Earlier today, Pierre LeBrun started to stir the pot in Toronto by saying that the Maple Leafs “could strike early” in order to give the team a spark heading into the stretch drive. Shortly after, Bob McKenzie doubled down, saying that he believes that the Leafs are “actively” looking for a non-rental defenceman.
Bob McKenzie on TSN1050: I believe the Leafs are actively looking for a RD/LD who can play right with multiple years of term left. At least one+ year, but would prefer 2+ years remaining. No guarantee it gets done but they're looking. Kapanen, Johnsson, Kerfoot are who teams want
— J (@Account4hockey) January 24, 2020
Okay, so none of this is really new information, per se, but it kind of narrows down what’s going on here. Dubas wants to upgrade the blueline, he wants a guy under control beyond just this year, and other teams are looking at Kasperi Kapanen, Andreas Johnsson, or Alex Kerfoot in return. One of those three was always going to be going out if a defenceman was coming back in order for the salary cap hits to work out, so that makes sense.
Who might these defencemen be that the Leafs are inquiring about? Let’s take a look.
We know that the Oilers have kicked tires on the aforementioned trio of Leafs forwards, but is there a deal to be made there?
You don’t want to hear about a Kasperi Kapanen or Andreas Johnsson for Adam Larsson The Deal Is One For One swap? Too bad! Here it is. The Oilers need a winger and the Leafs need a blueliner. Larsson is signed for one more year at $4,166,666 annually, so the cap hits would nearly be a wash. The issue is that Larsson isn’t all that good. Would adding Jesse Puljujarvi to the deal make it work?
Perhaps the most underrated member of the Oilers blueline, Matt Benning would be a nice addition to Toronto’s right side. Benning has missed a good chunk of the season due to a concussion, but, when healthy, he’s sneakily been a very effective defenceman. He has a $1,900,000 cap hit and becomes an RFA this summer but has two more years left of control before he can hit the open market.
We also know that the Flames are looking to make an upgrade up front, but the two defencemen you’d expect them to move, Travis Hamonic and T.J. Brodie, don’t fit the bill because they’re both free agents at the end of the season.
How about some other teams we know will be selling?
The New Jersey Devils are an interesting candidate because they’ve already traded away Taylor Hall and nobody knows what new general manager and former Leaf Tom Fitzgerald is going to do next. Would they retain salary on P.K. Subban, who has two more years left at $9,000,000, to get something worthwhile in return?
There’s also Damon Severson who has three years left at $4,166,666 on his contract. But why would New Jersey give up their best blueliner on a cost-controlled deal for a good-not-great winger? Surely than can do better than Kapanen or Johnsson for Severson. Acquiring a player as good as Severson with such a favourable contract might cost Toronto Timothy Liljegren.
Actually, while we’re here, I wonder if taking Brendan Smith and his $4,350,000 cap hit (there’s one year left) would make it easier for the Leafs to acquire Alexandar Grigoriev. Moving along… Heading out west, the Anaheim Ducks and Minnesota Wild both have some options that could make sense.
The guy on the Ducks who stands out the most to me is Josh Manson, who has a favourable cap hit of $4,100,000 for two more seasons. Hampus Lindholm is probably less likely to be moved and he has a larger cap hit of $5,205,556 annually, so it’s hard to work a deal out. Manson is an excellent defensive defender who would add some much-needed grit to Toronto’s blueline. I know that sounds just like Cody Ceci, but Manson is actually good.
Matt Dumba is a name who has been talked about plenty as somebody the Wild would move in order to add talent up front. He’s signed for three more seasons at $6,000,000, so this would certainly be a long-term solution to adding a top-pairing, two-way defender on the right side. Of course, it’s also a much more complicated deal given the salary cap, both for this season and beyond.
When it comes to Manson and Dumba, both players would certainly be nice fits in Toronto. But, like with Severson, why would Anaheim or Minnesota give them away for a good-not-great forward? Neither team is a defenceman for Kapanen/Johnsson/Kerfoot swap away from competing, so this would be a later move for them at best.
If the Leafs are going to go ahead and make a major addition to their blueline like Severson, Dumba, or Manson, you have to figure the other team will be looking to get a top prospect like Liljegren back in return. Sorry folks, if Kyle Dubas doesn’t want to pull the trigger, he might have to just settle on Adam Larsson.