Quick Shifts: 4 buyers set up to make a trade deadline splash

In the first edition of Trade Deadline Matchmaker, Mike Futa and Kris Versteeg each pick a player they believe would be the ‘perfect match’ for all four ‘buyers’ in the Canadian North division ahead of the trade deadline.

A quick mix of the things we gleaned from the week of hockey, serious and less so, and rolling four lines deep. We're under 60 hours till deadline. LTIR you ready?

1. “It’s all on the table for us at this point,” Kyle Dubas declared during a Maple Leafs TV broadcast last week.

If the NHL's trade deadline is akin to playing poker, as Oilers GM Ken Holland said Friday, Toronto's general manager is the guy raising triple the big blind pre-flop.

Not only has Dubas been upfront for weeks about his desire to add to the best team in the North, his pre-deadline manoeuvres all hint at the big push into the middle. The exec has gathered cap space by letting useful depth forwards Jimmy Vesey and Travis Boyd walk the waiver wire. And now squeezed the cap rules for a wee more juice by acquiring injured UFA Riley Nash from Columbus and sliding him onto LTIR.

"It is no secret that we are going to be a team that is going to be looking to acquire players at the deadline," Dubas said.

Players. Plural.

At this point, he's pot committed. Eager to see how things unfold.

Dubas isn't the only exec we'll be watching for tells this weekend. Three other buyers of high interest:

• The surprise Florida Panthers are still winning without Aaron Ekblad. Their recent salary-clearing move has opened up more cap space than any other contender ($14.2 million). If ownership is OK to spend, Bill Zito could add more than one significant piece.

• The Carolina Hurricanes have the next most space ($8.9 million), plus the best points percentage in the NHL (.731). Yes, they're another budget squad, but the Canes' chances of winning the Stanley Cup haven't been so good since they did. Neither their coach, Rod Brind'Amour, nor their No. 1 defenceman, Dougie Hamilton, is under contract for 2021-22. Might as well strike now.

• The Boston Bruins are in a fascinating spot. Their high-end players are delivering and aging. Their crease is two rookies on emergency loan. And they have players they could trade (Jake DeBrusk) plus the cap room ($5.9 million) to chase a marquee target like a Taylor Hall. Obvious holes on Line 2 and left wing need improvement.

2. For what it’s worth, seven teams have scouted all of the past five Maple Leafs home games in-person: the Los Angeles Kings, Columbus Blue Jackets, Dallas Stars, Carolina Hurricanes, Boston Bruins, Montreal Canadiens and Winnipeg Jets.

The Jets and Habs are both foreseeable playoff opponents.

The others have potential to be trade partners. Although, especially in a season where scouts’ travel is limited, we hesitate to read too much into game attendance.

Grain of salt and all that. But it’s fun to let the gears turn.

3. In the lead-up to his most recent Leafs appearance — a March 19 loss to the Calgary Flames — Frederik Andersen was asked a question about his physical health and delivered an answer that touched on his mental state.

“I know I have the ability to be a great goalie in this league and help a team win a ton of hockey games. I think it’s just a matter of finding that confidence again,” Andersen said. “I know it’s right there.”

Former Ducks coach Bruce Boudreau oversaw the last starting goalie debate that involved Anderson, who was eventually the odd man out in Anaheim. The cap-strapped organization ultimately bet on the younger John Gibson.

“I love Freddie Andersen. He was great for me,” Boudreau told Lead Off this week.

“But the one thing he didn’t do very well is play hurt. He was one of these guys that has to feel perfect to play well. And I think that’s what happened just before he took this little hiatus for his injury. He was playing hurt, but he wasn’t, I’m sure, comfortable mentally with that whole thought.”

To a man, the Maple Leafs have gone out of their way to incorporate praise for Andersen during backup Jack Campbell’s 10-0-0 record-breaking streak. They don’t want to agitate an already sensitive topic.

As Boudreau says: “Giving Freddie confidence again is the key—making him feel really important. And he is really important.”

He is. One healthy goalie is not enough for a deep postseason run, and long-term injured reserve is calling.

So, with the deadline nigh, we’ll take Sheldon Keefe’s word that there is “no concern” Andersen won’t be healthy enough to return.

But when? And in what state, mentally and physically?

Andersen has a reputation for slow starts, and the goalie has been out of sight for so long now (22 days and counting), this will be a restart.

