No team has scored more goals than the Toronto Maple Leafs, who have been redefining what it means to be an offensive juggernaut with each year of the Auston Matthews–Mitchell Marner–William Nylander era.
Since that young, explosive nucleus was Voltron’d together — and surrounded, of course, by some puck-pushing defencemen and net-driving weapons, foremost captain John Tavares — Toronto’s goals per game has risen significantly each season, now humming along at a 3.57 clip under a head coach who lets his horses run.
All of which is a roundabout way of saying, Toronto is set upfront but in need of depth on the back end, because even the best possession teams can’t control the puck all the time.
In terms of goals allowed (3.29 per night), the Maple Leafs haven’t been this porous in 11(!) years, and that includes some epic stinkers and a last-place finish.
The club’s recent rash of injuries (get well soon, Jake Muzzin and Morgan Rielly) and instability in the net beyond all-star Frederik Andersen, have made its trade-deadline needs crystal clear: defensive depth and a backup goalie.
This is an organization with Stanley Cup–sized ambitions, and with top-four blueliners Muzzin and Tyson Barrie long shots to re-sign, GM Kyle Dubas is staring at a go-for-it spring.
There are significant snags when stepping into the market, however. Dubas spent his 2020 first-round pick last summer in order to clear Patrick Marleau off the books. Seldom do clubs burn a first and a second in the same draft year.
The other hurdle is cap space.
Whereas contenders like the Colorado Avalanche and New York Islanders have plenty of space to go big-game hunting, a healthy Toronto roster would have none. The Leafs currently have six players on long-term injured reserve.
The only silver lining of this injury parade is that the Leafs temporarily hold $7.6 million in wiggle room, per CapFriendly.com, but things will get sticky when the bodies return.
Absolutely categorize Dubas as a buyer, but he’ll need to be a creative one.
Here are three suggested targets.
Alexandar Georgiev, G, New York Rangers
The Rangers — sellers for certain — must allow Henrik Lundqvist to exit with grace, and the King has another season beyond this one on his deal. The heir to the throne is not Georgiev, whom the Blueshirts view as an excellent backup, but rather Igor Shesterkin, who has wowed fast, winning his first two NHL starts and looking every bit like the blue-chip prospect he’s been hyped to be.
Georgiev (12-9-1, .913 save percentage) is only 23 and he’ll be restricted free agent this summer. The Leafs would love a younger backup they can trust — New York has two of them. Once you look up Georgiev’s cap hit ($792,500) and consider the Rangers’ hunger for young, skilled forwards… well, let’s cut the flirting and get to dealing.
Yes, Leafs backup Michael Hutchinson has been better lately, but his stat line — 3-7-1, 3.83, .885 — just isn’t up to snuff.
If a trade for Georgiev can’t be consummated, Dubas should kick tires on Penguins prospect Casey DeSmith, now usurped by all-star Tristan Jarry, or a rental like Ryan Miller (Anaheim) or Aaron Dell (San Jose) — cheap, decent backup options standing behind bad teams.
Brenden Dillon, LD, San Jose Sharks
Dillon should be blue line target No. 1 for Toronto.
Don’t waste time looking at his production (11 points). The Leafs have plenty of play-creating defencemen.
At six-foot-four, 225 pounds, Dillon is a big, nasty and responsible left shot with 62 games of playoff experience, including a trip to the Final.
Yes, the 29-year-old is a minus-four this season, but his club is minus-37. He starts the majority of his shifts in the defensive zone and still finishes most of them in the O-zone. That’ll make Dubas and Sheldon Keefe happy.
Dillon also kills a couple minutes of penalties every night for the NHL’s best PK unit, and Toronto’s bottom-eight PK could use a boost.
From San Jose’s perspective, this is a lost season. Doug Wilson has the 28th-rated offence and might as well recoup some assets.
It’s no secret that Dubas has a queue of winger prospects eager for a break, and their opportunity for NHL ice time is frankly better somewhere else. Dmytro Timashov, Egor Korshkov, Jeremy Bracco, Nic Petan, Kenny Agostino, Pontus Aberg… there’s gotta be a package deal to be formed.
The Leafs do have six 2020 draft picks in Rounds 6 and 7 to toss in as a sweetener.
Certainly, Dillon’s early season clocking of Matthews will be water under the bridge if the hardnosed D-man can make a difference in April.
Travis Hamonic, RD, Calgary Flames
We’re tiptoeing into blockbuster territory now.
Toronto has been eyeing Hamonic since he was an Islander and lost a bidding war to Calgary. The Leafs came close to dealing for a Flames defenceman over the summer, only to have the swap blocked by Nazem Kadri’s partial no-trade clause, but Dubas and Brad Treliving — one of the league’s greatest wheeler dealers — are on friendly terms.
The moment Treliving re-signed righty Rasmus Andersson to a six-year extension signalled to us that one of his 29-year-old UFAs in the top four, Hamonic or T.J. Brodie, won’t be coming back for 2020-21.
Curiously underachieving upfront, Calgary isn’t hiding its desire for a top-six winger. Trading Michael Frolik to Buffalo on Jan. 2 was a salary dump to this end.
Does Treliving keep both Hamonic and Brodie as “own rentals” and bank on Johnny Gaudreau, Sean Monahan and Elias Lindholm catching fire again? Or does the GM go bold and import some speed and skill?
At some point, the Leafs must at least consider trading one of their middle-class forwards (Andreas Johnsson, Kasperi Kapanen, Alexander Kerfoot) to free up dollars for the back end.
If there is a real “hockey deal” to be made by Feb. 24, Toronto-Calgary isn’t a bad bet to provide it.
Other defence rental options for Maple Leafs to consider: Sami Vatanen, Mike Green, Erik Gustafsson, Dylan DeMelo, Andy Greene, Ron Hainsey, Sean Walker, Michael Del Zotto.