Earlier today Scott Maxwell had an article about what the Leafs roster could look like if it was completely healthy. I have to say, the offensive unit gave me chills. The Leafs are very capable of rolling four lines with their current personnel, and the players on the fourth line are capable of being moved up comfortably into spots in the top nine, while the Leafs still would be carrying options like Brooks, Timashov, Gauthier, Marchment, Petan, and Aberg as reasonable backfill for the bottom of the lineup. The Leafs forward depth is a thing of beauty, but looking at the blueline and goaltending is another story.
On defense players like Muzzin, Dermott, and Holl all seem like they are great fits for the Leafs now and into the future, assuming a deal can be found with Muzzin before he hits free agency. Rielly and Barrie both bring a high level offensive game that adds value in 2/3rds of the rink, but Marincin and Ceci are borderline unplayable. There are much bigger question marks when it comes to the defensive situation and presently the organization doesn’t seem interested in the testing what they have in Rasmus Sandin or Timothy Liljegren as a way of addressing those issues, which seems like an oversight, but not one worth of heavy scrutiny when you’re putting up a 15-5-2 record over the past 22 games.
Additionally goaltending remains an issue, but the recent success of the Leafs makes it a less urgent one. The Leafs have played themselves into a situation where handing the net to Hutchinson is a manageable risk, and he in turn has rewarded the Leafs with being more capable of that responsibility. While upgrading the position would be nice, it no longer has the Leafs entering the market with the stench of desperation and they won’t be greeted with a market that acknowledges that.
So should they add at the deadline?
With the trade deadline just over seven weeks away and some trading already beginning following the lift of the holiday roster freeze, we need to start considering whether it’s a good idea. For the most part the best additions for the Leafs will come in the form of players getting healthy. Getting Muzzin, Mikheyev, Johnsson, and Moore back at various points leading into the playoffs will have a huge impact. Potentially finding out what they have in Sandin and Liljegren could help as well, as would exploring the potential of a forward like Egor Korshkov.
The Leafs may benefit from an additional natural center. They may benefit from a defensive upgrade. They could certainly us a goaltender still, but with the recognition that the goaltending market should never have you paying a premium to add one.
Basically the Leafs need to be entertaining the idea of upgrades now that they are firmly back in the playoff picture, and while it’s understandable that they won’t be the first ones out the gate as they are still exploring what they have and winning while they do it, adding additional firepower without mortgaging the future seems like a reasonable thing to do.
Can the Leafs add?
Well, here’s the challenge. Cap space is normally pretty helpful in this process, and that isn’t something the Leafs have any of. There’s also the small matter of not having a first round pick this year, and the continued liquidation of draft picks seems less than ideal, since it would be nice if the Leafs can be competitive in the future as well.
If the Leafs are dealing they’ll have to move salary, and the way they are going to do that is either through their surplus of wingers (Kerfoot, Johnsson, and Kapanen) or through their unrestricted free agent defensemen (Barrie, Muzzin, and Ceci.)
In a perfect world renting out Ceci for a draft pick occurs, but my breath is not being held, although now at a quick glance most of his numbers are tolerable-ish.
There has been reported interest in both Tyson Barrie and Kasperi Kapanen, so it will be interesting to see if anything materializes there and I’d imagine we’ll hear some talk of interest in Johnsson once he’s back in the lineup.
The idea of having Barrie or Muzzin walk at the end of the year for nothing might be the most unappealing option, but at the same time both of them play important roles on the Leafs. Perhaps the Leafs need to explore ideas similar to what the Flames did with Frolik when it comes to Johnsson and Kapanen, by clearing some salary and then having the cap space to pursue the players they want with additional resources available (although a return of more than a 4th round pick would be a prerequisite).
Where does this leave us?
Well, it leaves us with seven weeks of increasingly more insane speculation regarding the future whereabouts of players. At this point we know that the Leafs have trade demands from Ben Harpur, Jeremy Bracco, and Dmytro Timashov, so Marlies/Growlers deals seem like they could be in abundance.
We know that Andreas Johnsson and Trevor Moore are at least on the radar for making returns which should help with having the best understanding of the current state of the Leafs.