Sorry folks. No Leafs hockey until Sunday is going to result in premature trade deadline speculation. I don’t make the rules.
Now that the disclaimer is out of the way let’s acknowledge that trade deadline rentals have an established track record of being a pretty bad idea. Let’s then move on to the fact that the Leafs really don’t have much in the way of cap space nor a first round draft pick this season to major players in the trade deadline. That’s 100% a blessing. Now that all of that has been said, there are a few players who don’t particularly seem to be too awful as far as deadline options go. As far as who is being considered a rental, well, I included arbitration eligible restricted free agents to make it slightly more appealing than just the usual unrestricted free agent suspects. Sue me. I wanted a #1 that people would truly want on their team.
11. Daniel Sprong (F) Ducks
We’ll start off Dutch hockey legend Daniel Sprong, who definitely falls into that RFA group. Sprong only has an offensive game and I’m sure he’d make Keefe’s eyes bleed if he expected defense from him at all, but the offensive part of Sprong’s game isn’t bad at all as long as he’s sheltered. You could say, don’t the Leafs have an abundance of players like Sprong available on the Marlies that they could call up and you’d be absolutely right. That’s why he’s #12 on the list.
10. Wayne Simmonds (F) Devils
Tough playoff hockey™. Veteran leadership™. Clutch™. Local™. Simmonds checks a lot of boxes that are appealing as a rental, but alas, he’s expensive on two fronts. His name is probably going to cost the Leafs more in assets than some of the better options on this list, and his $5M salary is another problem, that would need to be addressed through retention or taking on an albatross contract (*looks directly at Cody Ceci*)
Bringing home a physical player from the Greater Toronto Area has a lot of appeal, and kicking tires on Simmonds might not be the worst thing the Leafs can do, but with the acknowledgement that Simmonds is not someone who fits into the top six of the lineup at this point of his career.
9. Ryan Miller (G) Ducks
Miller represents a modest upgrade over Michael Hutchinson, but with a slight cost increase attached to that. He potentially is an investment in giving Andersen a bit more rest down the stretch and knowing the Leafs will most definitely move on from him at the end of the year. If the price is cheap and if Anaheim will retain some salary it becomes a bit more appealing, but no one is going to be bummed about not chasing down Ryan Miller in the trade market.
8. Dylan DeMelo (D) Senators
DeMelo is cheap and has put up good numbers on a very bad Senators team. If anything the Senators should be pretty committed to the idea of keeping DeMelo in their lineup and forgoing the rental market, unless they can truly cash in on him.
That’s why DeMelo despite having a good year is ranked lower on my list. Paying a premium for a depth defenseman, knowing that it might be a lot to ask him to adjust to a new partner, new system, and have expectations attached to him seems like there’s a lot of risk associated with pursuing DeMelo.
Now, if the Leafs see DeMelo as a capable 26 year old right shooting defenseman that could be part of their future and want to get him signed before he can test the open market, now might be a great time to pursue him and Justin Holl has established a market for what that role looks like on the Leafs.
History has also shown that Senators can be acquired for Marlies grab bags and that might be the way to go here.
7. Dan Hamhuis (D) Predators
It remains to be seen if the Predators will be sellers at the deadline. They’ve got a couple games at hand, but are still 5 points back of the closest wild card spot. Clearly they aren’t 100% out, but it could be looking better for them.
Hamhuis is stable defensive depth that helps take pressure off of players like Muzzin and Holl. That’s not a bad thing to have as bluelines start to become more conservative in April. At $1.25M he’s not breaking the bank and anything more than a mid round pick bring him in would be excessive, so he’s not a bad option to keep an eye on.
6. Brenden Dillon (D) Sharks
Maybe I’ll just go on a run of defensemen in the middle of this list so I don’t need to add a whole lot about why acquiring them might be appealing. Dillon’s salary is a drawback at $3.27M this year, but if San Jose retains or will take on Cody Ceci as part of the deal it doesn’t seem impossible.
Dillon would be a chance for the Leafs to add some physicality to their lineup and most importantly to their blueline. While I know eyes are rolling at the thought of this, I assert this idea is not the worst thing in the world.
5. Ben Hutton (D) Kings
Hutton seems like he would require fewer assets than some of the players I’ve previously mentioned and that’s why he’s slightly ahead of the rest of the block of defensemen. His numbers are solid on a bad team, and some sheltering needs to be considered, but reality is he’s a third pairing option for the Leafs anyway. He’s a combination of DeMelo’s age, with Hamhuis’ playing style, and contract, but lacks the physicality of Dillon or the coveted right handed shot of a player like DeMelo.
4. Kyle Clifford (F) Kings
We’re never going to escape Kyle Clifford until his next contract isn’t with the Leafs. The Dubas ties to Clifford are a driving factor in including him on this list, and placing him this high is probably more based on likelihood than an actual wish to add Clifford.
Generally Clifford’s career has gone pretty darn well as a solid bottom six forward, but this year has been a setback. Potentially the Leafs could buy low on someone they’ve been rumoured to be interested in a for a while, and it’s entirely possible moving him away from his lottery team surroundings will address some issues.
Where Clifford helps the Leafs is that he adds a ton of defensive responsibility to a forward group that isn’t particularly fond of backchecking. If Clifford is available cheap this would be a solid move for Toronto.
3. Joe Thornton (F) Sharks
Why learn lessons about acquiring aging Sharks veterans? Anyway, Thornton brings leadership and a spare center, both things that aren’t terrible. He’s a smart player and can play in his own zone. I don’t know what else needs to be about Joe Thornton. He’s not a bad option and it would make for a fun playoff run.
2. Alexandar Georgiev (G) Rangers
As far as goaltender options go that would be a solid fit for the Leafs it’s hard to imagine someone better than Georgiev. Really I shouldn’t include him as a rental option since:
A) He’s a restricted free agent (arbitration eligible though)
B) Most of the appeal of bringing him in is because he’ll add value beyond the playoffs
but I’ve decided to include him on the list anyway because he is the odd man out in New York and his arbitration eligibility would probably see him reach UFA status by July 1st.
Georgiev gives the Leafs a goaltender that not only play when they need him to, but push Andersen a little and possibly transition towards the #1 job as Andersen’s contract comes to an end.
As far as looking at him strictly from rental purposes, he is that immediate relief, but he’s also an option that could keep the Leafs afloat in the playoffs if Andersen was injured, and there doesn’t seem to be another option available that could do that.
Right now there seems to be interest on the part of the Leafs in Georgiev, but it’s just a matter of the price becoming more reasonable. Not knowing what Dubas is offering, makes it difficult to connect the dots, but Georgiev as a Leaf has huge appeal.
1. Chris Kreider (F) Rangers
It makes me a little ill to be praising Rangers players, but here we are. Kreider has a lot of the top six winger skills that are absent from the current Leafs group and his agitation abilities would fill the gap left by Kadri’s departure last summer. Kreider is a truly great player worth taking a chance on.
The no-trade list pretty much ensures that Chris Kreider won’t be going to Canada. Hence, Ilya Kovalchuk to the Canadiens rather than the delicious prospect of a union six years in the making between No. 20 and Carey Price.
Now, Toronto isn’t necessarily Canada, as both Torontonians and inhabitants of other parts of Canada love to point out, and could be exemption from the rest of the No Trade list. There is also the fact that Kreider might not care as much about where he plays for the next few months as a rental, as long as he’s on a solid playoff team.
The next catch comes with the fact that the Leafs would be paying a steep price for Kreider and the evidence points to a long term fit not being in the cards.
That being said the mix of talent, speed, and physicality is a little hard to ignore and that perhaps makes him the most intriguing option of the group.