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Parity: The frenemy of the Toronto Maple Leafs at the trade deadline

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Photo credit:Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports
Jon Steitzer
16 days ago
On TSN Overdrive, as well as a slew of other platforms the conversation of late has been around parity and to quote Pierre LeBrun, “how it cuts both ways.”
The Leafs parity situation is interesting. From the standings point of view is the Leafs might not have been the world beaters of previous years but that same can be said for many other teams. No team in the league seems completely unbeatable and for good or bad, it is likely that all 16 teams that make the playoffs can make a run at the cup. That bodes well for not writing off the Leafs but it is also a hefty “buyer beware” heading into the trade deadline if it truly is a wide open run at the cup.
The frenemy angle carries over to the trade deadline. In addition to the 12 teams that look likely to be heading to the playoffs there is probably another 8 that feel they are in the fight for a spot, and even of the bottom 12 teams, a number of them likely believe they are not that far off being competitive again. Teams like Ottawa, Montreal, Buffalo, Minnesota, etc. might not be aggressive sellers like we’ve seen in previous years and even teams like Anaheim and Chicago did their big selloffs last season and you can see with the Blackhawks they’ve already re-signed a number of their short term veterans to come back next season. The market is going to be limited and teams like the Calgary Flames can name their price. The flipside of that is Calgary might have the market cornered but because of parity the price is only going to go so high on rentals as sacrificing the future for a 1 in 16 shot at the Cup is going to be a hard sell in a league that is already risk averse on every day of the year except for the opening of free agency.
A sellers’ market and limited supply even from the teams that are selling doesn’t particularly make for an exciting deadline unless this results in teams attempting to get more creative in how they do business (not the NHL’s strong suit.)
We saw the Leafs last season act in the dual role of buyers and sellers as the Engvall and Sandin trades were part of their deadline. And while people may have been upset about the departure of Sandin (not so much with Engvall) it did help mitigate the risk associated with dealing away 1sts in the moves for Jake McCabe and Ryan O’Reilly. It will be interesting to see if buyers will do some of selling of their own and if we see the rarest of unicorns, straight up hockey trades.
When it comes to a deadline strategy it seems like there is limited middle ground.
The Canucks are already establishing themselves as an aggressive loading up team and trying to separate themselves from the pack. Adding Lindholm and still looking for defensive help points to the form of strategy I think a lot of people would like to see the Leafs take. And that’s fine but it comes with the need to either find ways of recovering draft picks and prospects lost in the moves as the Leafs can’t continue to take hits in this area either otherwise things get pretty grim again for the Leafs in a few years after not having a whole lot of playoff success to show for constantly trying to go big.
The Leafs could try the middle ground and that is addressing needs that they have now and know they’ll still have in the future, in short defence. Toronto could pursue a defenceman with term like Chychrun (a high end option) or Brett Kulak (middle to bottom of the lineup). A big payment on a player like Chychrun is justified as the Leafs will at least get another year out of him and saves them heading into an expensive defence market in the summer to likely come away with a worse defenceman.
If the Leafs don’t go big and instead target someone like Kulak, the Leafs would be paying a price that is based in the Oilers wanting the cap space more than the player and would aid the bottom part of their blueline next season, something that needs to be considered when Toronto only has three NHL defencemen under contract for next season as well.
Mario Ferraro is another option that the Leafs should look at and with two more seasons under contract and only being 25 years old, he has the potential to be a longer term fit for the Leafs.
The final option is to stand pat (we’ll assume the Leafs won’t become straight up sellers). The market isn’t good and the belief is the Leafs are a team designed more for the playoffs now than the regular season. Toronto can avoid rocking the boat and maybe attempt some small moves that might allow for Alex Steeves to get a fair shot in the NHL for another club or put Martin Jones, Conor Timmins and William Lagesson with teams where they’d have a chance to play in exchange for upgrades to the bottom of the Leafs roster.
The best course of action right now is probably one of patience. The Leafs might miss out on some of the players near the top of trade bait lists by doing so but with four weeks to go, some of those teams that still look like they can sneak up and grab a final wild card spot will accept this isn’t their year and they will add to the trade market. There is still some hope for a buyers market if the Leafs can wait. And while Tampa and Detroit are right behind them in the standings, the Leafs do a comfortable lead over the teams trying to grab a final wild card spot. There isn’t a need to force anything yet.
(Standings from NHL.com)
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