Leafs tried trade talks for Nurse and Slavin, still looking to overhaul defence

Prior to the draft this past weekend, it was floated by a few of the more ‘in-the-know’ Leafs sources that Kyle Dubas and his front office was set up to make a lot of moves in an effort to shed some dead weight and improve the club. Up to four or five trades, some expected. With the Marner negotiation still on at the front of everything, to this point Toronto has completed one deal: The Marleau trade that freed up $6.25-million in cap space at the cost of a first round pick next summer.

But just because the news has still been relatively quiet doesn’t mean the Leafs don’t have something cooking up on the back burner. According to James Mirtle of The Athletic, Dubas is still in search of two real-deal defenders, and of course will have to move out Nikita Zaitsev to go along with whatever moves he makes to get them. There’s still a shakeup coming, it seems.

“They’ve seemingly talked to every team in the league about every defenceman they could plausibly add, including some surprising names such as Darnell Nurse, a former Soo Greyhound whom Leafs GM Kyle Dubas apparently tried to pry out of Edmonton a few weeks ago in a blockbuster deal before talks broke down. They’ve also expressed interest in Carolina’s Jaccob Slavin, which was a non-starter for the Canes.”

Perhaps the most interesting part of that news is that it doesn’t include the common RHD targets we’ve heard about in the past, like Colin Miller out of Vegas. The fact that the Leafs have reportedly gone ahead and targeted big-minute lefties shows that they either a) Have Babcock on board for putting guys on their off-side, and/or b) Are piecing together major deals, potentially with names like Dermott or even Muzzin involved. One thing is for sure, they are trying hard to overhaul this blue-line, just as everyone wished they would.

Where they go from here is going to be fun to watch. If all goes perfectly and they sign Marner at a decent number, along with moving out Zaitsev and Connor Brown, they could free up close to $8-million in space. We can assume the Slavin talk is not going to be revisited because the ask must have been absurd, but that cap space would be enough to bring aboard Nurse or Miller and still be flexible to add a bit more depth.

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So yeah, while it seems things may have cooled off while we wait for the Marner dispute to get straightened out, the Leafs still have plenty of work to do in the lead-up to free agency next Monday. Some insiders believe that’s when Zaitsev’s contract will become more moveable as he becomes a consolation for (not-so-smart) teams that strike out in free agency, and perhaps that shakes loose what the Leafs need to pounce on a trade for their own help. Miller, Nurse? One trade down, probably three more to go.

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