Maple Leafs trade deadline preview: Best targets and trade bait

NHL handicapper Andy MacNeil joins Follow The Money to discuss whether Jack Campbell can be the guy in Toronto, and whether he believes the Maple Leafs are true contenders against the beasts of the NHL.

Here’s a look at where the Toronto Maple Leafs stand heading into Monday’s 3 p.m. ET NHL trade deadline.

Current cap space: $1.5 million

Projected deadline space: $1.73 million

Pending free agents:

UFAs:

• Frederik Andersen, 31, $5 million

• Zach Hyman, 28, $2.25 million

• Wayne Simmonds, 32, $1.5 million

• Alex Galchenyuk, 27, $1.05 million

• Zach Bogosian, 30, $1 million

• Alexander Barabanov, 26, $925,000

• Jason Spezza, 37, $700,000

• Joe Thornton, 41, $700,000

RFAs:

• Travis Dermott, 24, $874,125

• Nic Petan, 25, $775,000

• Denis Malgin, 24, $700,000

• Veini Vehvilainen, 24, $925,000

Draft picks

2021: 1st, 2nd, 4th, 5th, 6th

2022: 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th, 6th, 7th

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Needs

You don’t invite Amazon Prime Video cameras to follow your team for a season-long docuseries titled All or Nothing if you’re not pushing to win a championship and if there isn’t the firm belief that you’ve assembled a core that is capable.

General manager Kyle Dubas has never shied away from shaking up or improving the pieces around his bundle of offensive TNT. The GM has already shed depth forwards Travis Boyd and Jimmy Vesey on waivers in order to gather cap room for an April addition.

Although some might view the return of a healthy Wayne Simmonds and record-breaking Jack Campbell (10-0-0) as enough to get the Maple Leafs back on track, Dubas should account for more injuries and do his best to patch up weak spots.

We see two significant areas of need: a top-nine forward (either a top-six left wing or a true third-line centre) and another battle-tested defenceman, preferably one that excels on the penalty kill.

Toronto’s top six operates better with Zach Hyman causing turnovers and charging on the forecheck, but the third line is weakened whenever he’s promoted.

“In the summer, we had to move out some forwards [Andreas Johnsson and Kasperi Kapanen] 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,” Dubas said on March 16. “I’d say most of the conversations are focused on forwards right now.”

Seeking a versatile, responsible 3C like Philadelphia’s Scott Laughton, Columbus’s Nick Foligno, or Detroit’s Luke Glendening is one route.

Another is pursuing a winger like Buffalo’s Taylor Hall, St. Louis’s Mike Hoffman or Jaden Schwartz, Anaheim’s Rickard Rakell, or Nashville’s Mikael Granlund, Erik Haula or — the massive play — Filip Forsberg.

On the back end, Nashville’s cap-friendly Mattias Ekholm is the crown jewel of the trade-bait board — but his suitors will be plentiful, and Nashville’s recent standings surge will give GM David Poile pause whether to sell at all. (Our take: He should sell regardless… but our job isn’t on the line.)

Smart depth options include Columbus’s David Savard, Buffalo’s Brandon Montour or Colin Miller, Detroit’s Marc Staal, and New Jersey’s Dmitry Kulikov.

Savard and Staal are the fearless, shot-blocking, penalty-killing types Toronto could use. The Leafs’ inconsistent PK has climbed to 18th overall (78.5 per cent).

Any deal Dubas makes will require creative cap management and likely some salary retention by the rebuilding team or a third party (Chicago is willing).

“We would explore everything we possibly could if it meant improving the team,” Dubas asserts.

Remember, inducting any U.S.-located players will require a seven-day quarantine.

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Potential Assets to Move

Alexander Kerfoot: Kerfoot falls into the same middle-class, middle-six category as off-season castaways Johnsson and Kapanen. He is a useful player with a palatable contract. That makes him movable. Kerfoot, 26, is versatile enough to play centre or wing, plus pitch in on special teams. He brings a mix of speed and grease that allows him to complement high-end skill players, and his stock is higher now than it was a year ago. Clearing his $3.5-million contract (through 2023) would give Dubas room to stickhandle, but Kerfoot has shown well this season. There is risk in removing him from the lineup. The safer play could be dealing Pierre Engvall ($1.25 million cap hit through 2022).

Rodion Amirov: To get value, you must give value. If Dubas was willing to trade his 2020 first-round pick prior to the selection, why not after? The talented Amirov has nine goals in the KHL as a teenager and could be a player. His stock is high now, but by the time he’s ready to contribute to the Maple Leafs, their window may have shrunk.

Rasmus Sandin or Timothy Liljegren: It would take quite an impact player in return to deal away one of the Leafs’ top defence prospects — especially after trading Mikko Lehtonen in early March — but these are the types of bold moves that should be on the table. Could Sandin help the Leafs’ chances in a seven-game series this spring as much as, say, Ekholm or Mississauga, Ont., native Vince Dunn?

Draft picks: The Maple Leafs already spent their 2021 third- and seventh-round picks but could definitely consider surrendering their first- or second-round choice. Dubas has never been shy about shedding a (presumably late) first-round pick to help the present. He did it in 2019 (Jake Muzzin) and 2020 (to shed Patrick Marleau’s salary). Why not 2021?

Seattle Expansion Considerations

As a rule, Dubas prefers trading for players with a little term remaining on their current contract. Hence the deadline acquisitions of Muzzin (2019) and Campbell (2020), both of whom had a season-and-a-half left on their deals with L.A. and would therefore be available for two playoff runs with the Leafs. That extra term is also what makes Nashville’s Forsberg and Ekholm (both UFAs in 2022) so attractive.

The catch this season is that bringing in a high-end talent with term also means either (a) protecting that player in the expansion draft or (b) risking losing him after a short rental.

Toronto already has four core forwards (John Tavares, Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner, William Nylander) and four core defencemen (Morgan Rielly, T.J. Brodie, Justin Holl and Muzzin) it would rather shield from Ron Francis.

The Leafs can’t reasonably offer a marquee target like Hall a contract extension. Unless Dubas elects to go the blockbuster route, this might be the year to simply rent and release.

“It’s a rare time where probably a rental is a better fit,” Dubas conceded. “That said, if it’s something that we feel can improve our team long-term, we’ll find a way to make it work and figure it out, whether it’s a pure hockey trade or having to do something else to offset it.”

Thanks to the essential CapFriendly.com for salary info.

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