Mario Ferraro makes sense for the Leafs, Kieffer Bellows, and a left wing shuffle: Leaflets

Photo credit:Robert Edwards-USA TODAY Sports
Jon Steitzer
16 days ago
The All-Star break to the trade deadline window of hockey is one of the strangest times in hockey. The games still matter more than the final stretch but there is far more of a going through the motions process with it. The Leafs gave a solid effort against the Islanders and closed out against the Stars in strong fashion, and generally fans should be feeling good about this group. Or at least the top of this group as the secondary scoring still leaves a lot to be desired. Still, the focus seems to be almost entirely on the trade deadline and what will Brad Treliving do to build confidence in this group. It’s still 14 games until the Leafs reach the deadline and the busiest part of their schedule. It shouldn’t feel like going through the motions but rather an optimistic time of making gains in the standings.
That said, let’s start off with some deadline speculation…

Mario Ferraro checks a lot of boxes for the Leafs

I confess I don’t watch a lot of the San Jose Sharks. I hate myself but apparently not that much. What I do recall from the times that I have watched them and what the stat sheet tells me is that Mario Ferraro could be a strong fit for the Leafs blueline.
I start by forgiving a lot of Ferraro’s defensive stats. He plays on the Sharks after all and there is only so much he can do. You can make the argument that he is part of the team and owns the poor defensive play and that’s true, but I’m not sure which of Kyle Burroughs, Ty Emberson, or Marc-Edouard Vlasic is the partner that was going to ease the burden on Ferraro and averaging over 22 minutes of hockey per game for the Sharks is going to lead to a bad time as there is an extremely limited number of players that can make each other better.
Ferraro has the hit totals and blocked shot totals that check the boxes for the Maple Leafs in the physicality department. In a lot of ways he’s like Chris Tanev in a far worse situation. He doesn’t have Rasmus Andersson, Mackenzie Weegar, and Noah Hanifin to support him. He’s on an island with the decaying husk of Marc-Edouard Vlasic.
Okay, it’s a bit of a leap to compare Ferraro to Tanev and if were to copy and paste a chart or player card here you’d see why, but there is a lot of reason to be optimistic about a 25 year old defenceman that is playing over 22 minutes a night and does the things Leafs need more of from their blueliners. There are also things like the fact that Ferraro is 25 years old. The fact that he has a $3.25M AAV cap hit for two more seasons after this one, potentially a huge opportunity for surplus value if Ferraro is indeed a fit in his hometown of Toronto.
The biggest drawbacks seem to be the unknown of what is the right fit for Ferraro and the unknown potential for him outside of San Jose. There is also the fact that Ferraro would be bringing in another left shot on a blueline that is desperate for bulking up the right side of the ice.
Even with those drawbacks it doesn’t change three things:
  1. Ferraro is an immediate upgrade to the Leafs blueline now even if he is not as impactful as other options.
  2. The Leafs only have 3 defencemen under contract for next season in a free agent market that is going to see prices rise to go along with the cap. At 25 years old there is also still hope that the best of Ferraro is still yet to come.
  3. At a $3.25M AAV there is still potentially cap space left for the Leafs to make other moves.
Ferraro is a worthwhile target for the Leafs and if they are spending their limited futures, this is a way of doing so responsibly.
(You can read more on Ferraro is the article from Alex Hobson)

