The Toronto Maple Leafs are the most interesting Canadian team to keep an eye on heading towards next week’s deadline, given their spot in the standings and the related possibility of them doing something aggressive.
Needs: A top-six forward and a bottom-pair defenceman. Insert “goalie” here depending on your level of injury concern with Freddy Andersen and/or Jack Campbell.
It’s worth noting that there’s no scenario where the Leafs can bring in a quality starting goaltender without giving up valuable assets. Bringing in another goalie who just “might be OK” (the name “Linus Ullmark” is on my mind for some reason) feels like a wasted chance to genuinely improve roster weaknesses. Anyone below the tier of Andersen/Campbell is just a vaguely repackaged Michael Hutchinson, so there’d be no point. Rolling the dice on one of Andersen/Campbell being healthy and playing well is a gamble, but one I feel they have to make.
Best (reasonable) case scenario: For me, it’s Nick Foligno (the actual “best-case scenario” probably includes David Savard if you’re doing a deal with Columbus, but then you’re looking at giving up big-name prospects and picks at that point). Foligno’s got that playoff-style game. He can kill penalties, contribute offensively and be the type of player that would help the Leafs when their stars have quiet nights. He’s a physical player and would be reminiscent of the adds Tampa Bay made last season.
What likely happens: I’d be least surprised by the add of Mikael Granlund and a physical D-man who can kill penalties and defend well enough in limited minutes. I don’t expect them to trade any of Rodion Amirov, Nick Robertson or Rasmus Sandin.
This is a wildly contradictory sentence, but here it goes: “Good news, Brendan Gallagher is hurt.” To be clear, it’s really bad news for Gallagher and the Habs, of course, who are jockeying for a playoff spot in the North Division. But they ARE very likely to get into the post-season one way or another, and Gallagher being out may allow them to add a player worth up to $3.75 million without subtracting from their roster. Then they can hopefully get Gallagher back when the playoffs start.
Needs: You can make the case that the Habs are the deepest team in the division, which means they don’t just need bodies that can play, they need high-end talent to combat their lack of top-end skill (when compared to the other North playoff teams). Another player from the mould of Eric Staal (a big centre) wouldn’t hurt, but they’d probably be best served adding a high-end D-man, a la Mattias Ekholm.
Best (reasonable) case scenario: I think Ekholm is exactly that for them. They’ve already gambled a ton on this season, firing their head coach, so management clearly thinks they’ve got a shot here. If the Canadiens had to part with a first-rounder and a prospect, I think they could live with that, and additionally, I think you’d look at the Habs differently with that kind of depth and skill on the back-end.
What likely happens: Not the Ekholm thing, as Nashville's price will be extremely high (and if they don’t get a deal done, they’ll just trade him in the off-season) and he feels like more of a “want” than a “need” for Montreal. The Canadiens will likely sniff around other D-men, but again, depth is not really their issue, so prices would have to be cheap. I think they add another forward who can improve their middle six and hope to get on a roll with the guys they have.
Jets GM Kevin Cheveldayoff recently quipped that his D-corps “may not be household names, but does a good job by committee.” I thought that was really polite phrasing. An improved group of defencemen would make their Vezina-winning goalie’s life a lot easier, and in turn, make the Jets an extremely tough out. This team’s “go” window is now with the age of guys like Wheeler and Scheifele, and Pionk and Dubois needing new deals soon enough.
Needs: One or two better defencemen who can add some physicality and calm some of the chaos in front of Hellebuyck and Brossoit.
Best (reasonable) case scenario: Ekholm’s name is an option and probably the best case, but they’d do well to add either one of Josh Manson or David Savard, who are both right shots -- an appeal Ekholm doesn’t offer. There are options there if they do decide to go for a left-shot defenceman, including Jamie Oleksiak or Patrik Nemeth, but I think we’re leaving “best case” with those conversations.
What likely happens: I don’t see any way they don’t add a D-man, and I could see it being Savard or Manson, both of whom would be big additions for the Jets. As I said off the top, it’s “win now” time for this team. They’re close to the top of the division. Plus, the Leafs, Habs and Oilers all have flaws, so this feels like a year they can’t afford to NOT go for it.
The Oilers deadline comes down to what Ken Holland and Co. believe they are this season. Do they believe they’ve got a shot to come out of the North? Or do they think they’re best saving their bullets for a future run? Being up against the cap and well into LTIR makes things challenging even if they do think they’re close to a group that can win multiple playoff rounds.
Needs: GM Ken Holland has gone on the record saying like all teams, they’d love a top-six forward and a top-four defender, of course. Their most pressing needs specifically are a second line left winger or a third line centre.
Best (reasonable) case scenario: This may sound bleak, but the way Holland has been talking about this deadline makes me believe the team’s best-case scenario is adding someone like Sam Bennett down the middle. Maybe Luke Glendening? By all accounts they like their depth fine enough, and have so little roster flexibility right now I just can’t see them doing much more than that.
What likely happens: Deadline day is still deadline day, and while they’ve said they’re content to stand pat, what team in a playoff spot doesn’t try to get a little better on a day those around them will likely improve? I won’t be surprised if they move a pick out in favour of Glendening, and otherwise move forward with what they’ve already got.