Maple Leafs Mailbag: Should Toronto trade for Taylor Hall?

Connor Hellebuyck made 36 saves and Neal Pionk notched 3 assists as the Winnipeg Jets defeated the Toronto Maple Leafs 4-3.

TORONTO — We’re a month out from the trade deadline, so to the surprise of no one, the ol’ Maple Leafs Mailbag is overflowing with queries about potential moves the team could make.

We tackle the Taylor Hall debate — a tempting target — right off the top. Then dive into other trade bait, expansion draft strategy, whether to prioritize Zach Hyman or Frederik Andersen, and more.

Juicy stuff. Let’s dig in.

Depending on the pick and prospect, that could be a high price for a rental. Even if that rental is Taylor Hall. (The 50 per cent salary retention on an $8-million player feels like a must, Toronto or elsewhere.)

Kevyn Adams put himself in a pickle here. The exec doesn’t have a ton of trade leverage. I’m not knocking the one-year gamble on Hall. On paper, he should’ve been a fantastic fit for both Ralph Krueger and Jack Eichel. But it hasn’t worked. He’s become a black-cloud player in a black-cloud city.

So, I’m knocking Adams’ giving Hall a full no-move clause, which makes flipping him before April 12 challenging, particularly with the majority of buyers tight to the cap. If the rookie GM cannot re-sign the winger in the next month — Hall says he’s open to the idea — he’s got to move him.

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Let’s be serious: Hall would love to be a Leaf, to join a team with a chance. And Kyle Dubas would be willing to spend a first-rounder to rent a first-overall.

The 2018 Hart Trophy winner makes this team better. Making the dollars work is the obstacle.

There is a spot to the left of John Tavares and William Nylander where Hall’s career-low 3.1 shooting percentage could rebound back to his 10.2 average.

That would bump Kerfoot (if he’s not traded) down to a more comfortable spot in the bottom six, and the Leafs would reaffirm their all-or-nothing approach to 2021.

The Leafs won’t be the only team calling, but there’s a world where this could work.

Several readers submitted variations of this theme: Why is everyone talking about needing a forward for the playoffs when clearly we need another tough guy or two? Why don’t the Leafs trade for another defenceman? Could team chemistry be thrown off by another addition?

Dubas doesn’t make any move without first investing a ton of research, and I’ll always remember him putting math to the toll of the post-season. On average, teams lose one player per round due to injury, he said.

Top-sixers Auston Matthews, Zach Hyman and Joe Thornton have already missed games in-season — a reminder of the value of depth.

If Dubas looks to any franchise as his blueprint, it’s the 2020 champion Lightning, who aggressively added two impact forwards — Blake Coleman (for prospect Nolan Foote and a conditional first-round pick) and Barclay Goodrow (for Anthony Greco and a first-round pick) — at the 2020 deadline.

In other words, yes, a trade for another top-six forward could make sense. I’m betting it happens.

As Elliotte Friedman reported Tuesday, word is Dubas is actively poking around the full-blown sellers like Nashville (Mikael Granlund, Mattias Ekholm, Filip Forsberg), Buffalo (Eric Staal) and Detroit (Marc Staal).

My gut feels the price on a stud like Forsberg (William Nylander?) would be too high, and Toronto could get outbid for a guy like Ekholm by a team more desperate for left-shot defencemen (Philadelphia?). Pierre LeBrun reported Edmonton’s serious interest in Eric Staal, and I also wonder if the Sabre could be lured back to Carolina.

The versatile Granlund is an obvious target. Marc Staal (if inexpensive) could help the Leafs’ mediocre penalty kill.

Let me throw a couple more targets out there.

Columbus is last in the Central; the Blue Jackets need picks. How good would pending UFA Nick Foligno look on the PK and the third line? David Savard? If you can’t beat ’em, trade for ’em.

Kyle Palmieri in New Jersey is another name to watch. He holds a modified no-trade list and can block a move to eight teams.

I’d rather Scenario A, and a hunch tells me they would too.

Dubas at least entertained the notion of parting ways with Frederik Andersen in the off-season, and unless the 31-year-old is willing to re-sign for similar money ($5 million) at a reasonable term, the sides could part ways in this flat-cap world.

The GM didn’t wish to discuss moving Zach Hyman, who brings an element this roster desperately needs and would be more difficult to replace. Now Hyman is driving his own line and seems to only improve with age. Coaches don’t hesitate to throw him over the boards when the game is on the line.

Outright replacing a workhorse like Andersen falls somewhere between difficult and impossible. Instead, Toronto could pursue a more tandem-like approach with Jack Campbell already under contract for 2021-22 at a team-friendly $1.65 million and the club exhibiting improved defensive play.

Potential UFA targets Philipp Grubauer, Chris Driedger, Petr Mrazek and Linus Ullmark are all younger and have logged fewer miles than Andersen.

Possible trade targets Darcy Kuemper ($4.5 million cap hit), Elvis Merzlikins ($4 million), Joonas Korpisalo ($2.8 million) and Alexandar Georgiev ($2.4 million) carry the type of salary that would ease the re-signing of Hyman and Morgan Rielly.

Just fine.

The narrative that Toronto is only succeeding because the North Division is weak is a lazy one that ignores the club’s improved defensive commitment and valued contributions from role players and backup goalies.

Would I like to see the Leafs charge head-to-head with Vegas and Tampa, Carolina and Washington, Colorado and Boston? Absolutely. That would give us a clearer measure of how well this roster stacks up.

And the offensive-minded play in Canada certainly caters to the Leafs’ preferred style of play. (Jets coach Paul Maurice noted Tuesday how the old Central was much more physical.)

Were they to face off today, I’d favour the Lightning and Golden Knights in a seven-game series versus the Leafs… and that’s about it.

Provided Toronto can retain its King in the North title through May, it will leave the division and enter the Final Four with a confidence this core has never grasped.

Not likely.

Despite ranking top-10 leaguewide in points per 60 this season (3.07), Spezza has cracked the 15-minute mark just once and his average time on ice has declined to a career-low 10:38.

Keefe — a frequent tweaker of line combinations — hasn’t yet seen fit to give Spezza a look among the top six, despite multiple injuries up front. This suggests the coach believes he’s getting the most out of the veteran by keeping him fresh.

Spezza (five goals, 16 points, 58.6 per cent in faceoffs) is enjoying a heckuva season, and Keefe likes the hockey sense and secondary scoring threat Vintage brings in sheltered minutes.

The landscape has shifted since we first looked at the Kraken’s Leafs pick a few months ago.

The better Justin Holl performs, the more I believe Dubas will lean toward the 8-and-1 option, protecting his top four defencemen and his Core Four forwards. The GM could then work out a handshake deal with pending UFA Zach Hyman and officially re-sign the winger after the expansion draft, thus avoiding the need to protect him as well.

If you’re on board with this line of reason, Ron Francis will be left with two decent options as he assembles his 30-piece puzzle.

The versatile Alexander Kerfoot would bring cost certainty, middle-six reliability and penalty killing to Seattle. Travis Dermott (RFA) represents a still-improving asset under team control.

Perhaps Dermott’s ceiling is a third-pairing NHLer, but if I’m Francis, I’m taking the chance the 24-year-old can progress into a top-four mainstay given more opportunity.



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