Often when we talk about trades on this site we focus largely on who the Leafs are targeting. We’ve made some passing mention of players that it makes sense to dump, but never really factor in who other teams would be calling the Leafs for or asking in return. In the spirit of that, here’s a list of 20 non-UFA assets the Leafs have to work with this offseason to consider. We’ll start with who will likely be returning and work toward the players who should hire moving trucks to beat the rush.
Auston Matthews: I truly like to believe that every player in the league is tradeable and there should be a price on anyone, but honestly why on earth would the Leafs even entertain the idea of moving on from a generational goal scoring talent, possibly Hart Trophy winner, their 1C, and guy who has developed a pretty good 200 foot game? If we want to pretend there is any chance of Matthews being on the move we’ll see what happens if he goes into his contract year without an extension, but as for right now there is absolutely no need to jump the gun and we go about our lives knowing that Matthews will be a Leaf.
Hard to imagine them being traded
This group can largely be summarized as players that would be leaving gaping holes in the lineup and hard to imagine being moved in a situation where the Leafs win the trade. They are virtually untouchable, but nevertheless, it could be an interesting conversation to see what teams would give up for them.
TJ Brodie: Aside from Auston Matthews I don’t think there is another player on the Leafs that is as irreplaceable as Brodie. Brodie makes all of his defensive partners better, can play on both sides of the ice, and rarely has a bad game. At a $5M price tag, the Leafs would never find someone who can do what he does. Moving him would be a massive mistake.
Morgan Rielly: Rielly is getting into where I’d at least want to have the conversation with a rival GM to see what they would give up for him. As much as $7.5M is a lot of money and looking at the style of play of Rielly it’s possible to see how that money could be better spent for the Leafs, his departure means having to find another top pairing defenseman and an elite power player and that isn’t coming cheap. I can appreciate that there are lots of defensive gaps in Rielly’s game, but he should be sticking around until the Leafs truly know what they have with Sandin and Liljegren.
John Tavares: That full no movement clause basically ends any discussion of Tavares going anywhere and that’s fine if he continues to be around a point per game player. There is no chance he lives up to an $11M/yr value for the Leafs again, but he is still a $9M value guy, and we have to look at his acquisition as an attempt to jump start the Leafs competitive window, and it did, at least for the regular season. The back years of the contract aren’t going to be ideal, but it also doesn’t make sense to go out of their way to make a good player go away likely at the cost of replacing him with a lesser asset.
Mitch Marner: Personally, I’d see Marner as someone who should be moved instead of Nylander, who the Leafs will likely at least let teams kick tires on this offseason. For all the years of Marner vs. Nylander, we can probably land on the fact that Marner is the better player, but it comes down to who is the best value. That’s why I’d at least explore Marner. I suspect the Leafs don’t feel the same way and there’s a very good chance the Leafs see Marner being up in that top tier with Matthews as untouchable.
Moving them doesn’t make sense
This group are the players who are truly remarkable bargains and the Leafs would be shooting themselves in the foot trying to replace the value they bring.
Michael Bunting: He’s untouchable to me. We’ll see how I feel once they get into contract extension talk and it’s established what Bunting is looking for moneywise then, but that’s a conversation for closer to the trade deadline.
Mark Giordano: I think it goes without saying that a player who signed a 2 year- $800k AAV deal to be with the Leafs isn’t going anywhere.
Erik Kallgren: Why not include Kallgren in this list? Not that I think anyone is asking for him anyway, but there is good value for the Leafs in having a waiver exempt goaltender with NHL experience on their AHL roster. Woll is also waiver exempt as well, so whether they are the 3-4 goalies on the depth chart or more ideally the 4-5 guys, the Leafs at least have goaltenders ready to step in.
Teams will be calling
If I’m a rival GM looking at who is worth exploring off the Leafs roster and might be available, or if I’m looking to counter the Leafs interest in one of my players, this is the group that I’m probably shopping from. Not surprisingly it is largely futures driven here.
William Nylander: I love Willy and don’t want to see him traded, but the reality of the situation is that if the Leafs want to take a run at a star goaltender or think that moving Tavares to the wing is the right call next season then Nylander could be the best path to landing a goaltender or top six center. It’s bizarre how a contract that many labeled as trash has now become one of the better bargains around the NHL for forwards and with the Canucks exploring trading one of their higher end forwards, the Blackhawks apparently shopping DeBrincat, and other high profile moves like that, the Leafs could take advantage of other teams setting the market for a return on Nylander that make be advantageous. I’d fully expect to see Nylander in a Leafs uniform next season, but I’d imagine he’s more in play than in previous years.
Topi Niemela: A breakout year in Liiga put Niemela on the radar of a lot of people. Finding out whether he can have another year like that is maybe a question the Leafs are more comfortable with having another team explore, and given that he seems to be regarded as a top tier prospect sometimes cashing out on potential makes more sense than seeing what the development path holds for a player. I’d very much have Niemela in play.
