The Toronto Maple Leafs had an unceremonious Qualifying Round. Their loss to the Columbus Blue Jackets shined a light on all of the woes in the Leafs lineup. The most prominent of these issues were the six men making up the Leafs defence. While a few defencemen had strong performances, it was readily apparent that the Leafs still need help on their blue-line. Acquiring Jake Muzzin and Tyson Barrie wasn’t enough. There are still holes to be filled. Luckily, there’s one team in the league with plenty of undervalued star-power on defence. The Minnesota Wild have three incredibly potent blue-liners that are open for the taking. Of the trio, Jared Spurgeon stands out most. Simply put, the 30-year-old would be the perfect pickup for the Leafs.
Figuring Out How to Get Jared Spurgeon to Toronto
Why Acquire Spurgeon?
Jared Spurgeon is an impeccable defensive talent that’s currently being held back in Minnesota. He recorded the second-most ice time among Minnesota skaters this year but his role was second to Ryan Suter, instead of being the true-number-one that Spurgeon deserves to be. Despite this, the right-handed shot put up 32 points in 62 games, on pace for 42 points on the year. This production is only one point shy of his career-high, which he set last season. Jared Spurgeon also scored 12 goals in those 62 games, on pace for a very impressive 16 goals this season. These 12 goals ranked 11th among all defenseman and his 16-goal-pace would’ve been a new career-high.
The Advanced Stats
Spurgeon’s impact goes far beyond impressive scoring totals. His defensive impact is of particular note. Spurgeon had a 1.89 xGA/60 (expected-goals-against per-60) this season, the ninth-best of any defenseman to play more than 20 games this year. In fact, this 1.89 tally is in line with John Marino‘s total, who is receiving Calder murmurs for his incredible defensive performance this year.
Spurgeon’s 2.56 xGF/60 (expected-goals-for per-60) is a lot more modest than his terrific xGA/60 but it’s still of note. A 2.56 tally ranks 51st among the league’s defence, out of 232 players who played in over 20 games.
But in the stat best used to gauge all-around performance, Spurgeon reigns supreme. His offensive GAR (goals-above-replacement) ranks 16th among the league’s defensemen. His defensive GAR ranks 35th. Overall, his GAR, WAR, and SPAR (wins-above-replacement/standing-points-above-replacement) all rank 11th among the league’s blue-liners, effectively dubbing Spurgeon the 11th-best defenceman in the league.
No Toronto defencemen rank in the top-20 of these stats. In fact, only three (Jake Muzzin-23rd; Travis Dermott-24th; Morgan Rielly-86th) rank even in the top-100. These stats aren’t all-seeing, of course, but they’re a good indicator as to just how drastically acquiring Spurgeon would shake things up. Despite a high price tag — clocking in at a $7.5 million cap hit next season — moving the high-scoring Spurgeon to Toronto would perfectly fix both the offensive and defensive issues plaguing the Leafs blue-line. He’s a perfect fit and one that wouldn’t take much to reel in.
Figuring out what package Toronto would need to send Minnesota isn’t an easy task. Spurgeon is a top-end defenceman and was just awarded a seven-year contract, with an annual cap hit of $7.575 million, to prove it. But that cap hit is nearly $6 million under his calculated market value, per Dom Luszczyszyn’s models. It’s a steal of a cap hit and coincides with an overall general sense that Minnesota doesn’t truly know what they have in Spurgeon. So while his value is high, the Leafs could manage to steal him away.
The Main Piece
The main focus of any trade package would have to be Rasmus Sandin. Sandin is a top prospect for the Leafs and an incredible talent but he’s also one of many left-handed defensemen in the Leafs system. The team clearly didn’t know exactly what to do with him this season and had him splitting time between the NHL and AHL as a result. While Cody Ceci leaving could open a role for Sandin, it wouldn’t be a very attractive one for the 20-year-old. With Mikko Lehtonen, among others, also combatting for an NHL spot, the Leafs are in a jam with Sandin still in the lineup. The incredible addition of Jared Spurgeon, and Dermott’s continued improvement, would also help make up for Sandin’s absence.
Ultimately, trading Sandin is a must if the Leafs wanted to acquire Spurgeon. Not only does it clear up a bogged down left-defence-depth but Minnesota is also in need of a rising LD to replace the ageing Ryan Suter. The Wild would be chomping at the bits to snag Sandin, meaning the remaining pieces of any trade package could be a bit lighter.
An Added Incentive
Are the Wild rebuilding? A year ago this was an iffy question but after their Qualifying Round appearance, the answer seems to be no. Still, the team is clearly in need of some fresh faces and promising prospects. It’s exactly why Sandin would be a perfect fit but also why they’d be hounding for draft picks.
