronto credentialed in Detroit tonight for Red Wings-Blackhawks
— Max Bultman (@m_bultman) February 21, 2019
Now, I’m sure if Dubas is working on another large move he’s done his scouting significant scouting well in advance and scouts being at this game doesn’t mean that the Leafs are making a play for Dylan Larkin. It also seems likely that someone in the Leafs organization who has foolishly been lobbying for acquiring Luke Glendening is probably very familiar with Luke does or moreso doesn’t bring to the table.
Of course, if there is a last minute deal to be had with the Wings, the scouting makes sense, and gives us the perfect opportunity to speculate on who that may be.
What the Leafs Could Want
When looking at players that are under contract beyond this season, the interest from the Leafs is probably limited to Mike Green, beyond that the other players of interest should be part of the Red Wings youth movement. Andreas Athanasiou’s name has been out there a lot, and that’s surprising considering he’s a player they should want to keep and with Ken Holland’s contract up at the end of the year, I can’t see Athanasiou being a player the team would move out in advance of a new GM coming in. There’s also the factor that the price would be high on Athanasiou and the Leafs might not want to pay that when forward is already an area of strength.
Let’s double back to Mike Green. He’s a right shot and could definitely help the Leafs. He’s under contract for one more season, and at 33 years old, he’s probably not a guy you’d bring back beyond that, so he’s not a long term solution to the right side. He’s still a solid puck mover, and can add some additional offense from the point, but it seems that Green is not a preferred target for a Mike Babcock coached team, but that shouldn’t exclude him from consideration. A Muzzin-Green pairing seems pretty ideal.
The catch with Green is that he does cost $5.375M next season, and with the Leafs being in a situation where they need to shed some salary in 2019-20, Green isn’t really a fit unless Zaitsev is moved as part of the deal.
Ugh. I guess we have to acknowledge the fact that Mike Babcock really seems to want Luke Glendening, a bad player who has two more seasons after this one at a $1.8M cap hit. That cap hit is a lot for what is essentially a 4th line forward on the Leafs. At 29 years old, his 26 point pace would be a career year for him. His 41.4% CF%, and relative -10 should comfortably dispel the myth that he’s someone you want on the ice in defensive situations, and while he hits, he’s undersized, and isn’t going to bring in the intimidation factor that local sports radio seems to believe is what is missing from the Leafs. Basically this is a trade that only makes sense if you are clearing salary in the process.
Red Wing Rentals
The Red Wing rental market is probably what makes the most sense for the Leafs, and we’ll break it down player by player.
Niklas Kronwall- He’s probably the ideal Mike Babcock target and one that could easily be sold to the majority of the heavy hockey crowd in Toronto. He’s a definite fit with Babcock, he plays heavy hockey, and he’s got “been there” status for the playoffs. The catch is that he’s possibly not available as he’s been a lifer in Detroit, and re-signing seems like the most likely course of action. If he is available, he’s probably only available on an overpay, and with a cap hit north of $4M, it would be helpful to send some salary back to Detroit in order to combat potential bonus overages the Leafs could face if they add too much salary at the deadline.
Nick Jensen- Here’s the option that should appeal to pretty much everyone. He’s got the right shot, he plays a conservative style, but isn’t incapable when the puck is on his stick, and he’s cheap as hell. Unfortunately the word is getting out on the player who looked to be the steal of the deadline, and he could become an expensive rental. Perhaps Jensen is a better option to double back on during free agency.
Gustav Nyquist- Is a solid gun for hire type move at the deadline. The Leafs with increased fire power in their top nine would do a lot more damage in the playoffs than finding a guy who punches part time. Nyquist will be expensive though, and if the Leafs are going in on Nyquist, I’d prefer to see it in an 11th hour situation when Detroit is panicking from not having been able to move him. If there’s a competitive market for him, I’d skip pursuing Nyquist
Thomas Vanek- Vanek is the poor mans option for acquiring additional scoring from the Red Wings. He’s got size, he’s got scoring ability that would fit in nicely within the top nine, and is probably not going to cost a lot. Dumping some salary in the acquisition would still be nice as bonus overages should scare the crap out of the Leafs.
What the Wings Want
The Wings are already sitting on 11 picks in draft this year, including a couple of second rounders. That being said, I’m not sure that means they aren’t interested in more picks. The Wings are a team that could be pursuing young roster players, and perhaps the Freddie Gauthier and Connor Browns of the world have some appeal here. Basically the Wings might be a team that wants to shop the Leafs depth defense and bottom six wing market as well as the Marlies/Reserve list.
The Wings have 4 defensemen over the age of 30, a looming UFA in Nick Jensen, and Danny Dekeyser, who isn’t as good as he is overpaid. Detroit should actively be pursuing a defensive upgrade, and that brings us to…
When you look at the list of contracts on the Red Wings, who have to think “why not Zaitsev?” Nikita Zaitsev could arguably be a top pairing guy on Detroit, as they sit right now, and assuming that Nick Jensen is dealt, and he would be the only defenseman besides DeKeyser who is signed beyond the 2019-20 season.
As for who the Leafs could get in return, well, pretty much anyone but Frans Nielsen makes sense for the Leafs, though even a Nielsen for Zaitsev deal would potentially open the Leafs up to being able to pursue a windfall return on Kadri somewhere down the line, as unappealing as that sounds.
Likelihood of a trade
The Wings are definite sellers, the Leafs are definite buyers. Throw in the Mike Babcock factor and the fact that Nick Jensen is one of the more appealing rental players at the deadline and we should probably keep an eye on Detroit. Dealing in the division seems to be the only barrier that exists, but since Detroit is still in the early phase of a rebuild, I don’t think self imposed restrictions factor in.
After a long period of living in cap hell, the Wings look like they will soon be exiting that and if a deadline deal isn’t available for the Leafs, Detroit could be an option for shedding salary in the off season. If the Wings end up with a new GM next season it will be interesting to see how they want to clear out Ken Holland’s mistakes, and how much Mike Babcock will lobby to acquire those mistakes.