Nick Robertson: Robertson seems like the obvious answer to a Leafs team need for high end upside at a low low price, but there is also a feeling that Kyle Dubas likes a bit more certainty in his roster construction. Hoping that Nick Robertson can add value vs. getting value for Robertson in a trade is something that needs to be measured and if the feeling is the Leafs development staff isn’t reaching him it could be time to move on.
Pierre Engvall: Engvall isn’t going to land the Leafs a lot in trade, but as a pending RFA with arbitration rights, it might be in the Leafs best interest to trade Engvall rather than pay him.
Rasmus Sandin and Timothy Liljegren: I’m going to bundle them as one often does and talk about how each of them is a restricted free agent that is very much at risk of receiving offer sheets that won’t give the Leafs a return anywhere near what they are worth. Worst case scenario, if there is an offer sheet, is the Leafs see one or both of them go with only a 2nd round pick (or two) as the returns. The best case scenario is they are now locked into paying players $4M when they initially had no intention of doing so. For that reason, it might be worth talking trades with potential GMs looking to go after them. There’s also the fact the Leafs are a bit deeper on the left side and might find Sandin a bit more expendable if they can upgrade in a position of greater need, and generally, if the Leafs want to make a splash they’d have to give up good young players in a trade and these are two teams would consider.
Obviously, the true best case is still for both to be back with the Leafs.
2022 First Overall Pick: Again, if the Leafs want to go big on anyone this summer, they’ll have to pay. This is another way of doing that without giving up on their own guys.
If the Leafs are looking to send out salaries here are two names that move the most.
Jake Muzzin: Muzzin definitely has some hockey left in him when he’s healthy. He’d also be hard to replace from a middle pairing defenseman perspective and has a full no trade clause this year. There really isn’t any reason to expect him to go anywhere unless there is a team that he’d potentially be okay with playing for that wants to take his entire salary off the books without the Leafs retaining. That’s a tough ask. There wouldn’t be much of a return on any deal for Muzzin, the cap space would be its own reward, but he certainly fits in this group as a more passive way of attempting to dump salary.
Petr Mrazek: Mrazek on the other hand seems like there will be a full court press to see if they can rid the Leafs of his contract. At best Mrazek was underwhelming as a Leaf, unhealthy and not finding familiarity with the team, and at his worst, well, he really was one of the worst goaltenders in the league last season. And while he’s got nowhere to go but up, it seems unlikely the Leafs believe he’ll go far enough up for him to be worth the trouble. The goal will be to pay as little as possible to find him a new home he’ll accept a trade to. Mrazek does have a 10 team no trade list.
Pack your s#!%
These players seem destined for new teams next season and the Leafs should get some decent value out of their departures as well as some cap space.
Alex Kerfoot: Yeah, we’ve been over this one on the site before. Kerfoot put up 50 points, can play center, only has a one year commitment, and after his signing bonus is paid on July 1st, he costs $750k in salary to the team that picks him up. The only barrier is his 10 team no trade list, but somewhere in the league, there is bound to be an interested party because Kerfoot is even a fair value at his $3.5M cap hit. There just has never been a perfect fit for Kerfoot in the Leafs roster.
Justin Holl: To the delight of many I’ll include Holl here because once free agency opens he’ll look like a steal as a $2M right shot blueliner with only a year left. Throw in the fact he’s proven he can munch on minutes, and it’s easy to see how he’ll have a new home. Though it’s worth noting he too has a 10 team no trade list.
Won’t someone think of the Marlies
It seems only right we close out this article with some of the players that inevitably be the throw-ins of the deals. Some players like Joey Anderson seem destined to be bargains the Leafs use and others like Kristians Rubins and Alex Steeves have the combination of NHL readiness and waivers exemption that make them priorities for being Marlies callups.
Other players like Nick Abruzzese are a bit more of a mystery because he hasn’t had a chance to do any development within the Leafs system, he was just thrown into the mix last year. He’s certainly a player there could be interest around, but the Leafs might also want to know what they have there.
The favourites of the B but really C grade prospect throw-ins are probably Semyon Der Arguchintsev, Mikhail Abramov, and Mac Hollowell. It’s probably also fair to put Filip Kral in this group.
Beyond those players, the Leafs are either going to be curious about their own prospects next steps or that prospect simply just might not have enough value to move the bar in a trade.
Not really a fit anywhere
You may or may not have noticed the absence of Ondrej Kase and Wayne Simmonds. They are a little hard to place in this.
Ondrej Kase as a pending arbitration eligible RFA may or may not receive a contract from the Leafs. He is by all accounts a solid player and one that teams should be interested in and the Leafs should want back, but to say that the injury situation complicates things is an understatement.
Wayne Simmonds is very much likely back but certainly wouldn’t view him as fitting into any of the categories defined above. He’ll very likely continue to rotate in and out of the Leafs this year and not really garner much trade interest while not likely to be someone the Leafs are trying to move either.
So that’s the list. It never seems as exciting once you look at it all together because it’s hard to see the Leafs path to making a substantial trade without some disappointment being attached to it. Without the context of a return, it can be hard to know how to feel about this, so perhaps that’s what we’ll need to explore next.
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