If one were to whittle the Toronto Maple Leafs’ dream wish list to two positions that could most benefit from an upgrade in advance of the trade deadline, they would be top-six left wing and top-four right defenceman.
Well, a newsy weekend has plopped one of each on the market — albeit under vastly different circumstances.
The San Jose Sharks chopped ties with high-scoring power forward Evander Kane, who, from a salary-cap perspective, instantly becomes more attractive as a free agent without a $7-million hit. (A filed grievance for Kane’s terminated contract awaits.)
And it came to light that stud blueliner and impending UFA John Klingberg feels so underappreciated in Dallas that he’d be willing to change his address if an extension cannot be worked out with the Stars.
“It's not like I've been going out there and asking, 'I want to get traded now,' or something like that,” Klingberg told reporters. “It's something that's been going on with the negotiations and stuff like that.”
Bottom line: A couple of excellent, proven talents that meet Toronto needs are available. Both come with complications, however.
Is there a fit?
Let’s start with Kane, the hottest and most immediate subject here.
As of Monday evening, more than 15 of the league’s teams have expressed some level of interest in becoming the 30-year-old sniper’s fourth NHL franchise, we can report, and Kane’s preference, naturally, would be to sign with a contender.
The Leafs are a contender.
Kane’s agent, Dan Milstein, will neither confirm nor deny Toronto’s interest in Kane.
But GM Kyle Dubas has never been afraid to take a low-risk flyer on castoff skill. Last season, left wing Alex Galchenyuk was scooped up midseason and given a shot to create offence with the Leafs’ best forwards.
Provided Kane is under contract by March 21, he’s eligible for the playoffs.
On the ice, we’re taking about a two-time 30-goal man who hits and fights and led all Sharks in scoring last season (49 points in 56 games).
Off the ice, we’re talking about a strong and controversial personality who was banned the from playing the first 21 games of this season for submitting a fake vaccination card and, according to the Sharks, recently broke COVID-19 protocol again when he was down with the AHL Barracuda.
“You really gotta weigh it carefully. It’s one of those things that can be great or can be horrific. So, you really gotta do your homework,” Leafs ambassador Curtis Joseph told Real Kyper and Bourne Monday.
“When you have strong leadership, it doesn’t matter who’s coming in that room: they’re going to be part of the program, or they’re going to sit. And guys don’t want to sit.”
Due to Toronto’s limited projected cap space ($62,160, per CapFriendly.com) and the risk of disrupting a tightly bonded room, we don’t love the match here.
If Dubas isn’t calling, he’s not doing his job.
But we imagine a contender more desperate for scoring, and eager to give its power play a jolt, having a better shot of winning the bid for Kane’s redemption tour.
Klingberg piques our interest much more, and there is time to let his situation play out.
For one, Stars GM Jim Nill hasn’t hung a for-sale sign just yet. Dallas ranks 16th in points percentage (.563) and he’ll need to decide soon enough whether to chase a playoff spot with an inconsistent squad.
The later Dubas waits to add to his cap, the better for the accounting department, and we know the executive will spend big and get creative to secure a desired target (see: Foligno, Nick).
Klingberg’s cap hit ($4.25 million) is a bargain for what he brings: 52 games of playoff experience in which he’s put up 34 points; good size (6-foot-3, 190 pounds); and the ability to munch 22 minutes a night.
The rental market won’t bring many defencemen of Klingberg’s calibre, and it is no secret Dubas would like to upgrade either Justin Holl or Travis Dermott from his right side. Klingberg’s speed, poise and hockey sense could complement Jake Muzzin nicely.
There may be a fit, but it’s not perfect.
If (when?) Nill does pull the trigger on a Klingberg rental, you’d have to believe he’d fetch a first-round pick plus much more.
These types of deals incentivize the seller to find a buyer willing to offer the player an extension, and Klingberg was said to be eyeing eight years at $8 million annually on his next deal.
That doesn’t make much sense for the Maple Leafs, who have two power-play quarterbacks (Morgan Rielly and Rasmus Sandin) they love under club control. Klingberg’s greatest asset may be in 5-on-4 situations, and he thrives jumping up in the play.
As much as the Swede would immediately improve Toronto’s D corps, we envision Klingberg going to a more aggressive bidder while Dubas settles for a gritty and less expensive stay-at-home option at the deadline.