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Photo Credit: © John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports

The Chopping Block Roundtable Part One: Which Leafs Players Should Go?

Understandably, Leafs fans are spending much of the off-season discussing which players might be useful bargaining chips in a trade, with the hope that some of the deficits on the roster can be built up. This will likely be an in-depth topic for The Leafs Nation team over the next little while, and some of the chatter has already started.

To help kick things off, I challenged my colleagues by throwing out a bunch of names of current Leafs players, with the question: Would you trade the following player during the off-season. If yes – for what kind of return? If no – why not?

I’ve pulled together the players that got the most attention. See where team TLN stands on trading certain Leafs, below.

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Zach Hyman

Mer: I can’t believe I even put him on the list. That’s all.

Michael: It pains me to write this, but Zach Hyman might be the player that could net Toronto the top four defenceman it desperately needs. He is coming off a season where he was on pace to score 34 goals, 26 assists, and 60 points despite missing the first month and change because of injuries. Those numbers would have smashed his previous career highs across the board had he stayed healthy or the regular season went as scheduled. Being that he is 28-years-old, Hyman is currently in the middle of his prime years and still has a few more seasons at least of solid play. Here’s the catch, he has a physical play style due to his willingness to head into the corners to free up pucks for his teammates. While I wouldn’t consider him a power-forward, players that use their bodies typically have an unforgiving decline in performance at an earlier age. So you have to wonder, was the 2019-20 season his peak or does he have another gear in him? If the answer is the former, then it might be a good idea for the Leafs to capitalize on his value being at an all-time high and execute a trade. Focusing on a team that has defensive depth but are in need of a forward would be the ideal targets to go after a defenceman. Regardless of whether that be a proven commodity or someone looking for a bigger role elsewhere, giving up Hyman plus a draft pick might be enough to make a deal work. Although it would be sad to see a fan-favourite leave via trade, the time might be ripe to deal Zach Hyman if it meant getting defensive help.

Mark: I love this player. He brings it every night, which is something that cannot be said for some other players on the roster. Start having exploratory discussions with his agent on an extension, draw a hard line, and if his demands are too high then you need to investigate trading him while his value is high. Hyman will get booed out of this city at $4M+ per year. I cannot convey how much it hurts me to write this.

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Nick B: Zach Hyman has been one of the best surprises in the last two years as a Maple Leaf. Each season he’s became more comfortable in his role as the “dog” of the Auston Matthews line. Hyman tied a career high in goals with 21 this season in 20 less games and has been an offensive threat and a great perimeter goal scorer. He becomes a UFA after next season, where I believe the Maple Leafs hold onto him and get him re-signed. The more the 28-year-old gains comfort in the NHL, the more success he can have. I think that if the Maple Leafs want to win a Stanley Cup, they must have him on the team because of his gritty presence higher up in the lineup.

Nick D: There has been a recent spike in Zach Hyman trade talk, and it’s easy to see why. Hyman is coming off a career-high goal-scoring season where he finished with 21 goals in 51 games. To add to it, Hyman shot 19.6 percent, which is far higher than he has ever had in his career. While there is a “trade-high” argument that could be entertained, the Leafs might not want to take that chance given their current left-wing situation. Hyman provides the Leafs with a relatively cheap player who has a history of strong results with their top stars, who can face tough competition and is an effective penalty killer. Hyman had an off-year in terms of his on-ice impact but his full career resume might suggest this is an anomaly. Hyman has one year left on his contract but I wouldn’t rule out the possibility of him taking a team-friendly deal and accepting a lower role in the future.

Kasperi Kapanen

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Scott: I think if there’s anyone you should be actively shopping on this team, it’s Kasperi Kapanen. He just doesn’t drive play, isn’t all that strong defensively anymore, and he has horrendous offensive awareness that I’d compare to a computer player in NHL 20 (and that’s not a compliment). He’s a solid third liner, but the money he makes is a bit too much for the Leafs cap situation, and he really shows his value the second he’s put into a top six role. However, he apparently still has top six value in some teams eyes, so it’d be best to part ways with Kappy, and sell high on him.

Brendan: The biggest question I have with Kapanen is how much better will he get? Will Kapanen hover around 20 goals, 20 assists or is there still a chance he can produce more? Trading Kapanen this offseason would definitely be selling low, but out of all of the “non-core” guys, Kapanen probably has the most appeal/value across the league. If you’re not going to entertain moving one of the big 4, Kapanen is probably the next biggest trade chip you have up front. Kapanen is a frustrating player to me. He has a rare blend of speed, skill, grit and finesse, yet they rarely all come together. There were many nights this season where I hardly noticed Kapanen. Yeah he can blaze down the wing at a million mph, but often he would either fall over, lose the puck or both.

