There seems to be a consistent message from hockey insiders and that is that we shouldn’t expect much on trade deadline day. That hasn’t really slowed down the rumours at all, and the case and point is that Elliotte Friedman had a few interesting nuggets to chew on in 31 Thoughts this week.
As per tradition, we’ll tackle them thought by thought.
Toronto GM Kyle Dubas has made it clear that he won’t trade for a goalie unless the upgrade is significant and the cost isn’t prohibitive. And, if other teams sense desperation, they throw you anvils, not life preservers. That said, the Maple Leafs will explore the market. One under-the-radar name to consider: Jack Campbell in Los Angeles. The Kings have Cal Petersen at AHL Ontario, and he’ll need a spot. OHL fans will recognize that Dubas has traded for Campbell once before. He knows the goalie well. (One exec’s line as I asked around about this yesterday: “You’re eight years behind.”)
Supporting the idea of Jack Campbell to the Leafs has been a campaign championed by occasional TLN writer @TotallyOffside for some time now, and frankly I think it’s one that makes some sense and I’m glad to see it’s crept into the mainstream. There are obvious benefits from bringing in a goaltender that your coach is familiar with, and the GM knows what to expect from them. There’s the fact that Campbell’s contract is very friendly this season at $675k, but it does jump to $1.65M for the next two years. The nice part of that is the contract is still reasonable and would seemingly buy the time needed for Woll or possibly Scott to develop into that backup role.
There is a bit of a Bill Ranford factor, where he’s made some goalies look pretty good in LA that didn’t translate to being so great under other coaches (looks directly at Jonathan Bernier) and there’s also some pre-Kings history that supports that he might be underwhelming. This year Campbell is sitting at a .900 Sv% in 20 games, which isn’t exactly the .928% in 31 games he enjoyed last season, but both represent an upgrade over Hutchinson, and exhibit the potential for a goaltender who can take on some of Andersen’s work down the stretch.
I agree with Friedman that no one is going to do the Leafs any favours, and getting gouged on a backup holds zero appeal, especially when the offseason will be rotten with good options, assuming Dubas will spend over the league minimum on a goalie. As much as the need is immediate, the Leafs are probably going to see the market shift in their favour the closer they get to the deadline and teams realize their best trade partner has plenty of options to choose from. All the Leafs need to do is survive the next two weeks.
Any defensive changes in Toronto will depend on Morgan Rielly’s health and Rasmus Sandin’s readiness. Those factors determine the path.
Arguably this is the most interesting thought, and should have been the one I led with.
It’s so wonderfully ambiguous we can explore it in so many different ways.
From a sellers point of view, if the Leafs aren’t ready to give icetime to Sandin or Rielly isn’t ready, that might be enough of an argument for keeping Cody Ceci around and not dumping him onto the trade market. I mean, I’d hope they’d take that course of action regardless, so maybe this is more applicable to someone like Tyson Barrie, who in all likelihood is staying, but given that he’s an UFA, moving him needs to at least be considered. If Rielly returns, he can assume Barrie’s icetime and powerplay time, while Sandin remains in his quality depth role.
From a buyers point of view, perhaps the Leafs seem less pressured to make a move now and would prefer to wait until the draft or the summer to make their moves. If the Leafs are needing help and they don’t quite think Sandin can play a significant enough part of upgrading the blueline, I guess we’ll continue with the Manson, Dumba, Larsson, and Subban rumours that plague Leafs fandom.
I think moreso than Rielly’s health or Sandin’s readiness, the position in the standings will dictate the fate of the Leafs, and anything less than holding a playoff spot will lean them towards either standing pat or selling, especially knowing that Liljegren and possibly Kivihalme are viable options for a team that is loading up for a playoff run.
On Kasperi Kapanen: It’s hard not to look at this and see Nazem Kadri in 2015. The Leafs were at their wits’ end with the centre, and his two-game suspension was a last-gasp effort to see if he’d make the personal changes they demanded.
“We expect a certain level of professionalism,” Brendan Shanahan said then. “It’s time for him to start making better decisions. There’s a history here.” (Compare that to Sheldon Keefe’s “internal accountability” with Kapanen.)
To his credit, Kadri ate it and became a critical piece of the group. Toronto would like history to repeat itself. Justin Bourne — who knows Kapanen very well from his days as an assistant coach with the Marlies — made an excellent point in a column for The Athletic, that Kapanen may be unsettled by his situation. His name is all over the rumour mill, he’s struggled to find his way in Keefe’s system, and the two had their battles in the AHL, although I think the coach’s motives were simply to make him a better player.
The one thing to remember is that Dubas made a big bet on Kapanen in the Phil Kessel deal at a time when everyone was down on the winger. He’s always liked Kapanen, who has the potential to be a great player. The GM’s preference would be to keep him, and I’ve always believed that if Kapanen were traded now, we’d look at the deal and say, “Oh, I get it” — even with the one-game vacation.
This suspension is a shot across the bow. You don’t get this kind of punishment for sleeping in once.
Again there is a fair bit to unpack here, but I’ll start with the fact that there is most definitely more to this than a one time sleep in. I’m not going to speculate as to what all is going on with Kapanen, but say that being young, rich, and famous is something I’d want to enjoy to the fullest too, and don’t blame him if he’s enjoying his success (within reason.) Now, I also don’t disagree with the organization for demanding accountability, and Kapanen is in a very fortunate situation and asking him to be responsible isn’t the worst thing that can be done either.
Where it gets interesting is that Keefe and Dubas are split on this player. Keefe is seemingly less interested to work with Kapanen, while Dubas has invested heavily in Kapanen and has the luxury of appreciating Kasperi’s talent instead of being the one directly responsible for harnessing it. From my perspective, I think it’s important that Dubas let his coach have this one for a few reasons. The most obvious being that Kapanen is blocked behind Marner and Nylander for a spot in the top six forward group on the right wing, and he absolutely has the talent to be a top six forward on almost any team in the league. Secondly, Keefe has a lot of big personalities to deal with already, and perhaps offloading one when there is a ready and willing marketplace for Kapanen isn’t the worst thing the Leafs could do. Depending on how the wind blows the Leafs could find themselves not being as fortunate enough to consider a top four defenseman as a possible return for Kapanen and that’s a scary thing to leave on the table.
Kapanen has already fulfilled on what he needed to be coming out of the Kessel trade, and no one should fault Dubas for making deal that either directly or indirectly led to the acquisitions of Kasperi Kapanen, Freddie Andersen, and made it so they were in the position to draft Auston Matthews. Wanting to see Kapanen play out despite not having a spot for him seems a tad ridiculous, unless bigger things are in the works for moving Marner or Nylander at some point, and frankly we know that’s not happening.
It wouldn’t be surprising to see Kapanen remain a Leaf after the trade deadline, but I’d be much more shocked if he’s a Leaf after the entry draft.