The interest is mutual.
But pulling off a trade for a 60-point star forward yet to reach his prime is easier said than done.
Peter Chiarelli’s dealing away of MVP Taylor Hall to modestly boost the Edmonton Oilers’ defence reminded the hockey world how grave a mistake a GM can make. On the flip side, however, the Ryan Johansen–Seth Jones deal is still benefitting both Columbus and Nashville.
Prior to the Leafs’ visit to Carolina on Wednesday, Dubas has scouted the Hurricanes in person. Carolina has sent a pro scout (or two or three) to Scotiabank Arena for every Toronto home game this month.
Despite ranking first overall in shots taken (809), the Hurricanes sit dead last in the Eastern Conference in goals scored (52). It’s a problem.
Nylander scores goals. Through 21 games, the Leafs are showing they can score goals without him.
Carolina is flush with twenty-something defenders, and Toronto would like to upgrade in that area, especially when you realize half of the Leafs’ top six are on expiring deals (Ron Hainsey, Jake Gardiner, Igor Ozhiganov) and a right-shot D has only been on the franchise wish-list since before the Shanaplan.
There is a fit to be found.
Dubas and Hurricanes GM Don Waddell have been speaking about a possible Nylander deal for weeks, but just as it is for Dubas, Nylander’s asking price might be a stumbling block.
“It wouldn’t do us any good to trade for any player in this situation without knowing that we could sign the player also,” Waddell said on a Toronto radio station last week.
“My thinking is that until you even get to a point where you think you can potentially have a trade, I think you’re putting the cart in front of the horse. I’d rather be in a position where if I knew something was going to happen down the road, then you pick up the phone and find out if there’s a deal to be made. Being in this spot multiple times myself, I don’t want to create any illusion or conflict between the Toronto Maple Leafs and Nylander trying to get signed. I think it’s unfair for me to get into that mix, unless of course something was moving forward as far as acquiring a player.”
What makes Carolina so intriguing as a trade partner is the presence of more than just one obvious target from the Maple Leafs’ point of view.
The Hurricanes are blessed with flexibility in terms of cap space (a league-high $21.38 million), extra draft picks, plus some potential secondary pieces to make a multi-player blockbuster work for both sides.
While we still believe Dubas’s preference is to sign Nylander within the next 200 hours or so, as the Leafs and ’Canes face off in Raleigh on Wednesday night, here are a few names to ponder if it does come to dealing the young star.
Patrolling the left side on Carolina’s top pairing, the 24-year-old Slavin is regarded as an emerging star on a team-friendly contract. As a $5.3-million cap hit through 2024-25, Slavin represents the type of financial known that could ease Brandon Pridham’s nearing migraines and guard against a Jake Gardiner departure if the Toronto lefty seeks greener pastures as a free agent this summer.
He’d be Dubas’s first inquiry but Waddell’s last resort.
A 2012 fourth-round pick, Slavin leads his team ice time (23:17), and although his deal doesn’t provide him with trade protection until 2021-22, Waddell would be loath to let him go — and he loves living in Raleigh.
“For us, and for how me and my wife and are, there are a lot of really great churches out there, so we’re connected there,” Slavin, a man of faith, told the Toronto Star. “There’s lots of really good, genuine people. Not that there’s not in other states or other areas, but being in the Bible Belt, it’s part of the culture there.
“[Christianity] is the most important thing in my life, the most important thing in my wife’s life. It’s what we try to base every decision off of. I believe God has given me this platform of hockey as a way to spread the Gospel. That’s what I want to use it for.”
A right-shot D (hey!) signed through 2023-24 at a palatable $4.025-million AAV, Pesce was sidelined for a couple days after taking a knee-on-knee hit but did skate with Carolina Tuesday morning in a yes-contact sweater.
He’s the most likely candidate on this list, but Dubas would probably want some supplementary pieces (draft pick and/or a bottom-six forward) to get a fair return.
The Leafs and Hurricanes had discussed a deal involving Justin Faulk in the off-season, but Toronto’s expressed significant interest in Pesce.
Pesce, a 2013 fifth-round gem, is a big lad (six-foot-three, 206 pounds), which should appeal to Leafs coach Mike Babcock. He’s not a scorer (58 points in 233 career games), but who cares? He tops all ’Canes in PK ice time (2:53) and is a career plus-15 defender on a team that’s never been good enough to make the playoffs.
If you’re a betting man, put your money on Pesce plus.
The most veteran and understood commodity among Carolina’s blue-liners has been available to trade for months. Faulk, 26, is a right shot who plays in all situations — and he’s a workhorse (21:50). More regarded for his offensive flair, he was the youngest skater to crack the U.S. Olympic squad in Sochi.
Faulk carries a very fair $4.83-million cap hit but only through 2019-20, at which point his price goes up. With a modified no-trade clause that kicked in over the summer, the defenceman does have some say in where he ends up (15 team trade list).
This one is a long shot. Hamilton, 25, has already been dealt twice, and eyebrows would raise if Waddell moved him again so quickly after paying a high price to bring him in from Calgary. A silver lining for Hamilton: The ROM is world-class. (Just kidding.)
The fact the Toronto native doesn’t spend much time killing penalties would concern the Leafs, although they’d love his right shot, young age and fixed contract ($5.75 million through 2020-21). If Hamilton, an offensive mind who could operate a second power-play unit, was traded to Toronto, you could all but guarantee Gardiner goes on July 1. Carrying three 50-point defencemen gets redundant.
The obvious tact for Dubas would be to seek a defenceman in return, but the GM is a creative thinker and may wish to replace a right wing with a right wing. Andrei Svechnikov can’t be on the table, but 23-year-old Zykov might be. A second-rounder in 2013, the Russian flexed some offensive flair late in 2017-18 for Carolina after lighting up the AHL but has struggled early this season.
He was healthy-scratched for a few games and returned to Charlotte for a conditioning stint. If Waddell did include Zykov in a Nylander deal, he’d have to beef up the package with more elements.
While Carolina is on track for the Jack Hughes lottery, its first-round pick must be considered off-limits. Keep in mind, however, that Waddell holds an extra 2019 second-rounder (Buffalo’s), an extra 2019 sixth-rounder (Calgary’s), and an extra 2020 third-rounder (Buffalo’s).
With the NHL’s longest-running playoff drought and attendance an issue, it’s time for the Hurricanes to quit stockpiling futures and spend on the now.
Carolina, you’ll recall, is carrying three NHL goalies: Scott Darling, Petr Mrazek and Curtis McElhinney. We could totally see Toronto being interested in McElhinney (or Mrazek) getting tossed into a deal. The Marlies’ depth in net is an organizational concern.