The 2021 NHL Draft is incredibly shallow. With the 2020 and 2022 Drafts being two of the greatest in recent memory, the 2021 Draft is the exact opposite. It’s also absolutely filled with defencemen, with at least nine expected to go first-round. Hoping all goes well, the Leafs first-round pick will likely end up in the 20s (or 30s if we’re being hopeful), leaving them a fairly… upsetting group of prospects to choose from. Samu Tuomaala, Stanislav Svozil, and Isaac Belliveau — to name a few — are all fine prospects but far from what a team would want out of a first-round pick. They won’t blossom into stars like last-first-rounders Jacob Perreault or John-Jason Peterka from this year’s draft, and they won’t make immediate impacts for their clubs.
So, for a Leafs organization that already has plenty of youth and even more solid defencemen, a 2021 first-round pick simply doesn’t seem necessary. However, for a Wild lineup that’s void of promising youth or blue-line prospects, a 2021 first-rounder would be a great pickup. Toronto dealing this pick wouldn’t hold as much weight as in normal drafts but it’s still a great asset to move.
Pick Two to Save the Cap
Then there’s the issue of cap hit. Yes, Spurgeon’s $7.575 million is a steal for his talents, but it’s also well outside of Toronto’s budget. To adjust for this, the Leafs would have to move two of the following three names:
Andreas Johnsson has the weakest case to stay in Toronto. Despite some promising flashes, he’s never really pulled himself together in the ways Leafs fans had anticipated. While he is a 40-point-regular now, his impact doesn’t feel like it’s great enough to hold a torch to up-and-comer Nicholas Robertson. Simply put, Johnsson is a productive player and a valuable trade chip but he’s not irreplaceable. He makes $3.4 million.
Nobody can discuss trading Johnsson without mentioning dealing Kasperi Kapanen. For many Leafs fans, the two are the same in the eyes of a trade. Kapanen is also a 40-point-regular and outscored Johnsson last season, by one point, and had a higher point-pace this year, by three points.
The two aren’t very distinguishable, although they do play on opposite sides. With Denis Malgin and Egor Korshkov rivalling a regular spot in the bottom-six spot, Kapanen would be similarly replaceable. His point production would be missed, as Malgin and Korshkov likely can’t match it, but players like Robertson and Jason Spezza would easily make up for it. Kapanen makes $3.2 million.
Alexander Kerfoot is the toughest pill to swallow. On the surface, he’s just as replaceable as Johnsson and Kapanen. But after a strong Qualifying Round performance, Kerfoot has shown both general manager Kyle Dubas, and the fans, that he’s a valuable part of the team. Adam Brooks, Nic Petan, and Frederik Gauthier could step into Kerfoot’s role but their effectiveness in it would be questionable.
Unfortunately, though, the Wild are in need of centres. Their wings are bogged down with young (and admittedly underperforming) talent that they might not want to ditch so quickly. While both Johnsson and Kapanen would make a fast impact on the Wild, Minny may ask for a centreman instead. It’s an unlikely-but-realistic situation that Leafs fans need to take note of if this trade came to fruition. If dealt, Kerfoot would take with him $3.5 million in cap hit.
Constructing the Final Offer
With all of this in mind, the best offer for both sides would be:
Jared Spurgeon (RD)
Rasmus Sandin (LD)
2021 First Round Pick
Andreas Johnsson (LW)
Kasperi Kapanen (RW)
This package is admittedly hefty. Parting ways with three NHLers would be a tough pill for Toronto to swallow. But in return, the Leafs would receive one of the best right-defensemen in the league. Jared Spurgeon has been absolutely incredible with Minnesota. Moving to the much stronger Leafs lineup would only boost his impact. It’s a hefty price to pay but a necessary one if the Leafs want to quickly fix their lineup.
In return for the top-end defenseman, the Wild would be receiving two talented wingers to fill out their top-six, providing a scoring punch that they were completely devoid of this year. They’d also get Ryan Suter’s replacement, and a future star, in Sandin, and a draft pick that’ll surely boost their weak prospect pool. For a team that is desperate for youth, this trade would be perfect: swapping a 30-year-old for a trade package with an average age of 23 (22 assuming the draft pick is used on an 18-year-old).
It’s the perfect trade, giving both teams exactly what they want. It’d also skyrocket the Leafs into the position they should be in, rivalling some of the best in the Eastern Conference. Kyle Dubas has noted that something needs to change in Toronto. This may be exactly it.