Leafs still prioritizing defense, possible interest in Simmonds, and making room for Knies: Rumours

Jon Steitzer
1 year ago
My apologies to anyone who has been paying attention over the past few weeks and has noticed that I tend to run the Rumours posts on Thursdays. Your commitment to TLN content is admirable, and I’m sorry for letting you down. To the rest of you who are just gleefully clicking on any fresh Leafs content, ignore all of that. It doesn’t matter when we run stuff and the once a week thing is largely just to keep ourselves in check that we aren’t going overboard with the rumour mongering. Presumably the delay this week is largely due to the fact that when a team is on barely beatable over a month and on a five game winning streak, you aren’t too focused on additions or subtractions from the lineup. Still, that Muzzin cap relief looms large and let’s talk about what the Leafs might want to do with it.

A Simmonds landing spot

While the Jarnkrok injury does seem like it has the potential to get Wayne Simmonds into the lineup at a greater frequency than he has been playing, it’s still not particularly likely that the Leafs are looking to utilize him as much as Wayne would like. And while it would be great to see the Leafs keep Wayne around for whatever playoff run of destiny they will surely go on this postseason, there is the matter that Simmonds probably wants to play, and for that reason, I will continue to beat the drum that the team that makes the most sense for him is Edmonton. In 32 Thoughts this week, Elliotte Friedman highlighted the Oilers need for physical depth:
The Oilers were looking for depth forwards with an edge, but have also indicated they think they’ll be better when several of their injured forwards — not just Kane — return. They don’t seem inclined to make a move simply for the sake of doing it, although opponents feel they are noticeably less nasty without Kane.
I know Edmonton can be a hard sell as a move. I say that as someone presently living in Edmonton. And the Oilers haven’t exactly been at their best this year, but in the Pacific Division, it seems that the Oilers grabbing a playoff spot is inevitable, and if they are looking to add physicality, why break with their tradition of exclusively going after Leafs players?
The Oilers managed to make it to the Western Conference finals last season, so it is perfectly reasonable to assume they could have another playoff run in them. On a temporary basis, the Oilers could be a fit for Simmonds.

Elliotte has the Leafs prioritizing their blueline

Despite the absences of Muzzin, Brodie, and Rielly and the Leafs still finding a way to win, the hockey world is still adamant that the Leafs need another top four defensemen. Ignore the fact that Giordano can still keep up in that role. Ignore that fact that Liljegren doesn’t need to develop into a top four defenseman, he’s already there, ignore the fact that Rasmus Sandin and Justin Holl have been shown flashes of top four ability as well in the past few games, and certainly ignore that Jordie Benn will bring the physical component that many, including Elliotte are prescribing for the Leafs blueline. If that is the case, the yes, a physical top four defender is exactly what the Leafs are in need of.
Gavrikov is certainly an interesting option and one that we’ll hear connected to the Leafs throughout the year for a few reasons: He’s not expensive, he’s physical, the Leafs and Blue Jackets have made deals previously, and if you look past his results this year, there is the potential for him to be good. I certainly don’t dismiss this idea because it really seems plausible and doesn’t eliminate the Leafs ability to pursue other trades as well.
Gavrikov shouldn’t cost the Leafs much if they can be patient enough to wait for Brodie and Rielly’s return and not make a deal from a position of weakness, but at the same time, there should be some motivation to get a deal done sooner rather than later as acclimating a defenseman to a new system isn’t always something you want to do exclusively post trade deadline. Ilya Lyubushkin worked out well for the Leafs because they got him early, and Mark Giordano worked out for the Leafs because he’s Mark freakin’ Giordano. Going big on a defenseman is not going to have the same payoff as a shiny new forward, but Friedman addressed that a bit in his 32 Thoughts column as well:
Toronto’s on an excellent run despite a banged-up defence and goaltending that just recently returned to full health. The Maple Leafs are fourth in the NHL just weeks after we had the entire organization looking for new jobs. They have time to let this play out, but it’s safe to say they will save their best assets for whatever they feel they might need on the blueline. There’s the possibility of adding a left-shot scorer, but that’s not the priority and I think they’d also like to show Matthew Knies there’s a path when he’s ready to leave NCAA Minnesota.
Since I didn’t acknowledge it above, I will say it here, the current healthy Leafs defensemen are playing beyond their means and the PDO is showing it. Whether it is as simple as Conor TImmins panning out as a reliable bottom pairing option, or whether it is Benn, Brodie, and Rielly returning that gets the Leafs into a safer defensive situation, we can all acknowledge that Justin Holl playing the most minutes on the Leafs is a ticking timebomb.
Elliotte also makes an interesting point about the Leafs wanting to save space for Matthew Knies and I think he’s both right and wrong in that regard, but he’s also limited by space in his column.
The Leafs will absolutely give Knies every chance to make an impact and get him time in their lineup as soon as the NCAA season comes to a close, I don’t doubt that for a second. What I do doubt is that it will keep the Leafs back from making a move at forward, which might not be their biggest need, but the best place to apply some depth and make upgrades.
I love Pontus Holmberg and David Kampf, but I’m not a fan that we are one Matthews wrist injury away from seeing either of them playing in the top six or seeing Alex Kerfoot moved back to center. There is a pressing need there especially when Holmberg can absolutely take some shifts on the wing and the Leafs can continue his NHL development.
The Leafs have Engvall and Kerfoot, who while being quite serviceable NHL players, are players who can be moved out in order to make way for upgraded talent in the Leafs lineup. There isn’t any reason to believe that the Leafs can’t upgrade and still have room for Knies or other prospects as well.

Making room

This past week saw Anton Stralman on waivers, and as I write this Kieffer Bellows is on waivers. While neither of these players represents a can’t miss, must claim player (to that point Stralman cleared waivers), both were interesting options for the Leafs if they had the capacity to add them. Stralman would have addressed immediate and potentially long term defensive depth, including being a right shot, and Bellows could have been a free look at a physical forward while Calle Jarnkrok is hurt. As I said, it’s not worth losing sleep over not bringing them in, but the flexibility to do so is something the Leafs should be trying to get back.
This week saw the Golden Knights jettison Zach Hayes for future considerations in order to get an open players contract available. This is something the Leafs should be exploring as well, and I’m willing to bet they are exploring it in some capacity.
Wayne Simmonds is one of the obvious names to put out there as, and as mentioned above there is at least one team that should be interested (assuming Simmonds will waive his no trade clause to go there.) Players like Pavel Gogolev, Bobby McMann, and others sitting further down the organizational depth chart are easy names to offer up as solutions on the Leafs side of things, but factoring in the other team has to want the player being shipped out, I wonder if the Leafs will cut their ties with someone like Joey Anderson in order to regain some control over the ability to acquire players.
For now it seems like Simmonds name is the only one out there, but with someone like Matthew Knies eventually needing a contract space, the Leafs will eventually need to clear at least one contract without taking someone back.

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