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The Maple Leafs trade needs beyond defence
By Jon Steitzer1 month ago
The Maple Leafs need one or two defencemen. That’s been the mantra throughout the entire season. It seemed like it might have only been one at the start but then everyone got a glimpse of John Klingberg’s play and it swiftly bumped up to needing two. Given that the Simon Benoit has made his case for being an everyday player and Lagesson seems capable of being a 7th defenceman, I’d argue that the Leafs just need one really good defenceman, one that bumps Brodie to the second pairing, McCabe to the third pairing, and Giordano out of the lineup. That top tier defenceman is still a critical need and if Toronto doesn’t address it the season feels a bit like going through the motions.
Rather than go looking for a second defenceman, the Leafs are probably best addressing one of their other more pressing needs and the three other priorities are pretty glaring as well.
Eliminating the goaltending question mark
The Leafs have three NHL goaltenders, it’s just a matter of how good any of them will be.
Joseph Woll has made a good case for having the net when he’s back but health is a concern as is the big difference we see in goaltenders where they are healthy enough to play but they might not be healthy enough to play well.
Martin Jones had a nice little run and is about as good as you can get from a backup option but his history doesn’t inspire confidence for relying on him every game.
The Samsonov story is fairly obvious and confidence is going to be limited to whether he can help lighten the load on Jones while Woll is out injured. He’ll find his way back to a job in the NHL but not likely in Toronto.
So that means goaltending is a pretty big concern and one that if the Leafs are going to address, they’d want to address in a meaningful way. With Jones and Samsonov off the books for next season the trade deadline offers the Leafs an opportunity to look beyond just a rental option and instead find the tandem partner who is going to battle Woll for playoff starts and the crease next season.
Elvis Merzlikins is one of the interesting names out there that comes with a slightly more modest cap hit and potential asking price than the likes of John Gibson or Jacob Markstrom. Juuse Saros probably is the best example option of a goaltender who can truly make a difference but what you save on cap space you’ll be giving up in assets, and the Leafs likely don’t have the ability to go big on a top pairing defender and a star goaltender.
There are short term options like seeing what Marc-Andre Fleury can do before he calls it a career. Or the Leafs could gamble on less proven goaltender like Lankinen, Vejmalka, Blackwood or Kahkonen in hopes of adding at least one more possibility to the mix.
I won’t pretend I know enough about goaltending to say who the best option is for the Leafs and instead just trust that the Leafs are looking for someone who looks like a fit for their goaltending development group and look at who has had success on teams that play a similar style to the Leafs.
A second or third line centre
Almost a year later and I’m still missing what Ryan O’Reilly briefly brought to the Leafs and that was a mix of centre depth and the opportunity to explore the idea of John Tavares on the wing.
Presently the Leafs are in a situation where putting either John Tavares or Max Domi on the wing might be in the team’s best interest and that is why once again, I’d put a middle six centre as a high priority for the Leafs, possibly their highest if you can find someone capable of pushing 20 minutes a night and comes with strong defensive capabilities. (Elias Lindholm, hello.)
Recognizing that this is an expensive position to address and almost as difficult as a top pairing defenceman or starting goaltender, some expectations will need to be tempered and the committee of Tavares, Domi, Holmberg, and Kampf will need to spell each other off based on hot streaks and who belongs in the middle based on which opponent.
Sean Monahan is a player that will certainly be on the move, it just seems unlikely that it will be to Toronto given that the Habs and Leafs rarely trade and we aren’t that far removed from Brad Treliving dumping Monahan and his previous contract in Montreal.
I’d say that Mikael Granlund in San Jose is a player that comes up in Leafs rumours on an almost annual basis and if there is any possibility of San Jose eating a bit of salary or taking some back, Granlund could be an option that makes sense as he checks some boxes on the next category too.
A Kerfoot/Engvall replacement
I can sense the rage of everyone reading that header.
You do not want Kerfoot. You do not want Engvall. I get it. You know who did like those players though? Sheldon Keefe.
I’m not saying the Leafs look for long term options for a shot suppressing, clog the neutral zone, bore you to tears type forward. I’m saying that this is an archetype that has worked well in Keefe’s systema and those boring ass third liners that seem like they have hands of stone will buy some time for the rest of the lineup as well as improve the team defence.
If the Leafs are sticking with Sheldon Keefe, they need to plan on giving him the players he can win with. That could be someone like Jakob Silfverberg, who has no business having the great defensive numbers he does on a team like Anaheim. His price is high and salary retention would be a must, but more or less he’s the prototype of what Keefe and David Kampf have been missing.
One of the main takeaways here is that the list of needs for the Maple Leafs exceeds just a couple of defencemen and while no team adds absolutely everything they need and decisively so at the trade deadline, Toronto coming up short on not addressing at least one other area of concern besides defence seems like the team will come up short in the playoffs.
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