We’re at the 3rd quarter mark, and as was done at the first quarter, and halfway point of the season, I’m taking this as an opportunity to rid my mind of the excess number of Leafs takes I have floating around my head. Given that it’s trade deadline weekend, I’m sure there will be more of a theme to this, but the importance of the final stretch of the season shouldn’t be forgotten either. The greater playoff impact is still going to come from the group that is already here, not the newbies who will be joining in the next few days.
Now here are the takes:
1. If he comes at a reasonable price, the Leafs should bring in Miles Wood in the same fashion they brought in Riley Nash last season.
While the hockey world is presently in awe of the Lightning paying an absolute ransom for Brandon Hagel, it’s worth considering that there is a very comparable alternative to Hagel sitting on New Jersey’s LTIR. Wood would be a gamble, to say the least, but shouldn’t be an expensive one, and at best he’s a second-line winger, and at worst he’s a sparkplug for the fourth line.
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2. Marc-Andre Fleury is definitely not the answer.
This is not the hottest of takes, but one I wanted to get out there no matter what. He’s the reigning Vezina winner, sure, and that means a lot, but so does the fact that he might be the only goaltender who has struggled more than Campbell and Mrazek on high danger chances this season. If that is the area of ice needing the most improvement from the goaltender, Fleury isn’t the way to go, and that decision saves the Leafs a ton of money too.
3. Trading Mrazek shouldn’t be as hard as it looks.
I have plenty of doubt that Kyle Dubas is even considering moving Mrazek and his $3.8M cap hit, and certainly, the fact that Mrazek has a 10 team no-trade clause makes it difficult too, but with a reasonable buyout and/or manageable cap hit if a team wants to try and salvage him, the Leafs might be able to get away with only paying a 2nd to send him on his way. There’s no shortage of teams looking to sort out their goaltending, maybe it’s time to take advantage of that.
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4. Selling Jack Campbell
I don’t think it will happen, especially since Campbell currently looks like the best alternative for the Leafs in net, but I wonder what a cash-strapped team like Vegas will do now that Robin Lehner is shut down for the year. Could a Campbell/Broissoit tandem work? That’s honestly the tandem I wanted for the Leafs this season. If someone will pay for Campbell, the Leafs would need to bring in someone new, so this might just be an unnecessary game of musical chairs.
5. Give Alex Kerfoot as much time at center as possible.
It seems like the Leafs are already doing this, but I’ll say it anyway. Finding an additional middle-six center will be too expensive both from a cap hit and asset perspective at the trade deadline, so as much as the Leafs could be dealing Kerfoot to upgrade at other areas, he’s probably needed as the backup center option for the Leafs. To make the most of that skill set, he needs to play in the middle, even if it is on the fourth line.
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6. Spezza and Simmonds spending time in the press box isn’t the end of the world.
I don’t it is something that bothers them beyond the fact that everyone would prefer to be playing, but the reality is that fourth-liners and bottom pairing defensemen are keenly aware that following the trade deadline they might not be in every day. They might not see every playoff game. The fact that both Spezza and Simmonds show how much they care about winning on a nightly basis makes the decision tougher, but if they get an honest cup run out of it, they’ll accept the outcome.
7. Josh Ho-Sang probably doesn’t get an NHL contract this weekend.
I love Ho-Sang, I root for Ho-Sang, but the nature of deadline upgrades means pushing people down in the lineup, not looking to elevate AHLers. Ho-Sang has shown a lot this season and is on a great path, but with Toronto sitting at 47 SPC out of 50, contract space could also be a factor.
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8. It doesn’t matter if the defenseman is a left or right shot, the Leafs could use a bona fide top-four guy.
The biggest question when it comes to Mark Giordano is why the Leafs would be interested in him when he’s a left shot. The next question seems to be if he can play on the right side. If you go into the playoffs assuming that Rielly, Brodie, Muzzin, Sandin, New Defenseman, and one of Holl/Lyubushkin/Liljegren make up the blue line, there’s a definite need for one of Rielly, new guy, or Sandin to take up residence on the right side. Assuming it’s Sandin that would potentially mean a Rielly-Brodie and New guy-Sandin pairing with Muzzin likely playing in a third-pairing role. That doesn’t leave me worrying about the lack of right shots.
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9. I’m fine with the silence from the Leafs so far.
Kyle Dubas has often said he prefers to act early around the trade deadline. That time has passed, and if a deal happened now it wouldn’t be early. So since the early window is closed, the best situation for the Leafs is to have the flexibility to make as many moves at the 11th hour as possible. Toronto needs to capitalize off of sellers who still need to move assets, and really there the majority of players available are fairly similar to each other, so the first choice doesn’t matter a whole lot.
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10. This trade deadline terrifies me, and it’s probably Nick Foligno’s fault.
A good chunk of the leadup to the last trade deadline involved me saying there was no way that Kyle Dubas would be interested in Nick Foligno. I sounded like a jackass. After Foligno was brought in, I gave the benefit of doubt to Kyle Dubas saying that he’s smarter than me, and you have to take a swing on a big move to be competitive. I sounded like a jackass again. My takeaways from this are that I am most definitely a jackass, and I’m terrified by the silence about the direction the Leafs are going in. Anything could be possible, and despite liking the team Kyle Dubas has built, I’m no longer naive enough to believe I’ll like all of his decisions.
