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Five bottom six forwards the Leafs should consider acquiring
2 months ago
The Leafs are in the midst of a productive month of December as they climb up the standings and find themselves within striking range of catching the Bruins for the top spot.
Even with things going smoothly of late, that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be thinking of the bigger picture in ways to make them even better. It’s no secret that Brad Treliving is in the hunt to shore up the blueline as evidenced by their interest in Chris Tanev and Sean Walker in recent weeks; that should be their primary focus right now before they consider any other moves.
Once the Leafs have made their move to improve the defence, the next area they should look to ameliorate is their bottom six. With Ryan Reaves being a liability every time he steps on the ice and Bobby McMann not yet earning the trust of the coaching staff, Toronto would be wise to look into bringing in an external option to provide a different element to the third and fourth lines.
Luckily for them, there are plenty of players for them to consider that fit their needs and won’t break the bank in terms of assets surrendered. Here are five options that should be top of mind for the Leafs in the weeks leading up to the trade deadline.
I already wrote about Toropchenko being someone worth considering over a month ago and since that post went up my belief in him being a player high on my list of potential targets has only gotten stronger.
Standing at 6’6″ and weighing 222 pounds, the Russian winger brings a lot of elements to the table that would provide a significant boost to the bottom six. Toropchenko is a guy who will give it his all every single shift, being a menace on the forecheck and dishing out hits every chance he can. He is reliable defensively due to his longer reach and his quick skating relative to his size, making him a dependable option at even strength and shorthanded. There is even some untapped offensive potential that he has shown flashes of on occasion.
The best part is not only does he still have room to grow given that he is only 24, he has a reasonable cap hit of $1.25 million that runs until next year and will remain an RFA. Toropchenko will not come cheap because of that and salary will need to be moved the other way to make it work, but it will be worth it because it would be an upgrade that would help them this year and beyond.
He may not be a well-known name among hockey fans currently, but as a noted Toropchenko truther, there is a lot to like about his game and he is someone the Leafs need to take a run at.
Sticking with the Blues, another player that could become available in the weeks leading up to the deadline is Sundqvist.
Like Toropchenko, Sundqvist is a high-energy guy who is noticeable every time he steps onto the ice. The primary difference is that he is more established, comes at a cheaper cap hit, and knows what it takes to win given his two Stanley Cups. He currently leads all Blues forwards in blocks with 24 and is seventh on the team in hits with 34 (six behind Toropchenko in that category). In every year apart from the 2021 COVID-shortened campaign, you can count on him surpassing 20 points which he is well on his way to achieving this season with 12 points (three goals and nine assists) in 30 games played.
The 6’3″ Swedish centre will not break the bank on the trade market as he was dealt last season for only a fourth-round pick. Treliving would probably only need to surrender a fourth or a fifth-round pick to secure his services and fitting his salary would be straightforward on account of him making $775K this season. Whether it be as part of a bigger trade or just acquiring him, Sundqvist makes a ton of sense for the Leafs.
A lot of Leafs fans lately have been highlighting Trenin as an ideal trade target for the bottom six. It’s not hard to see why: he checks off a lot of the boxes that the team might be looking for.
The pending UFA has established himself as a hard-hitting forward who is responsible defensively and is an effective penalty killer. While his offensive ceiling is limited, Trenin makes up for it by being a solid shutdown forward that you would want to have on the ice late in a game defending a lead. He is also pretty versatile since he can move to the middle of the ice in a pinch and has success in taking faceoffs. With his cap hit clocking in at $1.7 million, fitting him into the fold would not be difficult as it would likely only need to involve a roster player with a similar salary going the other way.
He certainly would be an intriguing target on the market, though it all depends on how the Predators fare in the weeks leading up to the deadline because they currently sit comfortably in a playoff spot. That makes the prospects of a trade unlikely at this time, but if Nashville falls out of the postseason picture and begin to sell off their assets, Trenin should be someone for the Leafs to inquire about.
Many people expected the Sharks would finish near the bottom of the NHL standings and they are well on their way to improving their lottery odds. That means it will only be a matter of time before San Jose kicks off the fire sale of their tradeable assets, and one player that could find himself on the block is Kunin.
He has been ravaged by injuries throughout his career but has been a dependable two-way forward who can play all three positions when healthy. Kunin has always been on pace to record around 20 points in the seasons shortened due to ailments, which is the production rate you would expect from a fourth-line player. This is a guy who skates pretty well, has a decent shot, and has a strong work ethic that will make him noticeable each time he steps onto the ice. That kind of energy and tenacity is always a welcome addition to the bottom six and that would make him someone you would feel comfortable playing in all situations.
The primary thing working against a potential Kunin trade apart from his durability is his cap hit of $2.75 million. While the Sharks may be open to retaining salary, he will be an RFA at season’s end and that would make the asking price a lot higher than it otherwise would be for a UFA. Still, this is a guy who is in the middle of his prime and could be an intriguing pickup health permitting.
Henrique has all the makings of being one of the top targets for this season’s trade deadline: he is an established centre, plays a dependable two-way game, and is on an expiring contract.
He can be counted on to finish a season with around 40 points, has consistently maintained advanced numbers above 50%, has been effective at taking faceoffs, and can comfortably play in whatever situation or position asked of him. Henrique’s presence would be a significant boost to the bottom six because he would provide them with many different line combinations and not look out of place. And although he has only been to the playoffs twice in his career, he has a knack for stepping up in the biggest moments with two series-clinching goals to his name.
He would by far be the most expensive of all the options listed here due to his hefty salary cap of $5.825 million needing to be retained and would almost certainly require a third party to get a deal done. But as far as rentals are concerned, Herique would be a great addition that could pay dividends in the clutch.
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