It’s that time of year again, Leafs fans. Speculation around potential Toronto Maple Leafs trade deadline deals has run rampant over the past two weeks. It was only fuelled further by comments Kyle Dubas made at a presser last week:
Kyle Dubas, asked if he’s willing to trade a top prospect before this deadline: “Yes.”
— Chris Johnston (@reporterchris) March 16, 2021
So what to make of a one-word answer? You can’t blame the writer – vagueness lends itself to speculation. And that’s what we’ll be doing here today. It’s time to look at three potential trade deadline targets for the Leafs. And based on Dubas’ willingness to deal a high-end Leafs prospect, what pieces would see themselves being shipped out of Toronto in advance of the deadline? How will moves work under the salary cap? Let’s break it down.
All salary cap data courtesy of the ever-wonderful CapFriendly.com.
Toronto Maple Leafs Trade Deadline Possible Proposals
Rickard Rakell (Anaheim Ducks)
Any potential Toronto Maple Leafs trade for Rakell comes with the blessing (and curse) that the Ducks forward is an extended rental. He still has one year left on his contract. With the Ducks in a precarious cap situation as it is, Anaheim won’t be interested in retaining any salary on Rakell in a deal that would see them having a portion of his hit on the books through 2021-22. With that being said, Alexander Kerfoot, who’s been valuable as a third-line centre this year, is likely out the door immediately in a Rakell deal. Their cap hits are fairly interchangeable. Rakell’s roughly $3.79 million hit is only slightly more than Kerfoot’s $3.5 million, which wouldn’t force Toronto to make any corresponding roster moves.
The most eye-opening part of this deal for Leafs fans would be the departure of hyped prospect Rodion Amirov. Drafted 15th overall in 2020, he’s a top-five prospect in Toronto’s system by most accounts. However, the 6-foot left-winger made marginal progress playing with the KHL’s Salavat Yulaev Ufa, posting 13 points in 39 games and no points in seven playoff games. While they’re still impressive numbers, Amirov’s demonstrated mild consistency issues that lead one to believe his ceiling is similar to that of, ironically, Rakell’s. Yet the rumours of Anaheim desiring a first-round pick would make this deal largely inflated in Anaheim’s favour. There is quite literally no guarantee Rakell will have a huge impact on the Leafs after a rough couple of years, and his value should be comparatively lower.
Over the course of this entire deal, however, both teams would get what they desire. Rakell demonstrated immense upside when playing with more skilled talent. He has multiple 30-goal seasons playing with Anaheim teams of yesteryear. And with 21 points in 32 games among a struggling Ducks offence, Rakell has shown he still has that upside. A role in the Leafs’ top-six group alongside either Auston Matthews or John Tavares could likely unlock that scoring touch again, creating one of the deepest lines of attack in Toronto history. While Kerfoot’s departure would hurt, Pierre Engvall has shown the ability to slot in that third-line centre role.
Nick Foligno (Columbus Blue Jackets)
Toronto Maple Leafs receive F Nick Foligno
Columbus Blue Jackets receive F Alexander Kerfoot, D Mikko Kokkonen, TOR’s 2022 3rd round pick
Trading for Nick Foligno would be quite an interesting move for both teams involved. While the Blue Jackets aren’t full-fledged sellers yet, the Leafs have demonstrated interest in Foligno and could make a deal work. However, his $5.5 million cap hit is rather hefty. The good news is that Foligno is a pending unrestricted free agent, meaning that Columbus would be able to retain salary (it would need to be the 50 percent maximum) in a trade. Still, this would only bring Foligno’s cap hit down to $2.75 million on the Leafs’ end, meaning Kerfoot is likely a goner in this deal as well.
Foligno’s fallen on some rather rough offensive times, as the Blue Jackets’ captain has only 12 points in 32 games. The Leafs could benefit from buying low here. Mikko Kokkonen is a D prospect with some NHL upside. He would be a step in helping replenish a now-depleted defensive prospect pool in Columbus. Jackets general manager Jarmo Kekalainen probably required a mid-round pick here as well to even out the trade value, and you’ve got yourself a deal that could pay dividends. On Columbus’ end, they recoup some assets for a leader who would likely return to the club next season via free agency for a reduced price. For Toronto, they get another leader with playoff experience who could help on a deeper run.
Wild Card: Jonathan Bernier (Detroit Red Wings)
Toronto Maple Leafs receive G Jonathan Bernier
Detroit Red Wings receive F Pierre Engvall, 2022 4th round pick
This trade is marked as a wild card for a multitude of reasons. For one, any move involving a goalie hinges heavily on Andersen’s recovery from his current lower-body injury. If Andersen’s play can rebound after some added rehab, there’s no need to make a deal.
However, as things stand, Andersen has transformed into an active liability for the Toronto Maple Leafs. He’s saved -3.3 goals above expected per MoneyPuck, straight-up costing the Leafs games at some points. It’s not the type of goaltending that can give you confidence in the playoffs, even as a backup option to the similarly injury-prone Jack Campbell, who’s been among the league’s best goalies this season. Jonathan Bernier has had a stellar year on a terrible Detroit team. He’s still managing to save 1.8 goals above expected, a bit better than his .918 save percentage would suggest.
Detroit’s value on Bernier can’t be that high. Considering they’re getting a roster player back, shedding some cap hit, and gaining assets for a player that may re-sign with them anyways, this could be a good deal. But other than that, Dubas, with a relatively simple move, could help ensure additional playoff success.
And, after all, isn’t time a flat circle?
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