Optimism is a dangerous thing when it comes to the Leafs. I went into the playoffs optimistic, after all, how much a fight would Tampa put up when they’ve played more hockey than anyone else in the past three years? Similarly, I went into this offseason optimistic, sure I was a bit realistic too knowing that great goaltenders wouldn’t be available and Kyle Dubas would be running back the majority of the lineup, but admittedly I expected a noteworthy draft and something resembling an impact skater once free agency opened, and that optimism hasn’t been rewarded. In fact for all the criticism, the goaltending related moves are what stands out as the success story for Kyle Dubas this summer. Of course, I mean the summer so far. Free agency hasn’t even been open for a week, and while I’d expect Kyle Dubas to be on vacation as soon as the Leafs development camp wraps up, there is still some time to wow those of us who want to be wowed. Maybe that’s still optimism. I really need to learn.
The remaining big spenders
When it comes to teams with money to burn in the NHL, there are few of them who still have that money left. Teams like the Coyotes, Ducks, and Sabres are still likely looking to add, although the Ducks and Coyotes likely looking for big cap hits, and low salary situations and none of those teams are going to be particularly attractive to players with no trade clauses (namely Muzzin, Holl, and Kerfoot, the players Toronto would want to move.) It’s a bit of a similar story with New Jersey and Chicago, and with teams that at least once looked competitive like Calgary, they are dealing with the Tkachuk and Mangipane contracts which will cut into their ability to add. Same with Dallas and Jason Roberton and Jake Oettinger’s contracts. Winnipeg and Ottawa having cap space doesn’t do much good either as they are often fighting for the free space when you are guessing who is on a player’s no trade clause. So who really are we talking about when it comes to who is still looking to add and might have to look to the trade market?
Has Detroit added enough that players will go there? Probably not.
Nashville is a possibility, but most likely just for Kerfoot. They’ve loaded up enough on defense that they aren’t looking for Toronto cast offs.
Can anyone see Muzzin waiving to play for the Islanders only to have Lou tell him to shave off his beard?
The Wild are certainly worth mentioning when it comes to Justin Holl, and the Kraken could have some appeal to a West coaster like Kerfoot, and Muzzin, well… we probably need to accept the idea that it’s not going to happen and start putting our eggs in “having a better/healthier year” basket.
There are options, but not a lot of them and if Toronto needs to just find the best options that exist outside of Kerfoot and Holl’s 10 team no trade clauses. Though it also seems likely it will only be Holl on the move.
Speaking of Holl, maybe the Leafs should keep him…
The hate mail in our inbox just spiked at the mere mention of keeping Justin Holl, but hear me out as I’m not making a case for him beyond being a bottom pairing defenseman.
Holl likely hasn’t been moved yet because moving Holl before Sandin is signed, sealed, and delivered back to the Leafs is Dubas potentially putting Toronto’s depth at risk. If for some reason Sandin is out, either via offer sheet or comes to the conclusion that Sandin will be too costly to move forward with and explore a trade, The Muzzin-Holl pairing potentially rides again (but likely in 3rd pairing form).
Let’s say Sandin does get signed though. It’s the most likely course of action and the one that leaves us all with a nice happy feeling. What makes sense then? It was lost on absolutely no one that Kyle Dubas said that he prefers Rasmus Sandin on the left side. That means asking one of Rielly, Giordano, or Muzzin to move over to the right side to accommodate that. Muzzin straight up can’t. As unpretty as it is watching Rielly play in his own zone now, it was even worse back when he was tried on the right side, and Giordano moving over at this stage in his career seems like asking too much of him as well. Ideally the Leafs instead should be trying to shed the LD who isn’t their future (Sandin), their present (Rielly), or their best value (Giordano) and by process of elimination, that means moving Muzzin.
Like I said in the previous section, moving Muzzin is a challenge and a half because of the full no-trade clause, but I have it on good authority that teams have been able to do this kind of thing before.
Of course it’s not even about picking one defenseman or the other. Injuries happen and injuries especially seem to happen when talking about Rasmus Sandin and Jake Muzzin. The Leafs could very well be requiring the service of their seventh defenseman by the end of training camp, and it really might not be an issue that Toronto is going into the season with four defensemen on the left side, and that’s when the conversation steers towards the value of trading Kerfoot over Holl.
A big part of the case for Kerfoot instead of Holl is that $3.5M is more money that $2M. Sorry to get into the heavy math. Getting Kerfoot out means the Leafs have a bit more flexibility with Sandin and they can pursue a replacement forward as well. There is something to be said for prioritizing defensive depth over forward depth, as the Leafs have plenty of depth options that fingers can be crossed on, and defense it really is Holl then Benn, then hope that Mete can figure it out. That’s a bit more of a gamble.
There’s also some incentive in getting the best possible return for Kerfoot as he will almost certainly be priced out of Toronto if he plays up to his 2021-22 season. Holl on the other hand might be someone Toronto could keep around with some term. The return also isn’t likely to be as strong for Holl as for Kerfoot, so there is less of a benefit in moving him.
Finally, the Marlies factor
One of the things that often gets lost when we’re looking at salary cap lineups like the one above is there is a significant under representation of the Marlies in the NHL roster examples. To some extent that is also going to create some salary cap challenges, but is arguably worth the trouble to fit in better players.
Nick Robertson will very likely get a real look this year. It’s tough to place where the right fit is for him as he’s a shoot first guy that needs to fit in to a lineup with some notable shoot first guys already in it, but he’ll be an important part of making the Leafs a strong three line team or at the very least two give Toronto a very tough to beat top six. Joey Anderson has just as good, if not a better shot at gaining a bottom six position over someone like Adam Gaudette, and could be a better fit for what the Leafs want to do than someone like Denis Malgin. And speaking of Malgin, he’s going to be competing with a very similar player in Nick Abruzzese over who works best on the Leafs. Players like Steeves, McMann, Douglas, and Holmberg are all going to be making cases that they belong on the Leafs as well and while there look to be nine forward positions 100% spoken for, 3-4 will be up for grabs and could see players on the 2nd, 3rd, or 4th line.
When it comes to the blueline there is decidedly less help on the way from the AHL. Perhaps another case for holding onto Holl as right side depth.
More from TheLeafsNation.com
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