Mark:  A year ago I would have been firmly on the “don’t trade” side of this argument but I just didn’t see enough progress from him this year to make me strongly feel like he should be held on to. He also doesn’t seem to really fit with anyone? He didn’t work well with Matthews or Tavares this season and really lacks a playmaking skill set to add to those lines. He’s paid adequately for what he brings to the table, but if a deal comes along that helps to address other parts of the roster I would explore it.

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Marsha: He needs to be traded and ASAP. He did almost nothing in the qualifying round, to say the least. Even looking back to the regular season he didn’t show as much improvement as I would have hoped. He’s got great speed and the ability to be on another level, I just don’t see him doing that on this Leafs team anymore. Send him to a team that could benefit from his speed as an addition to their line up. Hopefully we get someone good in return.

Nick D: I think a lot of people expected Kapanen to take a big step forward this season, and he simply did not. He has been stagnant when in the top-six and didn’t make an impact when he was on the left-wing. Over his career, Kapanen’s on-ice impact and raw production haven’t always impressed but his ability to create dangerous scoring chances was a beacon of hope for a bright future. Alarmingly, Kapanen’s individual expected goals rate took a huge dive this season. The Leafs third line struggled to generate offense and this season would suggest that Kapanen can’t be the primary driver on a line.   With that said, Kapanen is still 24 and has time to grow. His speed is valuable and has helped him show flashes of a pretty good NHLer on both ends of the ice at even strength. He’s one of the Leafs best penalty killers and has added an element of sandpaper to his game in the past year. I think Kapanen would be a top-six forward on some NHL teams right now and it seems like he is garnering interest around the league. At least one of Kerfoot/Johnsson/Kapanen will be traded and Kapanen probably gets you the best package back.

Andreas Johnsson

Brendan: AJ seems to be the most “traded” player on the Leafs and rightfully so.He’s been seemingly replaced by youngster Nick Robertson, he has struggled to stay healthy and has been an inconsistent performer since becoming a full-time NHL player.The greatest asset the Leafs could get back from trading Johnsson is cap space.

Mark: Weird season for Johnsson. Injured long-term twice, came back the first time around to a new (old) coach. This season just feels like a write-off. I feel you can plug-and-play Johnsson in our top six better than you can Kapanen. Trading him now would also be at the low-end of his value. He’s a few years removed from that impressive Calder Cup MVP run, so the shine may have worn off for potential suitors. Would keep him around another year: at best he can be a contributing piece, at second-best you can pull the ol’ pump-and-dump by inflating his value playing him with great linemates.

Marsha: I think the Leafs should hold off on moving Johnsson this off season. Give him a proper opportunity to prove himself. He was held back by injury multiple times this season. Because of that i don’t think he was able to really show what he was capable of.  I also feel like shipping him off now wouldn’t result in a good return for the Leafs. Waiting until the trade deadline might make the most sense when it comes to evaluating Johnsson’s play.

Nick D: It’s no secret that I am a big fan of Johnsson’s game. Despite being on the smaller-end, he is fantastic in battles, can score around the net, and is one of the better players on the team when playing without the puck. He has had a season filled with injuries and inconsistent play. In addition, a 5v5 shooting percentage of 4.84% didn’t help his cause.I am usually an advocate for avoiding a trade after a down year but the Leafs might not have a choice given their situation. It might not be a great time to trade Johnsson but it is certainly a very good time to trade for Johnsson. If NHL GM’s are paying attention, there should be a legitimate interest in the 25-year-old top-six forward.

Mitch Marner

Scott: While I think Matthews should be the only player who is untouchable, I think it would be absolutely idiotic to trade Mitch Marner. Did he have a weak series? Yes. Does he make too much money? Yes. Is he still one of the better playmakers in the league, and provides a lot of value for this team? Still yes. Unless you’re trading him for a player of similar talent on a better contract, or a similarly aged defenseman (Makar, Hughes, etc.), you keep Marner because he’s still good for 80-90 points in a season, something you don’t get from just anybody.

Mark: I’ve made my position clear on Marner: he’s an extremely talented, extremely overpaid player. 50% of our cap is tied up in four players. While you don’t move him at any cost, using his tremendous trade value to rebalance the roster and give us more salary cap flexibility is the right move as long as the value is right. I don’t think we should be saying “hell no” to anything outside trading Matthews/Tavares right now.

Marsha: While I wouldn’t be opposed to a Marner trade, I know it won’t happen. Honestly, I don’t think it should happen yet, if at all. Yes he’s overpaid everyone knows that, but all things considered, his performance this playoffs should not be the reason for a trade. Marner provides a lot to this team behind the scenes and on the ice as a playmaker. For next season he needs to step his game up. Things like becoming more confident in his shot and losing that pass first mentality just to name a few. I have hope for him.

 

Post your thoughts on whether these players should stay or go, and stay tuned for more discussion on potential Leafs trades, including the players I threw at the team that didn’t make today’s cut: Morgan Rielly, Freddie Andersen, Alexander Kerfoot, and Travis Dermott.