While we’re all trying to get a handle on what the Leafs might do in the coming days to adjust their roster, it’s worth noting that GM Kyle Dubas, still new to the job, is perhaps the most unpredictable manager in the entire league. Figuring out who is available on the Toronto end and who they might be looking at taking aboard has been tough to pin down as we get swept up in so many daily rumours. But going back over the last twelve months or so we can probably try to make a guess at who they will make a play at.
This is going to be a simple exercise, and I’ll preface it by saying I’m not someone who has any real inside information. But by keeping tabs on all the rumour radio hits, columns, and podcasts on the regular, I’m going to try to rank who Toronto will bring into the fold by likelihood that it actually happens.
It goes without saying that this “who’s in” list depends a lot on who’s leaving town as well, and to this point we know the players on that list most likely include Marleau, Zaitsev, Gardiner, and Brown. Maybe they’ll be part of a trade to bring one of these targets in, or maybe not. But at the very least, the degree to which Toronto can clear out that money will be important in deciding the magnitude of a move they can make to shore up the blue-line particularly.
Keeping all those moving parts in mind, let’s get into it.
1. Colin Miller (RHD – Vegas)
Making the case for the Leafs getting Miller isn’t exactly difficult. He’s a right-handed defenceman, is only 26-years-old, has a reasonable price point (3.85-million AAV x 3), has strong underlying numbers, and appears to be out of favour with coaches and management in Vegas, so he’s also very available. Throw in the fact that he’s a Soo Greyhounds alum from Dubas’s time as a general manager in the OHL, and this puzzle comes together quite conveniently.
2. Chris Tanev (RHD – Vancouver)
A deal centered around those two players would essentially get the Leafs out from under the last four years of Zaitsev’s ugly contract and bring in a player in Tanev who is a stark upgrade when healthy, and carries around the same cap hit but for only one more season.
3. Chris Kreider (LW – New York)
New York is clearly in ‘be bold’ mode and I still think a move like this makes sense for the Leafs – and it was a surprise rumour near the deadline. Toronto has been blessed by Marleau and Zaitsev wanting out of town, and if they can clear out that money and be tidy elsewhere, they could squeeze in Kreider’s $4.6-million x 1 without too much headache. He would be a monster upgrade on their left wing, making a line with Matthews and Nylander an absolute nightmare.
4. A 2nd-round pick
Connor Brown is getting moved by the Leafs, likely to the Oilers, and the going rate seems to be a second-round pick. This one is simple. Maybe this should be at the top of the list because it seems so forgone, but no one wants to start off an article reading about Brown for a second.
5. Brett Pesce (RHD – Carolina)
Pesce’s been talked about forever, going back to Nylander trade rumours during his hold-out. I don’t see the Leafs moving that much for him, but there has to be something to these rumours that have followed the two teams for so long. In the end though, I think the Leafs might get out-bid for Pesce by a team looking more desperate, like the Jets, who seem willing to part with Nikolaj Ehlers. Toronto can’t get into that territory unless it’s for someone like Dougie Hamilton, and Carolina are too smart to move on from him.
6. Matt Benning (RHD – Edmonton)
If it’s not just a second-round pick for Brown, Toronto and Edmonton could work on something bigger and that’s where names like Zaitsev and Benning get involved. For $1.9-million x 1, the underappreciated Benning seems like a player worth giving a try in hopes of making an upgrade to the Leafs’ RHD depth, no matter how marginal.
7. Travis Hamonic (RHD – Calgary)
The Leafs lost the Hamonic sweepstakes to the Flames a couple years ago when he got dealt from Long Island, so you have to wonder how much interest they’d have this go-around with his name firmly in the ‘trade bait’ boards posted by TSN. It’s been known the Flames are looking to potentially move on from Hamonic or T.J. Brodie (both RHD) to clear up some money, so maybe those two names are interchangeable here. But given the Leafs’ interest in Hamonic before, I think he belongs on this list.
8. Adam Larsson (RHD – Edmonton)
This sort of goes back to that Connor Brown, Nikita Zaitsev, Matt Benning, Edmonton Oilers, Toronto Maple Leafs mash of rumours we’ve been seeing for a couple months now. There were some (perhaps flimsy) reports about the Leafs and Oilers being close on a Larsson-for-Brown deal at the trade deadline, and I’m choosing to believe it more than I should.
9. P.K. Subban (RHD – Nashville)
No doubt this is far more of a wish than a likelihood but when you hear reports that the Leafs are making a lot of calls and potentially making players like Kadri available, you start to draw up substantial moves. Nashville moving on from Subban seems surprising, but apparently it’s real – his name is out there on every league-wide rumour column. It’s hard to think how this would work for the Leafs considering his $9-million AAV, but then again we’re talking about a roster shake-up with players like Kadri, Johnsson, Kapanen and others being in play, alongside the aforementioned money Toronto wants to clear out in Zaitsev/Marleau and so on. We can dream.
10. Kyle Clifford (LW – Los Angeles)
Yes, I suppose I saved the most boring for last. It’s just the Leafs have been linked to Clifford before, Marleau wants to go back to California; I could just see something like that working out. Plus rounding out the list at ten names is tidier.
Make no mistake, the Leafs are going to make meaningful roster moves in the coming days. They simply have to. Marleau and Zaitsev want out, their defence can’t be ignored any longer, and Dubas is still trying to make his early imprint on the team. No doubt he’s unpredictable, so perhaps Toronto goes completely off my board here and does something truly ground-shaking. But I think based on what I’ve kept up on over the last few months, these are names that represent the most likely to be in their plans.