With the holiday season now fully in the rear-view and a bit of an auto-pilot portion of the season upcoming, naturally it’s time to take a very early look at the trade deadline. I mean, the next best off-ice thing to look forward to in the coming weeks will be all-star selections, so what else can we really do?
Unfortunately, the Leafs aren’t in much of a position for us to even be speculative over. While it’s a fun problem to have, there simply isn’t anything out there that will help put them over, and you could make the argument that under Keefe they’re already cresting that territory anyway. The bottom line is, with the way Toronto has unearthed meaningful depth in their lineup through some found money and an enhanced trust in the Marlies, there’s just nothing they can really do. Get another depth forward? Johnsson is returning from injury, and Mikheyev will too eventually. Then there’s players like Engvall, Timashov, and Marchment who were all added to the mix since the team was initially picked out of camp. Is there really a clear upgrade on those options out there, especially with the way Toronto’s new deployment scheme vacuums up some of the fourth line’s minutes and leans more heavily on the stars at the top of the roster? I don’t really see it.
I would think this is it for the forwards. What we’re seeing now is what we’re getting from here on, save for injuries and guys returning and some minor shuffling.
Now, there’s always been an argument that Dubas has needs on the blue line and in net, but even those are getting flimsier now with the team forming its identity and settling into a style they’re comfortable with. For one, the Leafs have managed to fill a need through the emergence of Justin Holl, and even if you’re still unsure of him being a true difference maker on the right side, he’s at worst the kind of depth insurance you would go after at the trade deadline anyway. The right side isn’t exactly strong, but it’s hard to see it changing much between now and the end of the season. And while the left side can also feel in flux at times, things there are even more jammed up when you consider Muzzin will come back and complete the top two there. The Leafs still have a ways to go in the progression of Travis Dermott, and could find room to get Rasmus Sandin back in the mix heading down the stretch. As far as in-season trades go, it’s difficult to imagine something emerging that upgrades on one of those guys for a sensible price point.
The backup goaltending is really the only area that still has a concerning level of uncertainty around it, and not necessarily because of Hutchinson’s struggles anymore. He’s managed to finally break into getting a few wins under his belt, so things are looking up there. The problem now appears to more Andersen-related. I know my own concerns about the handful of games Hutchinson gets as a true backup have gone down in the last month, but now I’m more worried about Andersen’s own performance and whether or not he’s burning out or playing through something. His numbers haven’t been strong for the last couple months, and if things go sideways or he has to miss time, I’m not sure the team could hold on in such a tight playoff race with what else they have. But even then, I realize I’m talking myself into a trade for the sake of it to some degree. Andersen has historically been fine, and if Hutch is simply “good enough” like he has been recently, there isn’t much to really get up in arms over.
I know none of this makes for much excitement or a lot to talk about, considering speculation over roster movement is the best thing to chat about aside from the on-ice product, but I just don’t see anything materializing for the Leafs this season – even more so than previous years where they eventually did very little anyway. But again, it’s a great problem to have. The Leafs have a lot of serviceable players that have emerged in the last few months, and with Dubas and Keefe’s history with the Marlies, you can bet they know exactly who would be next to get the call should they have to fill in a depth spot again. I just can’t see them looking for marginal outside help.