The language around Campbell — “He’s battling his ass off out there,” Keefe beamed — is much different.

Pushing through pain has long been a badge of honour in this sport. Andersen tried to do just that in March, and the results weren’t there.

“Once he started to feel himself, then he was great,” Boudreau remembers of past Andersen injuries.

What would Bruce do? Alternate starts between Campbell and Andersen for the final dozen games. Let performance make the call for Game 1: “Whoever’s the best going into the playoffs, he’s the guy that starts.”

4. We smell a college free agent bidding war.

Minnesota State goaltender Dryden McKay — indeed named after the Montreal Canadiens legend of the same position — is the only 2021 Hobey Baker Award finalist who was never drafted.

Highly touted forwards Cole Caufield (Wisconsin / Montreal Canadiens) and Shane Pinto (North Dakota / Ottawa Senators) were the others up for the NCAA MVP trophy, and both were drafted in the top 32 of the 2019 class. (Caufield won it Friday.)

But McKay, 23, needed more time to develop. As goalies tend to do.

McKay’s numbers fall under the category of wow. Through three seasons, he has posted a 75-14-4 record, with save percentages of .927, .942 and .931. He’s had 10 shutouts in each of his past two campaigns. These stats make the kid worthy of his handle.

“It was actually my mom’s idea to name me Dryden. My dad is always quick to point that out,” McKay told Wes Gilbertson of the Calgary Sun. “I think the story was I was going to be Dylan and then she saw the book The Game by Ken Dryden, his famous book, and she was looking at it and she goes, ‘Dryden… that’s a cool name.’ She brought it to my dad, and he was instantly all about it.”

Dryden’s dad, 57-year-old Ross, was a pro who tended 34:47 of net in his single NHL backup appearance, for the 1990-91 Hartford Whalers.

While Dryden is eligible for a fourth university season, it’ll be interesting if an NHL franchise takes a flyer on him.

McKay is listed at five-foot-11 and 175 pounds.

The average height of an NHL goalie is six-foot-three. The shortest active NHL netminder today is Pittsburgh’s Casey DeSmith at six feet. DeSmith, too, was an undrafted late bloomer. So, we’re not betting against a goalie named Dryden.

5. Nazem Kadri to Christine Simpson on the topic of Auston Matthews and his NHL-best 28 goals: “The minute I saw that guy, I knew he was gonna lead the league in goals someday. So, in terms of the Rocket race, he’s the guy I’m cheering for, and I hope he gets it done.”

6. It’s not too early to declare the Florida Panthers the winners of the Mason Marchment trade.

Bill Zito re-signed Marchment, 25, to a one-year, $800,000 extension this week. The six-foot-four, 209-pound winger has helped tilt the ice for the Cats this season, contributing eight points in 24 games, averaging 14:23 in ice time, and registering a plus-6 rating while throwing 52 hits.

“Mason has taken full advantage of his opportunity this season and we are pleased to have signed him to a contract extension,” said Zito. “In his first full NHL season, he has proven himself to be a versatile forward who provides our team with a combination of size, skill, and character.”

Toronto dealt Marchment to Florida before the 2020 deadline to acquire the five-foot-nine Denis Malgin. Malgin, 24, exploded for a point-per-game campaign… for Lausanne HC in the Swiss A League.

Can’t help but think the bruising Marchment will contribute significantly more to the Panthers’ playoff run than Malgin will for the Leafs.

7. Kudos to Lou Lamoriello for loading up with two useful forwards (and avoiding a single minute of quarantine) in acquiring known commodities Kyle Palmieri and Travis Zajac from his former franchise. The Islanders are legit. (Why is that painful to type?)

Some love needs to go to seller Tom Fitzgerald here. Relatively new to the gig, Fitzgerald has managed to recoup assets for veterans Palmieri, Zajac, Blake Coleman, Andy Greene, Sami Vatanen, Wayne Simmonds and Louis Domingue during his two deadlines. (And he may not be done.)

Fitzgerald refuses to be the one left holding the bag, even if it means dealing away lifelong Devils with letters on their sweaters. And now he’s shifted pressure to his scouts by gathering five picks in the first three rounds of the 2021 draft.

Plus, he conducted the dispatch of Palmieri and Zajac with class. Fitzgerald said he hung out with Palmieri for two hours on Saturday, discussing his past and future and trade options. He touched base with 1,000-gamer Zajac for 15 to 20 minutes every day, keeping him in the loop and leaving the trade in the veteran’s hands.

