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Maple Leafs trade bait, shots against, and a plea for Hildeby: Leaflets

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Photo credit:Steven Ellis/Daily Faceoff
Jon Steitzer
1 month ago
It’s time for the last Leaflets of 2023. It’s been an interesting year of constantly questioning Sheldon Keefe, stating that the sky isn’t falling but simultaneously hoping for radical change, and wondering why the Maple Leafs hate updating their website so much (after two months they finally treated us to an update to celebrate Noah Chadwick’s entry level deal.) I’d imagine there will be a lot more of the same in 2024, so let’s finish up the year with some stray thoughts.

Leafs trade bait

We hear an awful lot about who the Leafs aren’t willing to trade and it seems that Easton Cowan, Fraser Minten and the more the obvious Matthew Knies are the untouchable prospects on the list (do we still call Knies a prospect?). This certainly complicates things as other teams are likely looking for good players and the Leafs come up a bit short on high end prospects, especially with Roni Hirvonen’s injury situation and with the fact that Dennis Hildeby should absolutely be on that no trade list as well but wasn’t mentioned because goaltenders are always forgotten.
The available prospects of interest are probably Topi Niemela, William Villeneuve, and Ryan Tverberg probably highlight the list of players that teams would ask for and Toronto would make available in the right situation.
Beyond that some of the older prospects like Alex Steeves, Nick Abruzzese, and Mikko Kokkonen might carry some value as well if the target is more of a bottom roster rental player.
Where things get interesting from a Leafs perspective is whether or not Nick Robertson will be in play heading into the trade deadline. He’s been a solid secondary scorer for the Leafs and his price of $796k is something the Leafs need in order keep their roster as flexible as possible. That said, there are priorities for the Leafs and if including Robertson allows Toronto to address a need more pressing than secondary scoring, Robertson might be on his way out.
Toronto’s draft pick situation for the next couple of years is very interesting. This year, other than not having a 2nd round pick, the Leafs are very well stocked having a 1st, 3rd, 4th, 3 5ths, a 6th, and 2 7th round picks. Adding depth looks like an easy task, high end additions, not so much outside of using the first. Next year the Leafs only have a 3rd round pick before the 5th round. That not only limits the trading of 2025 picks but might create a reluctance to move the 2024 1st round pick.
As for who is on the Leafs roster there isn’t a lot of give. Maybe Toronto might find a taker for David Kampf, a move that would potentially create some next flexibility cap wise for the Leafs. There is also whether or not Brad Treliving values own rentals as much as Kyle Dubas did and there might be interest in cashing out on TJ Brodie prior to bringing in more defensive help better suited to the style of play the Leafs want from their blueline.
I’d also float Tyler Bertuzzi as a potentially interesting option (provided he’s dealt to the Western Conference). Bertuzzi continues to show signs of figuring things out and was brought in specifically for the postseason so giving up on him now seems unlikely but if Toronto wants to access $5.5M of cap space and potentially pick up an asset along the way, Bertuzzi is an interesting option which might allow Toronto to become players on strong third line centre option.

Shots against is the most alarming stat

There are plenty of warts on the Maple Leafs despite what is a pretty strong overall record. The one that sticks out to me the most are the number of shots against, which as of Friday afternoon had the Leafs sitting at 32.4 shots against per game. This is up from 29.5 last season (7th best in the league), and the highest amount they’ve allowed since the 2018-19 season.
While it seems easy to put this on the Leafs blueline, and it largely is on them, it’s important recognize this is also what happens when you move away from unfun forwards like Pierre Engvall and Alex Kerfoot and go with riverboat gamblers like Max Domi and Nick Robertson instead. The trade off of adding secondary scoring in exchange for two-way hockey hasn’t worked out as well as the Leafs had hoped and it will be interesting to see if Toronto starts pursuing some defensively responsible/puck possession forwards in the next couple of months.

Just give Hildeby a start

The Leafs have reached the point where Ilya Samsonov is unplayable. I don’t know the path to fixing him but his Jack Campbell level performance should be earning Samsonov the Campbell treatment to go and figure himself out in the AHL.
I can appreciate the reluctance to rush Dennis Hildeby to the NHL, but the Leafs have a decent opportunity for a one off appearance next week against the Ducks. A less than good opponent on the road in a building that won’t be hostile. Just tell him in advance he’s getting one game no matter what and then send him down to the Marlies. Let Keith Petruzzelli serve as Martin Jones backup until the next set of back-to-backs on January 20th and 21st, and reassess who splits it with Jones at that point.
One game isn’t going to ruin a goaltender’s development and it is probably a good idea for him to get a sense of the speed and talent at the next level to push him harder.
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