11. Splitting up Nylander and Tavares makes a ton of sense, it’s just hard to figure out who they’d play with.
Tavares and Nylander can work really well together when they are clicking at the same time. Earlier this year it was Nylander carrying the line and Tavares struggling, now Nylander has taken a step back. Given that the two of them haven’t really had too many games where they were complimenting each other, maybe it’s time to spread them around a little. Given that Nylander has looked good on Kerfoot’s wing when Alex has been at center, I’d start with that. As for Tavares, he could be fun with Robertson and Mikheyev.
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12. The Refs are the refs are the refs. They haven’t changed and aren’t suddenly going to get better. It’s time to plan our lives accordingly.
I think it’s fair that people complain about the refs, but I can say I have no hope of things changing for the better. In fact, as games get more meaningful, the refs are going to decide that they don’t want to be responsible for the outcome of games by calling penalties, and in the process, they will decide more games than ever. Toronto needs to start planning around that, and recognize that only a finite number of penalties are going to be called, so play like they’ll get away with 90% of what they do. And while they are at it, be prepared if they’ve got a lead that means penalties are coming, and rather than sit back, pad that lead a little more because the second you stop trying to score, you’ll be short-handed.
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13. Are line change drills a thing, because the Leafs need them.
I think it was somewhere between tyke and novice hockey that players learn to change on the fly. It was an exciting time and hilarious to watch as gates open and either too many kids skate in or out, or collide into each other as both are attempted at the same time. Anyway, that’s the last time I remember having to do line changes in practice. Now, there’s a lot more to line changes at the NHL level, but the fact that the Leafs are consistently taking too many men on the ice penalties leads me to believe a refresher is needed. It seems like we’re moving in a straight path towards a crucial game seven too many men call.
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14. Travis Dermott deserves a fresh start somewhere, I just hope it’s in the Western Conference.
It seems to be all but certain that Dermott isn’t going to be a Leaf past Monday. And while I’ve always liked him, and think if he shot right he’d be a top-four defenseman, the reality is Toronto is not going to have a spot for him in their roster, even. Because of the value I put on him, I hope Toronto gets some kind of a return for him, but undoubtedly the priority is moving his salary, and that’s fine.
15. I’m fine with Sandin and Liljegren sitting down the stretch and in the playoffs, just not as a default.
The Leafs upgrading on the blueline is great, and if it means that they take a halt on the development of their young defensemen for a month, that’s understandable. What seems less understandable is if that halt comes at the expense of a player like Jacob Middleton, who hasn’t really played up to their level.
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Middleton would be a great fit for the Leafs (longer term) and certainly improves their short-term depth, but putting him ahead of Sandin and Liljegren doesn’t sit right with me. The same would have been true with players like Manson or Chiarot, and really Giordano is the threshold for where it starts making sense.
16. Load management needs to be a thing.
There aren’t as many players that specifically need to sit regularly down the stretch, outside of any injuries that we don’t know about, but with the playoff picture largely determined, is it necessary to have Rielly play around 24 minutes a night, or to consistently have Auston Matthews above 20 minutes? Maybe now is the time to start lowering their shift counts, and possibly send out the second unit powerplay a bit more than the first. It’s been a backloaded schedule and the playoffs have the potential to be a fresh marathon. Maybe no to load management, but pacing themselves wouldn’t be a bad idea.
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17. Give me a trade I didn’t see coming.
This doesn’t even really need to be a Leafs thing, just an NHL in general thing. Just out of the blue hit me with an MLB/NBA/NFL caliber trade that truly shakes up the league. I’m challenging the NHL to be entertaining. I just don’t want this hypothetical deal to make the Bruins or Lightning better.
18. I’d be okay with the P.K. Subban terminated contract big-brained idea.
It was Elliotte Friedman that floated the idea that now that most of Subban’s contract has been paid out that the nice thing for the Devils to do would be to mutually terminate Subban’s contract so he’d have the freedom to sign somewhere else. That somewhere else is often suspected to be Toronto.
There is no reason for the Devils to do this other than to be nice, and Subban would probably still pull in slightly more money by staying in New Jersey so he might not be interested either, but having Subban as a cheap, middle, or bottom pairing right-side defenseman would be an exciting option, even if he’s not the player he once was.
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19. Leafs should listen if teams are calling about Mikheyev or Engvall.
It’s hard to ignore what Brandon Hagel’s return was. Mikheyev because of his UFA status, and Engvall because he doesn’t produce anywhere near as much offense wouldn’t fetch as much, but the market for affordable middle six talent is there.
Of course, the Leafs are a team that needs that same type of player too, but given the similarity between Engvall and Mikheyev, do they want to cash out on one and bring in a more physical option like Tyler Motte with the open roster space? Still, the answer is probably to keep them both, but we’re on take #19 and I’m spitballin’.
20. The Leafs need to go into the trade deadline intending to use a good chunk of Muzzin’s LTIR space.
The Leafs should use the available cap space they have at the moment, they just need to have a drastic escape plan if he gets healthy and no one else has been hurt.
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The unfortunate argument here is that it is hockey and someone is likely to spend some time on the LTIR in the next few weeks. There’s also that through demotions of waiver exempt players like Sandin, Liljegren, and Robertson, or tweener players like Clifford, or even a waiving of Mrazek and replacing him with Kallgren would create at least a $3M+ bubble of space for them to use. Dumping Dermott’s salary definitely helps too.
With the Lightning, Avalanche, and Panthers being the most active teams in the trade deadline so far, it stands to reason that Toronto will have to be aggressive to keep up.
That’s it for the takism for now. 21 more playoff bound takes will be on their way at the end of April.
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