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The free agent market impact on the trade deadline for the Maple Leafs

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Photo credit:Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports
Jon Steitzer
1 month ago
The Leafs priority has been since the beginning of time to find a defenceman. I’m not sure many people dispute that and if Brad Treliving doesn’t bring in a new face for the blueline it’s a pretty safe bet that his deadline will be deemed a failure. A lot of that is a fair way to look at things because none of this is new and Treliving has had since July 1st to address this (beyond the fact that Simon Benoit being a good find.)
The thing is, I can see reasons for why Brad Treliving would be reluctant to pay a premium for either a rental or a player with term. The UFA market for defencemen this summer stands to be a lot more promising than the forwards market and with the Leafs not wanting to give up picks or prospects when they’ll find what they need this summer is a reasonable way to look at things, even in a market that is rightgully impatient.
This is just the list of defencemen presently averaging over 16 minutes a night:
PLAYERAGEHANDEDGPGPP/GPTOI
Noah Hanifin27Left559300.5523:44
Brandon Montour30Right393150.3823:11
Gustav Forsling28Left548270.522:12
Dylan DeMelo31Right521150.2921:49
Brady Skjei30Left547300.5621:21
Matt Roy29Right523160.3120:55
Brett Pesce29Right44380.1820:13
Matt Dumba29Right50480.1620:02
Alec Martinez36Left374110.319:47
Christopher Tanev34Right521120.2319:44
 Sean Walker29Right565200.3619:27
Shayne Gostisbehere31Left537330.6219:16
Tyler Myers34Right564200.3619:04
 Ian Cole35Left55170.1318:58
 Jani Hakanpää32Right552100.1818:58
Troy Stecher30Right42150.1218:41
Brenden Dillon33Left496150.3118:19
Alexandre Carrier27Right504150.318:12
Derek Forbort32Left30040.1317:45
Nikita Zadorov29Left502110.2217:43
Matt Grzelcyk30Left41270.1717:32
Travis Dermott
27
Left37250.1417:15
Erik Gustafsson32Left545240.4417:11
Ilya Lyubushkin30Right51040.0817:06
Nick Seeler31Left561100.1816:57
Calvin De Haan33Left46370.1516:35
Dmitry Kulikov33Left510140.2716:34
Mike Reilly30Left333120.3616:20
Sebastian Aho28Left41160.1516:17
Joel Edmundson31Left37140.1116:08
You can throw interesting depth options like Colin Miller, Oliver Kylington, Vinny Desharnais, and Erik Johnson into the mix too. Even considering a large number of these players will sign before free agency, there should be a pool of 20 or so defenceman that can help Toronto’s blueline for Brad Treliving to consider this summer.
In the case of a lot of these players, they are playoff teams or bubble teams that won’t fully commit to selling at the deadline. Of the list above, maybe only 1/3 are available at the deadline and they will likely require a premium to be acquired in a sellers market.
If I’m Brad Treliving, I’m looking for more of a Luke Schenn type acquisition and avoiding paying a high cost, then regrouping the summer when the only asset being given up is cap space. Toronto can bring in a helpful archetype of defenceman but saving the premium acquisitions for the summer might be wiser.
On the flip side of things, the Leafs should be looking at the centre market at the trade deadline because as thin as it is, the situation will not be improving this summer.
AGEGPGPP/GPTOI
Matt Duchene335422551.0216:53
Steven Stamkos345323500.9418:36
Sean Monahan295414360.6718:22
Elias Lindholm295613370.6620:30
Adam Henrique345315350.6617:22
Thomas Novak274411270.6114:22
Chandler Stephenson305010300.618:28
Teddy Blueger29425220.5215:27
Max Domi29535270.5112:59
Travis Boyd3016280.59:37
Jonny Brodzinski31364150.4211:25
Alexander Wennberg29548220.4118:42
Jack Roslovic27303120.415:52
Michael Amadio28477180.3813:02
Tyler Johnson334010150.3815:32
There’s the list of the top 15 centres available in free agency. That is going to be a tough position to fill or a potentially expensive one depending on if Steven Stamkos or Elias Lindholm are considered options.
The Leafs might find it be better to spend assets at the deadline on a centre with term that not only addresses their need for 3C who could potentially become a 2C next season and still improve the team defensively because you are no longer asking Max Domi to take shifts at the centre every night.
Adam Henrique is an option that stands out on this list as one that will be available at the deadline, as well as options like Alexander Wennberg or Jack Roslovic, who are best suited to 3C role. There are also potential options like Kevin Hayes, who has term, a reasonable cap hit, and might be available if the Blues deem themselves to be out of the run for the playoffs.
In addition to Kevin Hayes, centres like Yanni Gourde, Mikael Granlund, Barett Hayton, Casey Mittlestadt, Colton Sissons, and Ryan Strome all deserve some consideration and either have term beyond this season or are a pending restricted free agent. It’s not as if any of these names are particularly grabbing either but when it comes to centres there seems to be a greater need to beat the market rather than being the team still hoping to figure things out on July 1st.
While it is hard to envision a situation where the Leafs look at goaltending at the trade deadline, that too is another position that will have very limited options for upgrading through free agency this summer. Cam Talbot, Kaapo Kahkonen, and Alex Nedeljkovic are the headliners in a group that features goaltenders with huge question marks attached to them and/or will be contemplating retirement instead of returning. Making a deal for someone like Elvis Merzlikins might not be a priority or flashly but sets Toronto up for the next season.
The trade deadline is all about the here and now but smarter GMs will be looking beyond just their current need and planning for the future as well. The strategic approach is probably the right approach for the Maple Leafs who have been burned plenty by not considering the long term impacts.
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