Maple Leafs Mailbag: Toronto’s best defencemen trade targets

Minnesota Wild defenceman Matt Dumba. (Jim Mone/AP)

Toronto’s potential blue line trade and free-agent targets abound. The Maple Leafs begin searching for Paul McFarland’s replacement. A look at the likely repercussions of losing a best-of-five to Columbus and missing the playoffs. Someone named Fred throws down a Game 1 lineup challenge. And much more.

It’s the 10th edition of the Maple Leafs Mailbag. Let’s go.

Let’s go with 1/2 odds.

Yes, GM Kyle Dubas has already signed free agent Mikko Lehtonen out of the KHL, and entry-level defenders Rasmus Sandin and Timothy Liljegren will be given ample chance to stick with the big club out of camp.

But with right shots Tyson Barrie and Cody Ceci expected to walk in free agency, more depth — particularly experienced, penalty-killing depth — is needed. The 2020-21 regular season provided a harsh reminder that, as is, the Leafs’ blue line will struggle in event of injury.

The free-agent budget will be ultra-tight, so landing a whopper like Alex Pietrangelo feels like a pipe dream. But an impending UFA like Travis Hamonic, Chris Tanev, Sami Vatanen or Radkos Gudas would look good in blue and white.

When Dubas trades, he prefers targets with term. On the high end, righties Matt Dumba, Rasmus Ristolainen, David Savard, Brett Pesce, Colin Miller, Adam Larsson and Josh Manson fit that bill.

Less-known and less-experienced (i.e., more affordable) depth targets could include Troy Stetcher (RFA 2020), Matt Roy (RFA 2021), Matthew Benning (RFA 2020) and Ilya Lyubushkin (RFA 2020).

Yes, the search is on and interviews have begun. So, get those resumes submitted pronto.

While assistant coach Paul McFarland is heading back to the OHL in 2020-21, when he’ll start running the bench for the Kingston Frontenacs, Toronto and McFarland have agreed that the power-play strategist will stick with the Maple Leafs throughout the 24-team tournament — even if that means joining Kingston late.

As for Boudreau, it’s believed the Toronto native, who has kept a close eye on the Maple Leafs throughout his NHL tour, would prefer a head gig. He’s been an NHL head coach for parts of 13 straight seasons and has only once missed the dance when guiding the same team for a full campaign.

I’m with you: Gabby is a beauty and a hockey lifer. The game needs him.

Depends what you consider “major,” Jaymee.

My belief is that, regardless of what happens this summer, Sheldon Keefe gets at least one full season to make the horses run. The way Dubas has preached patience, breaking up the core — Auston Matthews, John Tavares, Mitch Marner, William Nylander, Zach Hyman, Morgan Rielly, Jake Muzzin, Frederik Andersen — this off-season would shock me.

Expect tweaks on the fringes of the roster, however, to accommodate a stagnant salary cap. By dealing Nazem Kadri last summer, Dubas has shown a willingness to shake things up. And if a trade of significance does happen, it must be done to address Toronto’s thin right side of its blue line.

I accept your challenge, Fred. But only because you asked with such kindness.

Hey, I might be more surprised than you if I get them all correct. Nick Robertson is a wild card that could make me look foolish.

Here goes…








This decision should be kicked down the road. Andersen will be 32 when he starts the 2021-22 season, wherever that may be. Dubas should see how Andersen — 0-3 in playoff series for Toronto — responds to the pressure cooker of this summer’s return to play and how the veteran No. 1 performs next season, with a legitimate No. 2 goalie in Jack Campbell pushing him.

You’re right. Affording Andersen could be an issue, especially with Hyman due for a nice raise that same off-season, which absolutely cracks a small window of opportunity for Campbell, who is signed through 2021-22 at a pandemic-friendly $1.65-million cap hit.

Campbell, 28, has never played more than 53 games in any season, but goalies often peak late. His passion and work ethic are off the charts. Kyle Clifford says Campbell is more than “just a backup.”

Next season the netminder should be given some rope to prove his teammate correct.

To me, Dermott’s skating ability, ankle-breaking quick-twitch, and boundless enthusiasm paint him as a keeper for the Keefe era.

“I think we’re really using our speed more now, which is pretty awesome,” Dermott said of the coaching change.

That Dermott — a lefty on a roster loaded with them — is willing to play his weak side and saw more ice time than any player in the Leafs’ most recent game (a 2-1 victory over Tampa on March 10) are positive signs.

The 23-year-old doesn’t have arbitration rights and, recovering from shoulder surgery, failed to have the type of breakout winter that commands a big-money, big-term extension.

While it’s possible Dubas dangles Dermott in a trade to land a more established defender with term, I think the smart play is to re-sign him.

Dermott loves it here. His best shifts are ahead. Plus, a flat salary cap won’t do much for Dermott’s negotiating leverage.

You’re right. This one has bridge deal written all over it.

Great question.

My bet is they re-sign him to a bridge deal at a modest raise before the case reaches arbitration. There is mutual love between player and club, and the Leafs aren’t crazy deep on left-shot wingers. Ilya Mikheyev’s wrist injury stunted his rookie campaign at 39 games, which should help keep a short-term extension reasonable.

He’s a jolt of energy, a heckuva penalty killer, and the fact he’s skating alongside Tavares and Marner as part of a Phase 2 practice group indicates the Leafs see top-six potential.

No, they are not.

Unlike, say, prospect Nick Robertson, Alexander Barabanov and Mikko Lehtonen weren’t on the Maple Leafs’ reserve list by the Feb. 24, 2020, trade deadline, so they’re ineligible to participate in the playoffs.

We’ll have to wait till 2020-21 to see if these free agents’ European success translates to the NHL.


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