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The desire for the Leafs to add talent vs. the reluctance to trade a top asset

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Photo credit:Nick Barden
Jon Steitzer
22 days ago
Today brings an end to The Leafs Nation midseason writer’s survey content. I hope people have found reading a flood of opinions this week and feel that we are closing it out with subject matter that will drive the discussion for the next couple of months and that is what the Leafs should do heading into the trade deadline. The general consensus is the Leafs should add someone really good, but they shouldn’t give up their best assets to do so. If only it was that easy (it was when Peter Chiarelli was a GM) but I think some of the nuances of the situation have been captured below and the numerous caveats that go into these tough personnel decisions are laid out.

The biggest deadline need for the Leafs

Jon Steitzer:
It has to be a 3rd line center that is capable of being a 2nd line guy if called upon. Holmberg has absolutely cemented himself as an every day player, and Kampf is still a steal, but neither of those guys work as replacements if Tavares or Matthews are hurt. Kerfoot, Jarnkrok, and Nylander are all poor substitutes in that role too. They need a legitimate option for the first time since Nazem Kadri and Holmberg can either play the wing as needed or be the 13th forward. (Please note this response was written before Matthews missed a game and Nylander made me question my poor substitute take.)
Mike Westlake:
Right now, some more forward depth. By the end of the season? Possibly goaltending.
James Reeve:
More depth scoring would be ideal. Perhaps even adding a big name forward would be what the team needs to push themselves over the edge.
Nick Richard:
Much like the team’s goaltending depth chart, I view this is a 1A and 1B situation. Despite numerous injuries on the backend in the first half, the blue line has been a strength due to players like Mark Giordano, Rasmus Sandin, and Timothy Liljegren stepping up and taking on more than they may have been slated for originally. But I think Giordano has started to wear down a bit in recent weeks, while Sandin and Liljegren have shown at times that they can still struggle against teams that deploy heavy, strong forechecking, cycle-focused lines against them. I suspect the Leafs will still be interested in adding a player who is more in the mold of Jake Muzzin, someone who can handle big bodies down low and push back with some physicality of their own.
The most glaring hole on the team, however, remains a top-six scoring winger. Anyone expecting Matt Knies to step into that spot and be the immediate answer is setting expectations far too high, and while I’m still a big believer in Robertson, penciling his name into that spot would be foolhardy at this point in time. Calle Järnkrok has given the team some quality minutes in that spot recently but bringing in a more bonafide scoring option who can help drive offense slots everyone in the forward group into a more appropriate role, while adding to the club’s overall depth. The Leafs don’t have to pigeonhole themselves into looking strictly at wingers, though, and should be open to acquiring a center if it is their best option on the trade market. John Tavares has slowed down in recent weeks and the talk of moving him to the wing has gotten louder again, perhaps setting the table for acquiring a player who could facilitate that move.
I expect Dubas’ primary focus will be adding an impact forward while scouring the secondary market for a defenseman who brings an element they don’t currently have on their blue line.
Joseph Zita:
Top-6 scoring winger because we’ve seen in recent play-off series’ that at times, this team needs another player who can put the puck in the net. If the top-6 is doing all the work and the bottom-6 isn’t, or the other way around, it’ll be hard to win.
Nick Barden:
I’d love for them to get a left-shot forward who can play both centre and on the wing. They need a LW and a C, so if you acquired someone like Ryan O’Reilly, he could be the guy to fill the void. Try Pontus Holmberg at centre in the playoffs and if it doesn’t work, run O’Reilly there instead as the 3C.
Bennett Jull:
A top 6 winger, and a veteran 4th line center. The top 6 winger speaks for itself. Nothing against Pontus Holmberg, he has been phenomenal. I think acquiring a reliable vet to play on the 4th line, and perhaps push Holmberg to a wing would be a good idea. The playoffs are simply a different beast and bringing in another player that has been there before just makes sense. Andrew Cogliano would be a great pickup in my opinion.
Steven Ellis:
For once, it isn’t defensive depth. I’d like to see some more bottom six scoring. Engvall and Kerfoot have their moments from time to time, but it’s too infrequent.
Dylan Murphy:
A scoring winger. The last month (and the last couple of years honestly) has established that the defence is fine. The thing that has sunk Toronto in three straight playoff series’ is a lack of scoring when it matters most.
Michael Mazzei:
The Leafs need to add into their top-six if they want any shot of success in the spring. More specifically, they have to bring in another left-wing option for the second line to help add some offensive punch that has been missing. Kerfoot is not a top-six forward and would be better utilized in the bottom-six. Robertson has the skillset to fill that void but his injury history is a major concern. It would not be realistic to suggest Knies could fill that void this season and become an immediate impact player. So they will need to look elsewhere to help shore up their offense and help assure the Leafs have enough depth to cover for their stars going quiet.
Ryan Hobart:
Their defence is solid and, if fully healthy, they have more guys that can play than they can play. Finding a winger for Tavares/Marner would be nice but I wouldn’t spend too much to get there.
Colin Hunter:
I think that the Leafs’ biggest need heading into the trade deadline is a top six winger. Yes, Jarnkrok has been great since his return from injury, however, I am not ready to bank on this level of production continuing into the back half of the season and the playoffs.
With the Leafs having the luxury of a seemingly strong defence and goaltending situation, they have the opportunity to spend their space on one significant upgrade. By adding a bona-fide top six winger, the Leafs will be that much more dangerous – both through the addition and through Jarnkrok moving down and adding some offence to the bottom six.

