Photo credit:Nick Turchiaro-USA TODAY Sports
NHL trade target lists only emphasize that the Maple Leafs should stand pat
By Jon Steitzer25 days ago
“The Maple Leafs need a defenceman.” That’s a pretty familiar refrain throughout the season so far, if not the past 20 years. Throw in some sentiments like the Leafs should be in the market for a goaltender, the Leafs could use another middle six centre, the Leafs should get tougher, and oh yeah, let’s not forget the Leafs could use a second defenceman. The shopping list is actually pretty long and given that most contending teams also would like to upgrade their blueline to some degree it means that Leafs are competing in market that seems plentiful in supply, but fairly limited in supply that makes them more of a contender.
We’re still in the early stages of the trade deadline rumours so we are still receiving a pretty honest availability list. As we get closer to the deadline and rumour merchants start realizing that the NHL trade deadline is nowhere near as sexy as the NBA trade deadline, we’ll start seeing some insane additions of players that teams might be “listening on” before hearing 10 minutes after the deadline closes that all of those players were far more likely to be in play at the draft. Gotta keep that cycle of speculation spinning.
So when we look at TSN’s list of potential trade deadline targets it is about as thorough a list as we’ve seen so far. It’s 40 names tossed out there with little in the way of context to why those players are available.
It makes sense to start looking at their list from a defence perspective since that’s where the Leafs are most likely to be active.
(where TSN ranked them on their list)
This is more or less the list for defencemen we’ve seen so far. Sometimes Rasmus Ristolainen makes a guest appearance (no thanks) and Nikita Zadorov seems like he could return (stay tuned), but these are the players that teams will be competing for. When it comes to who truly can make a difference in the quality of the blueline the three options seem to be Chychrun, Hanifin, and Tanev. None of the three will come cheap but are definitely the three players where spending assets makes the most sense. Chychrun being under contract definitely makes him standout as the strongest option and Hanifin being a target that is worth negotiating with to get future years of service makes him a strong consideration as well. Chris Tanev is iffy in that he has an injury history worth considering, the cost to acquire him will be high, and given his age and that injury history he is probably best suited to being a pure rental.
Where we once were talking about 15 players as options, we now are really only talking about two that make sense as difference makers for the Leafs. That’s not to say that Walker couldn’t continue to have success once he moves away from John Torterella or that Dumba’s physical play isn’t a plus or that the cheaper to acquire options like Lyubushkin couldn’t be a fit, it’s just the players to be excited about are fairly limited.
The same story is true of centres and this is important because the context of current asking prices also speaks to why sitting out the deadline makes the most sense.
Lindholm was absolutely a worthwhile option at centre to consider but so much for that. The catch to anyone else is the asking price. TSN is already valuing Sean Monahan at a 1st round pick and that is interesting context for the top end talent in the trade market. Monahan is nowhere near a point per game pace and while he could improve with a better quality of teammates, betting a first round pick on a rental middle six centre is not something a team in the Leafs position should do, not that I think anyone thought they were considering it. The thing is that valuation is going to translate to other positions as well and with Sean Walker also getting speculated on as a potential 1st round pick return candidate, teams should be rightfully concerned about how much they’ll need to spend.
The goaltender market is likely to be more unpredictable.
I’m not sure how eager the Flames or Ducks are to move either Markstrom or Gibson, but they certainly have been talked about. Juuse Saros has also been spoken about quite a bit (largely by wishful thinkers in the Carolina, Edmonton and Toronto markets) but his name is absent from this list as is Elvis Merzlikins who seemed like an easy inclusion on this list given that Columbus and Elvis have publicly debated his availability.
If there is a market to kick tires on it might actually be the goaltenders but the variance in what is being said with Saros and Markstrom potentially costing a ransom where it seemed that the Blue Jackets couldn’t give Merzlikins away is a sign that the market is chaos.
What is true is that the rental market isn’t particularly appealing and staying the course with Woll, Samsonov, and Jones makes more sense than giving up assets on either Kahkonen or Fleury, even with Fleury’s playoff track record.
At this point a few questions need to be asked:
- How good does the Leafs record have to be in order to consider buying in this market?
- Given the limited resources available, who can the Leafs go after that will actually make a difference?
- What is a reasonable price to pay for that player?
That really seems to reduce the list and brings support back around to Brad Treliving’s notion of building teams in the offseason. The last thing this organization needs is another Nick Foligno moment, and this deadline seems ripe with opportunities to recreate that. Sitting this one out and Treliving on a Prayer this post season makes more sense.
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