Maple Leafs’ 7 best pure rental forward targets ahead of trade deadline

Chris Johnston joins Danielle Michaud on Sportsnet Central to discuss Kyle Dubas' media availability and what the Maple Leafs could potentially do by the trade deadline to bolster their roster.

TORONTO – In a perfect world, Kyle Dubas would be seeking to trade for a player with some term on contract. The new guy would then hop a same-day flight and be ready to pull over his new Toronto Maple Leafs sweater within a matter of hours. And in that perfect world, the annual rise of the salary cap would help accommodate that player’s salary.

Well, we all know that the world ain’t so.

“It’s a rare time where probably a rental is the better fit,” GM Dubas said Tuesday, surveilling his cap picture and the NHL marketplace.

“In the summer, we had to move out some forwards that were good forwards for us in order to add on the back end. Thus, we feel like that’s an area where we may want to look at a little bit more, but I’m not precluding anything at this point. I’d say most of the conversations are focused on forwards right now.”

Let’s read the tea leaves and fuel the speculation.

Dubas is all-in on his division-leading Leafs and would prefer to add ASAP to get a jump on any incoming U.S.-based acquisition’s 14-day quarantine. So, going by his prioritizing of a forward and acceptance of the rental route, we’ve set aside the Filip Forsbergs, Rickard Rakells and Anthony Manthas for now. We made a list.

Here — in order of cap hit (and headline-making) value — is a look at the top seven pending UFA forwards on selling teams that Dubas should inquire about. He likely already has.

Ryan Getzlaf, Anaheim Ducks, $8.25 million cap hit

A big, tough, experienced leader who throws hits, scores goals, wins face-offs and comes with a championship pedigree. Yeah, we’d say Getzlaf would settle the Maple Leafs’ 3C slot just nicely and strike fear in any club trying to match Toronto up the middle.

There are two massive hurdles here, however: Getzlaf’s cap hit and a full no-move clause that allows him to decide where, when or if he leaves his family and his chicken coop in sunny California for a few months.

“I talked to the agent last week. I’ve talked to Getzy a little bit,” said Ducks GM Bob Murray, per the Orange-County Register. “I’m tired of hearing this from Toronto anymore, how his name is out there (in trade rumours). The only way Ryan Getzlaf would go anywhere is if he came to me and said, ‘Bob, can you try and trade me to a contender?’

“As for next year, we’ve talked and we’re going to see how he feels after this year. We’ll see how his body feels. We’ll see how it’s going. You know, he may just say, ‘I don’t want to keep going through this rebuild we’re doing here.’ But the relationship is wonderful, and he’s not going anywhere.”

Taylor Hall, Buffalo Sabres, $8 million cap hit

Another very complicated deal financially, and another star forward with full control to nix any trade proposal floated his GM’s way. The thing with Hall is, who wouldn’t want to jump out of Buffalo right now and suddenly join a contender… particularly one so close to family?

Yes, the 2018 Hart Trophy winner’s production has dropped off significantly (two goals, 14 assists), but Hall’s 2.8 shooting percentage is almost comically low compared to his career average (10.1 per cent). Imagine what patrolling the left side of Matthews-Marner or Tavares-Nylander would do for Hall’s engagement.

Nick Foligno, Columbus Blue Jackets, $5.5 million cap hit

It wouldn’t be a stretch to think of Foligno as another Zach Hyman type, only a half-decade older. A Swiss army knife who can complement elite playmakers, play responsible defence and help kill penalties, or drive his own line in the bottom six (see: Columbus vs. Toronto, 2020 bubble), Foligno is precisely the type of fearless character addition that improves your playoff chances.

Foligno, 33, has some say in how his contract season ends — a 10-team no-trade list — and the loyal Blue Jackets captain isn’t the type to abandon ship. That said, Foligno does return to Sudbury, Ont., to visit family and friends in the off-season and would have no qualms dealing with the Toronto spotlight. He could always re-sign with Columbus in the summer.

Looking for a potential blockbuster? Dubas could try to work a multi-piece deal with Jarmo Kekalainen that includes right-shot rental defenceman David Savard and/or a Columbus goaltender. We know the Jackets need picks and prospects.

Kyle Palmieri, New Jersey Devils, $4.65 million

Something you should know is that William Nylander, a right shot, usually plays right wing but actually enjoys playing the left. So, importing another top-six righty to play alongside Tavares-Nylander isn’t such a crazy idea.

While his numbers have dipped during this contract year, the 30-year-old Palmieri has had five consecutive seasons in which he’s scored between 24 and 30 goals—without a ton of offensive talent on his line.

The Smithtown, N.Y., native has never played for a Canadian team, and the Bruins and Islanders and are also said to have some level of interest in him. Palmieri holds an eight-team no-trade list.

The Devils and Leafs found common trade ground as recently as 2020, when Dubas sent Andreas Johnsson to Jersey for Joey Anderson.

 
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Mikael Granlund, Minnesota Wild, $3.75 million cap hit

Granlund, 29, is three years removed from his last 20-goal, 60-point campaign and lingered on the 2020 UFA market for weeks before eventually re-upping in Music City for one more year. He has 10 points through 26 games for the Predators and has been given prime offensive opportunity.

Versatile enough to play centre or wing, and with enough hockey sense to be juggled around the top nine, Granlund is an upgrade on the group. But how significant? And at what price?

“Granlund has just been OK,” one Nashville-based source reports. “Anyone on offence not named Forsberg doesn’t seem to have chemistry with anyone else right now. Granlund and Forsberg have been the most consistent producers since last January with John Hynes as head coach.”

Eric Staal, Buffalo Sabres, $3.25 million cap hit

Staal’s skill-set and experience as a pure centreman certainly fit the bill, but he too holds a 10-team no-trade list. Staal is reportedly not too keen on a 14-day quarantine in Canada and, while open to shuffling outta Buffalo, would prefer a U.S. destination. Southern contenders like St. Louis, Florida and, yes, Carolina could have a leg up on the Leafs here.

“We like our team right now. I don’t know why we would be looking at doing too much,” said Hurricanes coach Rod Brind’Amour, deferring the call to GM Don Waddell. “But everybody would want to have that guy around.”

Alex Iafallo, Los Angeles Kings, $2.425 million cap hit

Do Rob Blake and Dubas strike a match three years in a row?

The executives have already orchestrated deadline deals for Jake Muzzin (2019) and Jack Campbell plus Kyle Clifford (2020) in exchange for futures—and now pending UFA Iafallo fits the Leafs’ wish list and their price point.

The catch is, Blake has announced publicly he’d like to ink 27-year-old left-wing Iafallo to a contract extension. The Kings view him as a top-six asset and have the cap space to get a deal done.

If Iafallo — 17 points in 26 games, despite starting most shifts in the D-zone — does not put pen to paper by April 12, can Blake afford to let risk such a valuable asset walk for nothing during a rebuilding year?

Other rental forwards available: Erik Haula, Danton Heinen, Luke Glendening, Ryan Dzingel, Bobby Ryan, Rielly Sheahan, Riley Nash, Sam Gagner

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