An in-house bottom six option

As the Leafs continue to explore secondary scoring options it seems that one of the players that might deserve some consideration is Kieffer Bellows.
Bellows has been on a tear for the Marlies this season in the AHL and recently earned himself an AHL contract after being on a tryout with the team. Bellows has generally been a strong AHL player throughout his career, but in what has been his most complete season in the AHL since his first pro season in 2018-19, he is at the best pace for outputs since going pro. Unfortunately for Kieffer, his success rate in the NHL hasn’t been as good and a 19 point in 45 game season with the Islanders in 2020-21 was his most successful.
Nevertheless, he does seem to be developing well within the Leafs organization and with his familiarity with the NHL, along with his physical style of play he might be suited for a secondary scoring role tryout with the Leafs, given their pressing need. Seeing if there is a fit at the cost of sitting Gregor, McMann, or Reaves doesn’t seem bothersome, and a short term demotion of Holmberg to take a look at Bellows shouldn’t be too concerning either. It would just be a matter of getting Bellows signed.
The Maple Leafs presently sit at 47 standard player contracts. A refreshing change from previous seasons and one that allows them to add three players without any difficulty. Given the high probability that any deals the Leafs make between now and the trade deadline will likely require subtraction from their contracts too, using one of the spots on Bellows isn’t an issue. It is also unlikely that Bellows comes with a cap hit beyond the league minimum which would also serve the Leafs well if he pans out.
Bellows might not be the flashiest of options but a physical option to add offence at the bottom of the roster might serve the Leafs better than what they’ve been getting from the 4th lines current incumbents.

Shuffling the deck

The Leafs left wing position might not get the same attention that the right side defence gets but it has been a consistent issue for the Leafs in recent years nevertheless. Michael Bunting, Zach Hyman, and James van Riemsdyk have all been notable top options in recent years but even then the Leafs struggled to put three more useable options behind them.
This season it seems like the Leafs have useable options in abundance but are struggling to fit who they have in with the centre/right wing options already in place. Tyler Bertuzzi was a bust on the top line. Matthew Knies has shown glimpses of success but as rookies often do, hasn’t been able to establish himself as the clear cut top line option. Nick Robertson and Noah Gregor fit the general inconsistent Leaf label, and others like Bobby McMann, Calle Jarnkrok, and Pontus Holmberg have also not grabbed a specific spot in the lineup. To top things off, the Leafs have been somewhat limited in how they’ve utilized Max Domi, who was likely originally intended for a left wing role but has fallen into a centre one instead. All of this looks okay on paper but on the ice it has translated to chaos.
It’s in that spirit that I suggest shuffling the deck. It’s been a while since I’ve dropped hot take line combinations in this space and I’m going for it today.
The first thing that is worth considering is putting Max Domi on the left side with Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner. Domi in many ways brings some of the pestiness and willingness to annoy that Michael Bunting brought to this line in the previous years, but he is also an additional playmaker to set up Matthews and with Marner on pace for close to 40 goals, Domi can benefit him as well.
The responsible all zone play of Matthews and Marner will offset the shortcomings in that area from Domi and gets Max more than the 12 minutes a night he’s been playing. This certainly doesn’t do the Leafs centre depth issues any favours, but one thing at a time.
The second line seems like it can benefit from Calle Jarnkrok when he is ready to return. Jarnkrok’s responsibility and ability to mesh with any unit makes him a solid fit for Tavares and Nylander. I don’t have a lot to say on this one other than if they are going to play around 20 minutes a night, having Calle with them seems like a good course of action. In the meantime I wouldn’t mind seeing more of Holmberg, Robertson, or Knies with Tavares as well.
The third line embraces what they’ve been getting from Bertuzzi and that is decent puck movement, strong shot suppression numbers, and not a lot of offence. He’s by no means Engvall, Mikheyev, or Kerfoot, but he might be a fit for playing with David Kampf to get them both on track. To round out the line I’d put Matthew Knies with them to hopefully develop his defensive zone play alongside Kampf and take some of the top line pressure off of him.
The final line would be Gregor, Holmberg, and Robertson. This has the feel of an energy line and allows Robertson to be used as a PP2 specialist, Gregor to see his time on the PK, and Holmberg to continue getting reps at centre. It’s easy to envision opportunities for all three of these players to see time on other lines situationally as well and Toronto might be best off with a collection of useable players as their fourth line rather than going with a sheltered checking unit.
Does any of this happen? Not likely. I’m I curious to see the Leafs do something that shakes up their left side as well as their bottom six forward group? Absolutely.

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