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Buy, sell, or stand pat: What’s the direction for the inconsistent Maple Leafs at the trade deadline?
By Jon Steitzer8 days ago
The movie Crossroads was on the other night. And while it is worth watching for the cinematic masterpiece it is, I also hope that Brad Treliving watched it to address the crossroads his hockey team is currently at. The Maple Leafs are as enigmatic as early 2000s Alexei Kovalev. One night they look like they have the talent to take on anyone in the league and the next night they no show against the Ottawa Senators, Chicago Blackhawks, [insert the name of your favourite bottom dweller here].
With the Leafs not doing much to inspire confidence heading to the deadline but at the same time having noticeable roster needs that should be addressed, I gathered the TLN writers for their input on the question: Should the Leafs be buyers, sellers, or stand pat at the deadline?
As long as the Leafs have an able-bodied Auston Matthews suiting up for the Leafs, the answer will always be buying. The real debate this year shouldn’t be about buying versus selling, but rather how aggressively they should take the buyers’ approach.
That said, it’s safe to say that the Leafs’ 2023 deadline activities led by Kyle Dubas cast some unfair expectations for the next few years to follow. They certainly won’t be shelling out every last asset they have as they did last year, but they should still be looking to upgrade. It’s just a matter of using their assets wisely and not dropping their most valuable trade chips on rental players who won’t re-sign.
In terms of their needs, they at minimum should be looking to add a defenceman and a forward to help straighten out the bottom six. A lot easier said than done if they plan on being conservative buyers, I suppose, but any year you’re not looking to upgrade and best set yourself up for a playoff run with Matthews in Toronto is a year wasted. You can probably address at least one of those needs for a mid-round pick or prospect, but I wonder if Treliving ends up parting with his first-round pick for somebody with term. It’s pretty impossible to say right now, and I have no idea how the money is going to end up working in the end, but that’s Brandon Pridham’s job to figure out.
Buyers, 100%. And they should also see what they can sell. I’m a big fan of how Brad Treliving likes to get involved and at least get a sense of who’s available. As it’s his first season in Toronto, he may not value certain players or prospects as much as we think, which could spark a creative deal out of left field.
The time is now with this core and Treliving needs to look to add to the roster and give them a boost for the playoff run. A little bit of confidence in this group could go a long way right now. Matthews, Marner, Nylander and Tavares have shown time and time again they can produce against just about anyone but if the team defence is underwhelming, as it stands right now, the Leafs will get bounced real fast.
Moving the first rounder is smart as there’s a lot of talk about how this draft falls off after the top 12 picks. I think Treliving is going to package the first with a mid-level prospect and acquire a defenseman with term left on his contract. At least two more years. Treliving is planning on being around for a while and there were reports earlier in the season how the organization was a bit humbled by the inconsistencies. With obvious holes on the blue line and among the bottom six, adding a poor man’s Ryan O’Reilly would give the Leafs a chance to move Max Domi to the wing which could help find some more consistent secondary scoring. And maybe this gives Bertuzzi a chance to play a checking role on the third line and get him ready for playoff mode. It’s been a rough go, but at $5.5 million that’s a tough contract to move with just 6 goals to show for it.
Treliving should be open to just about anything ahead of the deadline. A top-six left winger, third-line centre, two defensemen, and Marc-Andre Fleury? That should do it…
It really depends on whether or not management believes the team can progress beyond the first round with a couple of new additions. If bringing in a new defenceman or two can truly tip the scales, then the Leafs should always be buyers and look to push the needle as far as possible. They have some assets that could get them a decent return and it could do enough to make up for some poor off-season free-agency moves and get the team truly back on track.
The Leafs should be conservative buyers. They are obviously on the hunt to improve their blueline and I believe that should remain their top priority leading up to March 8th. Any additions beyond that such as a bottom-six centre and winger would be an added bonus, but that is presuming they have enough capital to make those further acquisitions. But with so few quality assets at their disposal, Treliving should not go on a fire sale like Dubas did last year and only execute a trade if it’s what he’s looking for. It would be a massive mistake to stand pat or to sell, but they shouldn’t push all their chips to the centre of the table either hence why I think their best approach to this deadline is being a conservative buyer.
If you asked me this question a couple of weeks before the All-Star break, I would’ve said no, the Toronto Maple Leafs shouldn’t be buyers – they should be sellers (their pending UFAs), or at least stand pat and make no moves.
However, after thinking about it, how can you not say the Maple Leafs shouldn’t be buyers? Whether they buy at the same rate as last year is unknown, which is less likely unless they go on a heater soon and force management’s hand, but if you’re the Maple Leafs, you should consider adding at the trade deadline. You’re witnessing your best player score at a ridiculous pace (42 goals in 49 games), the player you just threw $92 million at is having a career year and is on pace for 107 points, which would crush his current career-high, and Mitch Marner is still among the best wingers in the league.
The window to contend for a Stanley Cup is not open forever, and when you have three of the best forwards in the game on your team and in their prime, you should add around them. It doesn’t have to be a significant splash like Kyle Dubas did last season. Some areas on this roster needed addressing in the off-season, and they weren’t.
Now is the time for Brad Treliving to do so. The blue line has reportedly been and should be their top priority. They should also address the bottom six because the lack of scoring from the players this season has been evident. It’ll be interesting to see what Toronto does between now and the trade deadline because all it takes is one low-key addition and a hot team to win the Stanley Cup. But let’s just see if they make the playoffs first.
Somewhere between buyers and standing pat. It might not be the year to sell the farm and go all in, but I also think completely standing pat at the deadline would be a mistake. They definitely need an addition to the d-core, and a difference-maker in the bottom six would be very welcomed. If they are going to make trades, bringing in player(s) with term is something I would fully endorse. Trading for any pending UFAs that aren’t likely to resign (this excludes Chris Tanev) would be a mistake.
I’ve landed on the most complicated answer to my own simple question and it’s that the Leafs can’t do anything to hinder themselves in the present but at the same time this season does not warrant any kind of “this is our moment” type of belief in this team either. So the simple answer to the simple question is to just stand pat, but standing pat is a cop-out when there are so few times in the season that all GMs are actively willing to engage in trades. Brad Treliving might not like the trade deadline but using the trade deadline has to be a part of any GM’s arsenal.
The Leafs need to be thinking about next year as much as they are trying to figure out what is best for them in the playoffs. They need to hold onto their near NHL-ready players like Easton Cowan, Fraser Minten, and arguably Topi Niemela as well. These are their low-cost options that will add surplus value beyond their contract. They also need to be thinking about what they want this team to be beyond this season and look for an opportunity to take a step towards that now, even if it comes at the expense of either looking like they are shuffling deck chairs or not addressing the most pressing need. The reality is any addition or change has the opportunity for positive or negative impact and Toronto needs to put risk aversion aside and operate under addressing what the identity of this team will be under Treliving.
So what’s the answer? It’s being open to anything, but with the understanding that the next couple of seasons are just as important as this one. I guess the answer is buy but buy for 2024-25.
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