We’re just 20 days from the NHL trade deadline, and while the dealing hasn’t started yet, in some cases the news is starting to shape team needs more acutely.
Nowhere is this more true than in Toronto, where the Leafs experienced a scare Monday night as Frederik Andersen was forced from the game after the first period. Tuesday morning brought the news that the team had recalled goalie Kasimir Kaskisuo from the Marlies, and that Andersen wouldn’t travel with the team for its game in New York on Wednesday. For now, Andersen is being listed as day-to-day.
This development has put into focus how tenuous Toronto’s playoff hopes are. They’re already on the bubble with Andersen in net and if the starter were to miss an extended period of time it’s not palatable to continue on with a Hutchinson-Kaskisuo combination. Monday night instilled the fear of what that reality could look like.
Even if Andersen misses just a single game, the Leafs desperately need to find a safety net. Because even if they manage to escape this latest episode unscathed, there’s no telling what the post-deadline world may bring.
Here is the latest NHL Rumour Roundup:
LEAFS HAVE LOTS OF OPTIONS ON THE TABLE
Andersen is in the spotlight Tuesday, which follows Kasperi Kapanen having all the attention on Monday as he answered to being a healthy scratch Saturday after sleeping in and being late for a practice.
Without a first-round pick in the 2020 draft and a prospect pool that is thinning out, the Maple Leafs aren’t exactly overflowing with futures to find a trade with. Rather, if Toronto is going to make a deal that moves the needle on the blue line or brings in a backup for now and the future, they may have to offer something from the roster to get it done.
Kapanen, a third line player on this team making $3.2 million through 2021-22, is a candidate to move and Elliotte Friedman reported earlier this season that there’s interest in him around the league. If not Kapanen, the slumping Andreas Johnsson has also appeared in the rumour mill, as has centre/winger Alexander Kerfoot.
“There’s a lot of trade rumours about Kapanen and I think in the right deal they would move him and I also believe him and Keefe, they’re not huge fans of each other,” Friedman said on the Fan 960 in Calgary. “I think they battled in the American Hockey League level, they’re obviously battling a little bit at the NHL level. In terms of overall style Kapanen’s more of a north-south guy and I think he fit in Babcock’s system a lot more than he fits in Keefe’s.
“But I’ll tell you this. When Kyle Dubas traded for Kapanen, people were down on him. He had a bad world juniors that year, Pittsburgh was down on him. But Kyle Dubas believed in him. Kyle Dubas is a fan. I think he would trade him in the right deal, but I don’t think this means he’s necessarily gone.”
It’s hard to imagine Kapanen, or any of these three players, being the main piece of a deal to bring back only a backup goalie for Andersen, so if one does get moved perhaps it would be for a defenceman, or as part of a package in a larger deal that includes a long-term fit in net coming back to the Leafs.
As is usually the case, the Leafs are being connected to all sorts of players on the market. With four of their own blueliners on expiring contracts — three UFA, one RFA — if the Leafs upgrade their back end they’d prefer to acquire a defenceman who has term left on his contract.
This has steered the discussion on that front towards Minnesota’s Matt Dumba, but really, the Leafs could be in on anyone.
“It might be more than one move depending on what they have to bring in in terms of their cap situation or take out,” Friedman said last week on the Fan 590 in Toronto. “I think they’ll look at what’s out there and the name I’ve mentioned because I’ve heard they looked at him was Dumba, but someone said to me if there’s any good defencemen they think is on the market they’re looking at it. As long as the team continues to play well. That’s the caveat.”
Though the Leafs lost on Monday night, they outplayed the Panthers by a wide margin, and so have put together four-straight strong performances out of the all-star break. That, along with the goalie situation and the fact the Leafs are in the heat of a playoff race, may push Dubas to act soon.
But again, it comes back to cost. Sure, the Leafs could target a lesser player just to have depth in the lineup, but if they did swing big for someone like Dumba, who is signed through the 2022-23 season, what would they potentially have to give up?
“It’s gonna cost them probably one of the Kapanen, Johnsson, Kerfoot trio, maybe a young D and I don’t know if it’ll be a high pick, but I think it’ll be a pick,” Friedman said.
In terms of goaltending, Sportsnet’s Luke Fox reported on Monday night that Dubas had “kicked tires” on Los Angeles’ Jack Campbell. The 10th overall pick in the 2010 draft, Campbell finally arrived as an NHLer last year, posting a .928 save percentage in 31 games for the Kings — this year’s he’s at .900 through 20 games.
The Leafs had previously been connected to New York’s Alexandar Georgiev, but the asking price has reportedly been high. Rather than look for a long-term fix at the position that could come with a high cost, the Leafs could instead explore the likes of Campbell or Ottawa’s Craig Anderson to address a clear need at a relatively lower price.
JETS COULD HAVE WAY MORE CAP SPACE TO WORK WITH NOW
Another piece of news that developed over the weekend was that it was unlikely Dustin Byfuglien would play this season. Friedman reported on Saturday’s Headlines that Byfuglien had not skated yet and, therefore, was not close to a return.
On Monday, Sportsnet confirmed that Byfuglien and the team were working on a mutual contract termination, which would make Byfuglien a free agent after clearing waivers and remove all cap-related obligations for the Jets.
Though Byfuglien hasn’t played this season due to injury, the Jets have had to work around the possibility that he’d eventually be cleared, which would add his $7.6 million cap hit back to the books. If his contract is terminated, Winnipeg could freely operate without having to worry about such a hefty sum coming back on them.
At the past two trade deadlines the Jets gave up a first-rounder to rent centres Paul Stastny (2018) and Kevin Hayes (2019), though they later got their 2019 pick back from New York in the Jacob Trouba trade. This year the Jets are less of a sure thing to make the playoffs, sitting three points out as of Tuesday morning, so are unlikely to go the rental route in 2020.
“Paying a high price for a rental, I don’t know that that makes a whole lot of sense for us,” head coach Paul Maurice said on Friday. “If we can get a guy that can come in and play maybe more than the rest of the season, you’d think about doing that.”
In some ways, it’s incredible the Jets are still hanging around the playoff picture. After losing both Byfuglien (injury) and Trouba (trade) from last year’s blue line group, Winnipeg has been weak on the back end and have allowed the most high danger chances this season, per Natural Stat Trick.
“They had a lot of excuses to quit on this year or not be as good,” Friedman said. “But I think the way they look at their players and coaching staff is that they have played really hard. I think they would like to, if they can, to reward them by giving them some help.
“I think more likely it’s something a bit smaller where they think they can improve their blue line. But I think they are going to look and see what’s out there defensively.”