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The new sellers: which new trade targets make sense for the Maple Leafs?

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Photo credit:Ed Mulholland-USA TODAY Sports
Jon Steitzer
1 month ago
League parity only delays the inevitable for so long and with 20 games remaining and in a league that rewards loser points for getting to overtime, the number of teams that find themselves even two or three wins back of a playoff spot are probably better off planning for the missing the playoffs than attempting to make a push towards the final spots.
Some of these teams have been discussed previously. The Seattle Kraken, Minnesota Wild and Pittsburgh Penguins have been on a path towards sellers and the Kraken especially look like a good match for the Maple Leafs. But what of the New Jersey Devils, New York Islanders, and Washington Capitals? Three very interesting Eastern Conference teams that are going to want to come back in a competitive form next season looking for a chance to make a quick turnaround rather than stockpiling picks. Potentially they are ideal trade partners for the Leafs so let’s look at their situations.

New Jersey Devils

Pending UFAs: Tyler Toffoli, Colin Miller, Brendan Smith, and Chris Tierney
Has it even been a trade deadline if we aren’t at least talking about Tyler Toffoli and Brad Treliving in the same sentence? Given that the wing is the one area the Leafs are least likely to address this seems like the year those two will take a break from each other and instead we can focus our efforts on Colin Miller and Brendan Smith, two defencemen who aren’t exactly what they used to be but could offer some cheap depth for the Leafs come playoff time.
Colin Miller seems to get linked to the Leafs every year in this capacity as his on-ice numbers are generally strong even if it is in a sheltered third pairing capacity. He’s a well rounded player and if Mark Giordano isn’t available for the rest of the season, Miller would perhaps be a stronger 7D option than either Conor Timmins or William Lagesson.
Brendan Smith is one of those rare 4th line winger or bottom pairing D swing options that has some appeal but bringing in a physical player from the GTA that Keefe can insert into the lineup as needed might be some nice flexibility.
Neither Smith nor Miller would be primary moves for the Leafs and I’m not sure there is a bigger target on the Devils that makes sense unless New Jersey is interested in parting with Erik Haula, who might be a worthwhile 3C consideration for the Maple Leafs.
What might be of most use with the Devils is New Jersey being a dumping ground for salary. Either if they’d be willing to take a contract like Kampf’s or if they’d continue being a salary retention depot for the league to make the most of the unused LTIR relief they have from Dougie Hamilton.

Washington Capitals

Pending UFAs: Max Pacioretty, Anthony Mantha, Joel Edmundson
The Capitals are an interesting one as Max Pacioretty on a $2M AAV is something every team should be willing to kick tires on. The Leafs might not need a winger, but every team could use Pacioretty on that contract and if Toronto needs to deal Nick Robertson to pull off a bigger deal, Pacioretty is a great way of bringing in secondary scoring to replace what the Leafs have sent out.
Joel Edmundson as a big defenceman has already been connected to Toronto a few times and while he is best suited as a good third pairing option and not addressing the Leafs primary needs, his $1.75M AAV cap hit is something the Leafs won’t overlook, and the left hander has played on both sides of the ice and at least addresses some of the Leafs’ needs. I wouldn’t think of him as a primary target, but I don’t think many people were thinking Ilya Lyubushkin for the Leafs as their first choice either.
When looking at who is under contract, Nick Jensen has received some attention as a Leafs target of late but count me as the many who are unsold on 33 year old defenceman with a $4M AAV that looks like he’s already taken a step back.
I am not on the Nic Dowd hype train despite many favourably comparing him to Barclay Goodrow and forgetting the less favourable comparisons like Sam Lafferty and Tanner Jeannot, who were hyped at the deadline and either didn’t fit or didn’t deliver. Someone is going to overpay here and it shouldn’t be Toronto.
The interesting option and the one that would be hard to pull off is Evgeny Kuznetsov. Kuznetsov represents a lot of risk and while claiming him off waivers is both too expensive and legitimately impossible for the Leafs, if Washington is committed to a change of scenery for him, retaining 50% of his salary is a better decision for them financially than buying him out this summer. If they go that route and aren’t looking for much of a return Kuznetsov would be a playmaking centre option albeit another centre that is a bit of a defensive liability. File this one under never going to happen.

New York Islanders

Pending UFAs: Cal Clutterbuck, Matt Martin, Sebastian Aho (the other one)
There isn’t much to be excited about on the UFA front and in reality the Islanders love their fourth line and will probably bring Clutterbuck and Martin back for as long as they are willing to return. Sebastian Aho doesn’t do anything for the Leafs other than mirror depth they already have so if the Leafs are looking at the Islanders, it is for players on term and that’s where it gets interesting.
Lou Lamoriello doesn’t show his cards and that allows us a bit of flexibility in what to consider from the Islanders. With a new coach and seemingly a new direction combined with his usual lack of cap space for the next season, some players under contract are possibly in play.
Brock Nelson’s name has come up as someone that Lamoriello might be fielding calls on and while he’s a good and player, the Leafs focus would be on the blueline.
Scott Mayfield might be signed until the end of time, but a physical RHD at $3.5M is something that seems a bit steep today but might become more tolerable as the salary cap increases, despite Mayfield being in his 30s already.
Another player that I’ve mentioned previously is Ryan Pulock. If there is an off the board, swing for the fences option for the Leafs on the blueline, Pulock seems like it as he has the potential to be a long term partner for Morgan Rielly that allows the Leafs to trust their top pairing in all situations. Making a deal for a $6.15M AAV player comes with a higher degree of difficulty and trying to guess what Lou Lamoriello would want back is next to impossible, but while many are fantasizing about Colton Parayko as a Leaf, I’m going to offer a slightly better alternative that may or may not be an option.
 
The main takeaway from the playoff picture being more complete doesn’t even have anything to do with these teams but more to do what the NHL standings represent and that is the end of the sellers market in the NHL. When you factor in that playoff teams like Nashville and Philadelphia are not in buying mode and in fact, may still sell, the NHL has a greater number of sellers than buyers and of those buyers, six of them have already moved their 2024 1st round picks or have conditions on them that make them untradeable. The Leafs, Stars, Rangers, Oilers, Canes, and Golden Knights is still a certainly aggressive list of buyers, but it seems like there should be something for everyone if they want to go big.

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