The Leafs deadline priorities and “smaller name” options available: Rumours

Jon Steitzer
1 year ago
It’s rumour time again. Once again it’s pretty quiet on the Leafs front. That doesn’t necessarily mean the market is completely silent or that Kyle Dubas isn’t busy behind the seasons (the Leafs apparently held their pro and amateur scout meetings last weekend in Philadelphia) but it means that this rumours article would once again more aptly be named “speculation.”

Elliotte Friedman’s 32 Thoughts

The return of 32-ish Thoughts this week brought a few interesting pieces worth discussing. Again, none of this is directly connected to the Leafs, but they are players worth discussing and it is beneficial in understanding the trade market and what expectations from rival GMs might be.
We talk about a lot of the big names, but one executive made an excellent point: It’s some of the smaller moves that make a huge difference. In St. Louis, a lot of the attention is on Ryan O’Reilly and Vladimir Tarasenko — deservedly so — but I wouldn’t be surprised if some teams also take a look at Ivan Barbashev (who was so good in 2019) and Niko Mikkola. Both are unrestricted.
Niko Mikkola as a minute eating defenseman on a bad(ish) team is an interesting option. GMs and coaches love minute eaters and those not afraid to throw the occasional hit. Whether Mikkola addresses a need for the Leafs would remain to be seen, and his underlying numbers are average at best.
Barbashev is a bit more of the same but as a forward. His physical game might be a bit more of a need for the Leafs at forward and he could be seen as someone who could add middle six value, but this is a player producing at a rate lower than Kerfoot or Engvall. How much do hits outweigh Kerfoot and Engvall’s stronger play away from the puck? How much would Barbashev see his numbers improve in a better situation in Toronto? That would be the tough call to make, but if he comes at a premium price, it should be an easy pass for Toronto. It’s also worth considering that the Blues remain very much in contention for a wild card spot at this point.
A few of you have asked about Jakub Vrana being put on waivers. First, the most important thing is his health and mental well-being. Second, I remember a few years ago doing an interview with Steve Yzerman (still a player at the time), talking about opportunities being “deserved.” The move was jarring when I first saw it, but the more I thought about it, the more I got it.
Vrana has struggled in his return to the AHL, while some of Detroit’s younger players, particularly Jonatan Berggren, grabbed the NHL opportunity. Head coach Derek Lalonde initially said he wanted to keep his young players in the lineup when Robby Fabbri returned, but the final decision was his GM’s. Yzerman is a big believer in playing those who deserve to play. And, when you’re trying to build yourself into a winner, you have to stick to that. I don’t want to guess where this goes from here, aside from I hope that mentally, Vrana stays in a good place.
In Vrana’s limited time in the NHL this year there is reason to be excited about seeing what he could do and if the Red Wings are looking to move on from him, he’s a player that shouldn’t require the price normally associated with a young top six forward. If he wasn’t taken on waivers, how much do teams really want to give up for him, but at the same time, now that Vrana has cleared waivers, the Red Wings have a lot of control over their situation and don’t need to feel rushed on him. They could very easily revisit this in the summer.
I don’t really know whether or not Vrana would be a fit in Toronto, but he is one of the few players that represents a true offensive upgrade over Engvall and Kerfoot rather than a perceived one. Kyle Dubas has explored some interesting reclamation players in the past few years, Vrana could be the next.
With the feeling that this year’s draft is better than next year’s, will teams offered a first-rounder in 2024 prefer a high second-rounder in June if the option is available?
Thoughts like this are the some of the most valuable that Elliotte Friedman passes along. How draft picks are valued is important context and speaks to the belief that the Leafs could simply offer a 2024 1st round pick and it would be just as good as a 2023 pick. It isn’t, even if as Josh Kloke recently noted in The Athletic, the Leafs 2024 is a bit of a wild card for opposing GMs because who knows what happens in Toronto if the Leafs come up short in the playoffs again this year.
The Leafs find themselves without a 2023 2nd round pick, let alone a high 2nd, so instead the context here should be the value associated with a 2023 1st round pick, no matter where in the first round it falls. The Leafs should be viewing that 1st as already exceeding the value of a rental player and be off the table in those situations. Or if it’s on the table it should be the entirety of the price paid.
As it sits right now, the Panthers are the only team that has traded out of the first round (dealing their first to Montreal for Ben Chiarot, ouch) and the 2nd round picks that have been dealt seem to either be lottery team to lottery team, or feature mid to late 2nd round picks.

Frank Seravalli on the Leafs’ deadline priorities

Around the 27 minute mark of the above radio clip, Frank Seravalli weighs in on what his perceived priorities are for the Leafs. He notes that things are very silent out of Toronto and there isn’t anything specific to Toronto to speak of, but based on what his role he believes the Leafs priority remains a defenseman, with the notation of a “true defenseman” likely meaning stronger defensive zone play. That was followed by a second line winger, and then a possible third-string security option in net.
Now, I’m not entirely sure I agree with that assessment as there isn’t a lot of concern in my mind about the Leafs defense at the moment and burning through assets to potentially add to already a blueline that seems to be eight NHL calibre defensemen deep is unnecessary, especially when you consider Mete is still an option once healthy and if Muzzin does return (who am I kidding) he too represents depth.
When it comes to the second line winger, I’d put this role higher with the caveat that it should be someone capable of the hybrid role of 3C/2LW or someone that moves Tavares to LW. The Matthews’ injury(-ish) situation is a reminder that top six center options on the Leafs are limited. It’s good to see what Nylander can do, but Nylander, Jarnkrok, Engvall, or Kerfoot over an extended period of time would be a gamble. There is also the fact that Jarnkrok has excelled of late and bringing in someone who could potentially drive the third line a bit more and push Kampf back is the priority.
As for the third string goaltender idea, I probably don’t hate it as much as I should. It’s somewhat unnecessary as Kallgren has held the Leafs afloat for stretches, and Woll is has just been named an AHL All-Star based on his return from injury, but if an 11th hour acquisition can yield a worthwhile option (read: someone better than David Rittich) for cheap, it doesn’t hurt to sniff around that and I’d leave it to the Leafs to make the right call based on how they elevate both the performance and health of their goaltenders at that time.
Doubling back to where a defenseman makes sense is if the target is truly someone who represents a top four upgrade and can play an important role with the Leafs not only this year, but the future. The names that come to mind there are Jakob Chychrun and Ivan Provorov.
Chychrun has the high price tag of potentially 2 1st round picks and a 2nd round pick to get it done. The Leafs could certainly entertain that high price as Chychrun addresses both immediate needs and future needs better than potential late first round picks, and the Leafs aren’t short on assets they could deal in the off-season to recoup that price. The issue is giving up a lot on Chychrun means not having the resources to address a top six forward position in a meaningful way. Provorov on the other hand might not even be available, so any guess at what his price tag is would be premature.
To close this out, there is a sense from Seravalli that the Canucks might want to set the market with Bo Horvat for forwards and the Coyotes are looking to beat the market with Chychrun for defensemen. If we see January deals these could be the players to watch, especially with Chychrun reminding everyone of the risk of injuries with his shot block on Tuesday night.

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