Trade targets that make sense for a Sheldon Keefe coached team

Photo credit:Chris Jones-USA TODAY Sports
Jon Steitzer
4 months ago
One of the things that we might gloss over too much when looking at trade bait lists is fit. Which players are the best fit for the Leafs? And which players seem like they will fit into the way that Sheldon Keefe is going to coach this team, especially in the playoffs. It’s fit that often makes me hesitant when looking at physical players. Keefe isn’t someone who wants his players giving up positioning in the name of delivering a punishing hit. As much as some people don’t want to see Sheldon Keefe to line match in the playoffs and instead dictate the pace, he’s going to want a shutdown line for going up against top units and at present it doesn’t look like he has that.
It’s not that Keefe is anti-hard hockey or against physical players, but his strategy isn’t geared towards them and with players like Knies, Gregor, Domi, Bertuzzi, and Reaves bringing more physical heat than last season in the forward group and McCabe, Benoit, and Lyubushkin making the blueline tougher to play against than previous seasons, it seems likely that the best path forward at the trade deadline is to find players who will fit with what is going to be coached and who can complement the players that are already in the line-up.
Here are a few examples of players that seem like a fit:

Mikael Granlund – centre – San Jose Sharks

It’s not the trade deadline if we aren’t talking about Granlund and the Leafs, at least a little. Granlund was a favourite target during the Kyle Dubas years of the Leafs and it is very likely Toronto still have a number of scouts and front office folks who feel strongly about Granlund as an option.
Granlund’s $5M price tag would need to be halved to even consider him as an option, but when the Leafs are talking about improving their team defensively, some of that should be coming from bringing in a centre who can help bail out the Leafs blueline a little better and Granlund is an option that won’t require Auston Matthews playing against the opposition’s top line in the playoffs.
Granlund also has a level of familiarity with Calle Jarnkrok from their time together in Nashville and as a 20 minute a night player who has 35 points in 46 games this season, Granlund would help Toronto achieve some offence on their third line as well, along with giving the Leafs the opportunity to move either Tavares or Domi over to the wing in the top six.

Brett Kulak – defence – Edmonton Oilers

If the Oilers are going to make the upgrades they want in other parts of their lineup it is likely they will need to part ways with someone like Kulak that they can replace with Phillip Broberg in order spend in other ways. As for the Leafs, I’m not sure that taking Kulak’s $2.75M cap hit is something they’d be thrilled to do, but his cap hit looks a lot better next season and given the Oilers need to shed salary, buying on Kulak is going to give you a much better price than paying a seller for a worse defenceman.
Much of the strength of Kulak’s game is that he is a low risk positional player and he has been solid in front of the Oiler offence that is primarily made up of riverboat gamblers that leave their defence high and dry. That doesn’t seem too different from the situation he’d be in on the Leafs. Kulak is a left shot but one comfortable on the right side. He’ll play on the penalty kill and while hitting isn’t a hallmark of his game, he’s not going to shy away from anything.
He’s been around long enough and defaults to safe hockey and that is going to earn Sheldon Keefe’s trust quicker than other options even if he’s about the least exciting defenceman I could suggest for the Leafs. Brad Treliving’s history doesn’t include a lot of high risk deadline moves and Treliving’s history in the Pacific division would certainly have him familiar with Kulak and dealing with Ken Holland as well.

Alexandre Carrier – defence – Nashville Predators

The Predators are a playoff bound team but it remains to be seen if they are fully divorcing themselves from their retooling under Barry Trotz. The same way Leafs fans in previous deadlines have called for Kyle Dubas to not treat his pending UFAs as “own rentals” the mindset for the not quite as far along on Predators is likely to be one where they are looking to make moves on a player who has likely priced himself out of the Predators lineup for next season anyway.
Carrier is the rental on this list, but he’s usable in more situations than Kulak and has the coveted right shot the Leafs crave. He’s more of a Brodie-lite than a Muzzin-lite type option as hitting is not part of his game, but he’ll still block a ton of shots and will move the puck up the ice well even if he doesn’t find his way onto the score sheet. That sounds a lot like someone that Keefe would trust.
I’m not sure you can make a strong case for Carrier being a huge upgrade over someone like Liljegren, but history has shown some trust issues between Sheldon Keefe and Timothy Liljegren that aren’t likely to be resolved in the next month and a half.
I think I went through the Daily Faceoff trade target list and managed to find the three most boring players on it, but the reality is the Leafs need boring players. Look at their current roster, they aren’t short on excitement, what they are short on are players who can slow things down and add a sense of control to the defensive zone. The way the Leafs are built and coached it is more about finding better versions of Alex Kerfoot and Justin Holl to use instead of dialing the offence up even further and bidding on every yeti on skates. Sorry to disappoint.
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