“I hope the pick we get is the 32nd pick,” Fitzgerald said Wednesday night. “I hope both of these gentlemen win the Cup. I would love nothing more than that.”

Fitzgerald is proving he can tear down with the best. Let’s see how he builds.

8. Healthy-scratching David Savard — the top pure rental target on the blue line — Thursday night, and then going out and losing their 27th game is akin to waving a white flag in Columbus.

Columbus only has a total of four picks in the first three draft rounds of 2021 and 2022. Savard is as good as gone.

We’re more interested in what else is for sale here.

Captain Nick Foligno (10-team no-trade list) is the biggie. Tough break (metaphorical and literal) for Boone Jenner, who would’ve been an enticing trade chip before his season-ending finger surgery.

Contenders could do much worse than Michael del Zotto ($700,000 cap hit) as a depth option.

If the Maple Leafs are as keen on Foligno as we think they should be — and Jarmo Kekalainen wants to pry a first-rounder — there’s potential for a multi-piece deal in the vein of Isles-Devils here.

Could Dubas try to pry Savard as well? Settle for del Zotto? Or convince Kekalainen to kick in a goalie, Elvis Merzlikins or Joonas Korpisalo?

9. “Yeah, we’re comin’,” Jordan Binnington declared to the (limited) home crowd after his brilliant 50-save performance Wednesday over Vegas.

Problem is, that win was preceded by six consecutive losses by Binnington, leaving GM Doug Armstrong in a pickle.

The underwhelming Blues (fifth in the West) have plenty of decent trade chips: Mike Hoffman (healthy scratched), Jaden Schwartz, Tyler Bozak, and Vince Dunn. Armstrong doesn’t hold a second- or fourth-round pick in the 2021 draft.

Does trading away roster players to reload for 2022 kill his room and any momentum of a late Blues run, which seems a little more reasonable in light of Colton Parayko’s return and the questionable strength of the team they must catch (Arizona)?

Because everything circles back to the Leafs, we like the blockbuster potential for a Blues-Leafs trade, and the teams have been flirting with each other for a couple years now.

A Dunn-Schwartz-Bozak package would turn heads.

10. The Lady Byng Trophy has been around for 95 years. Among the past 65 winners, only one (Brian Campbell, 2012) was a defenceman.

A goaltender has never won the award to the “player adjudged to have exhibited the best type of sportsmanship and gentlemanly conduct combined with a high standard of playing ability.”

At the risk of generalizing, the writers who vote on this award often (a) look at the top scorers and select candidates with few penalty minutes or (b) look at the least-penalized players and pick candidates with star-level impact.

Reigning champ Nathan MacKinnon, for example, put up 93 points and took a career-low 12 PIMs in 2019-20.

Goalies — rarely penalized anyway — don’t stand a chance.

The biggest recent “threat” to win the Byng would be Marc-Andre Fleury, who finished 32nd in voting in 2018-19 and 19th in 2019-20 (prior to the sword-in-the-back portrait).

Our pitch: Jack Campbell makes history.

His performance on the ice (10-0-0) is high, and his sportsmanship is off the charts. He’s all stick-taps and winks and hugs. He’s selfless with praise for his teammates — and his rivals.

When Matthew Tkachuk fell on him accidentally on purpose, Campbell insisted Tkachuk wasn’t “a menace” but rather “a really good hockey player.”

When Tim Stützle posterized Campbell with a one-timer from the heavens, the goalie said, “I just want to shake his hand. That was a heck of a play. What a young talent. It’s good for the league.”

Show me a better personification of gentlemanly conduct this season. I’ll hang up and listen.

11. Speaking of awards, the Professional Hockey Writers’ Association is adapting its pool of ballot-casters in response to 2021’s division-exclusive schedule.

In effort to balance out the disproportionate number of hockey writers based in the North and East divisions, 20 voters were selected from each division, plus 20 at-large voters, for a total of 100 voters.

It’s a one-season change that reduces the number of ballots. Typically, 155 PHWA members and 20 national broadcasters had a vote.

Each ballot will now carry more weight.

12. The best thing about the Calgary Flames in 2021 is Darryl Sutter Zoom calls.

13. Rest in peace, Dark Man X.

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