Photo Credit: Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

Do the Leafs and Blue Jackets make sense as trade partners?

I keep on thinking about what Kyle Dubas said about the bubble being a great place to scout in advance of free agency and the offseason. Unfortunately for the Leafs that in person scouting opportunity didn’t last too long, but there is no doubt that Kyle would have seen a fair bit of the Blue Jackets in that time and probably formed an opinion on a number of their players.

Now, it’s entirely possible the Blue Jackets feel the same way about the Leafs, and while I am reluctant to put any stock in random, unproven “insiders”, it serves my purpose to say there is at least someone throwing Andreas Johnsson to the Blue Jackets out into the ether.

That and the fact that the Blue Jackets are definitely a team we all watched a little of this summer had me wondering about what they have in the way of trade targets for the Leafs.

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Now, I don’t think Dubois was ever a name being considered, but if Aaron Portzline is reporting that Josh Anderson is a priority for the Blue Jackets, that could mean one of two things.

  1. The Blue Jackets really want to bring him back, and view him as a solid power forward option when he’s healthy.
  2. They are not thrilled about going to arbitration with him and dealing with an arbitration settlement above what they are comfortable and need to know before the qualifying period if he’ll sign or if they need to move on from him.

In the article in the tweet above, Aaron Portzline expands on the challanges with Anderson, which include the fact that his agent, Darren Ferris, has the reputation of being hard to work with (I wonder where that came from and would assume that’s a potential red flag for the Leafs as well).

While the Leafs could use talented size up front, Anderson looks like a long shot, and while a trade of injured forward coming off a bad season for injured forward coming off a bad season appears to make a ton of sense, I’ll assume that Ferris clients are not the first avenue Dubas wants to explore unless they are locked into to a contract already.

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The Portzline article also addresses a couple of other key points with Columbus, including the desire to now how much money will be left to work with to upgrade the team, and the depth of their blueline…

The Blue Jackets have too many defensemen, especially if Andrew Peeke is ready to be a full-time NHL player in 2020-21, as the club suspects.

Once Gavrikov signs, the Jackets will have eight defensemen on one-way contracts, with Peeke likely to take one of their jobs. That means one or two of those one-way deals will need to go, likely via trade.

Murray ($4.6 million), Savard ($4.25 million) and Nutivaara ($2.7 million) seem like possible trade targets.

So let’s look at three names in particular here.

The first two are Savard and Nutivaara.

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Neither player is going to supply the Leafs with anything resembling offence, but that’s really not what the Leafs need from their blueline at the moment. And David Savard still shows some strong ability to takeaway the opposition’s best chances. Nutivaara seems to be settling into a position where he’s a more expensive version of Justin Holl.

Both Savard and Nutivaara have better numbers if we look at their previous seasons, and Nutivaara is only 26 years old and has some good years left. Savard is 29 and there might be a bit more risk in considering him as an option.

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The interesting option less explored here is the player that Columbus is trying to fit into their lineup and that’s Andrew Peeke.

Peeke has just finished his first pro season, after three at Notre Dame. He’s a 6’3 right shot defenseman that was selected 34th overall by Columbus in 2016. On a right side that already has Jones, Savard, Nutivaara, and Kukan it’s clear that Peeke will be fighting for icetime, next season if the Savard and Nutivaara log jam doesn’t break freeing open some space for Peeke. Rather than do the Blue Jackets a favour, targeting a defenseman that fits the Leafs needs and has a greater upside makes a lot more sense.

As a 22 year old still just getting his feet wet in pro hockey, it’s difficult to imagine Peeke as even a 2nd pairing defender to start the season, but realistically that could be where he ends his first full year pro. The cap hit is ideal for the Leafs, and his mix of size and skill is what is missing from the Leafs blueline. The issue is of course getting the Blue Jackets to part with him. Perhaps taking back Alexander Wennberg so Columbus doesn’t have to buy him out, helps but puts the Leafs in a deeper cap crunch in the process.

Maybe it’s too much of a stretch for these teams to come together, but when you see a team with an abundance of right shooting defenseman and a possible interest in Leafs forwards, it seems worth exploring.