What should the Leafs do with their 2023 1st round draft pick?

Colin Hunter: 
Like any futures asset on a contending team, I would be open to moving it in the right deal. Obviously, it’s never a sound plan to throw your first round pick away for just anyone, but if the right player were available, I would not hesitate to move it.
Ryan Hobart:
Keep it unless you can add a player that has term on their contract that seems to fit their forward needs.
Michael Mazzei:
I don’t think the Leafs will be holding onto their first round pick for long since that is likely one of the pieces that needs to be dealt for them to get help in their top-six. It is easily their most valuable trade asset currently and can help push a deal over the finish line that would bring in the missing piece. There is definitely an argument to be made about holding onto it instead should the right fit be acquired for cheaper, but don’t be shocked if their 2023 first rounder is being used by another team come June.
Dylan Murphy:
If they’re going for it, go for it. If a late first is what it takes to push a big time deal across the finish line, fire the pick into the sun.
Steven Ellis:
Keep it. I’m not a fan of the team’s current prospect core and this gives them more options.
Bennett Jull:
Package it and trade it. The Leafs are in win-now mode, and relying on Dubas’s later round picks from previous drafts will hopefully offset losing a 1st rounder. It should be packaged for a scoring winger or a different big splash in my opinion.
Nick Barden:
Keep it, unless there’s a trade that would make this team better in the short, and long term. This draft is deep and if the Maple Leafs want to keep their prospect pool looking good, it would be best to keep that pick.
Joseph Zita:
Keep the 1st round pick, unless you’re trading got. someone with term then trade it. Do not trade it got. someone who is going to be a rental, unless you’re very confident you can re-sign them. Kind of like with Mark Giordano, even though he dient cost a 1st, he cost a couple of 2nds a 3rd.
Nick Richard:
The 2023 draft class is shaping up to be a special one, and even though the Leafs will be picking late, they will still have a chance to add a high-end prospect to their system. That adds to the value of the pick, both for the Leafs and for sellers at the deadline. I would be weary about moving the pick and would only do so if it means acquiring a surefire impact player who fills an area of need. That said, I would prefer to move the 2023 first-rounder rather than a prospect like Knies whose proximity to the NHL and unique style of play make him extremely valuable to a contending team.
James Reeve:
Keep it. It’s getting to a point where genuine young talent is needed to help the team continue to build moving forward.
Mike Westlake:
Trade for someone better than Nick Foligno if possible (wink wink). Go all in this year because if Leafs Nation has to go through another season after this without a playoff series win, they might actually start jumping ship.
Jon Steitzer:
Outside of Jakob Chychrun, I’d have the 1st as off limits. I’d consider moving the 2024 in a rental situation, and give the Leafs a year to try to recover a replacement pick, but Toronto needs to care about drafting as their core becomes even more expensive in the coming seasons and there is an even greater reliance on high performing ELC players to round out critical areas on the lineup card.  I don’t know how much it is worth gambling the future when a Tampa vs. Toronto first round series is essentially a coin flip.

Who is tradeable or untouchable?

In a bit more of a rapid fire question, I provided the TLN contributors with a list of players and draft picks and asked them to mark them as someone they’d be willing to trade, someone they’d only trade for an asset they deem as top talent, or if the player is completely untouchable. Here’s a graph:
Save for my “remember a guy” listing of Fabrice Herzog, it was Timothy Liljegren who wound up being the most untouchable player in the eyes of TLN contributors. This really shouldn’t come with much surprise as the Leafs having an affordable, young, right-shot defenseman is something that has been a constant ask, and walking away from a homegrown player would be asinine.
Matthew Knies is the only other player with an over 50% score as an untouchable and that too makes sense. While I agree with what Nick Richard has to say about the need to temper expectations for Knies, there is no doubt that he is an absolute unicorn of a prospect in the Leafs organization. Being a physical player who has the hands to add some offense to his game makes him a player the Leafs need to give every opportunity to become a fit in their lineup, even if it’s initially in a smaller role than many have dreamed up for him.
It was interesting to see that both the current first-round pick and Nick Robertson are the only assets that weren’t considered untouchable by anyone. That’s not to say they aren’t valued, but injuries serve as potential red flags for Robertson and while the above question regarding the first-round pick shows apprehension over trading it, the need to win sooner rather than later for the Leafs is also very real. I’m not sure I understand the logic of someone having the 2024 pick as untouchable but the 2023 pick as in play but to each their own.
It’s probably not a coincidence that Ty Voit and Roni Hirvonen, the consensus lower tier of prospects on the list led the way as the most tradeable assets. This wounds me a little bit as I am one of the people who marked them both as untouchable, and assume I was loving my small kings the day I responded to the survey. Perhaps I just didn’t think they’d be valued in a trade enough to part with them. Let’s go with that as it makes me seem saner.
For the sake of time, I spared everyone the next layer of prospects and the 2nd round pick in 2024, which should have been easy “trade them” responses, but I do feel bad for not forcing some opinions on Conor Timmins, Pontus Holmberg, and Joseph Woll.

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