The Riley Nash trade was an interesting one for the Toronto Maple Leafs. With Nash out for what seems to be the remainder of the regular season, it seems that it helps them with the salary cap with him being placed on LTIR. Not only this, it is likely that Nash also returns for the playoffs. Let’s look at what the Riley Nash trade means for the Leafs.
How the Riley Nash Trade Will Help the Toronto Maple Leafs
As we’ve touched on, it seems the Nash trade will help the Leafs with the salary cap because he will be on LTIR for the remainder of the season. This article won’t be looking at what the Leafs can do with that cap space, but rather what Riley Nash will do when he returns and joins them in the playoffs.
The Ideal Fourth Line Center
I talked about Nash when he was coming up in Washington Capitals rumours, but basically, he is an excellent defensive center. He plays well defensively at 5v5 and plays well shorthanded (which is great, because the two don’t necessarily correlate). He’s what people think Luke Glendenning is. What Nash can’t do is anything offensively. When he touches the ice, nothing happens. For either team. And there’s value in that.
While he may hinder his own team offensively, for a team like the Toronto Maple Leafs who are always in the lead, a low-event player is really valuable. Even though they have gotten much more defensively responsible over the past two seasons, the Leafs still blow the odd lead to a certain last-place team in the North Division. A player like Riley Nash is someone that you can send out when it’s 5-4 with 1:30 left in the 3rd.
This trade reminds me of what I think Lou Lamoriello was going for when he acquired Brian Boyle to play on the Leafs fourth line. Boyle was also a defensively responsible center that helped the Leafs prep for the playoffs. He provided more offensive value than Nash did, but Nash will fill a similar role to why they brought Boyle in.
Who Comes Out of the Lineup
While this could change in an instant over the next few days, it’s fair to assume he will slot in as fourth-line center. This is behind Auston Matthews, John Tavares, and Alex Kerfoot. Pierre Engvall has been great in transition for the Leafs and certainly isn’t the worst forward in the Leafs lineup. I feel like the Leafs would consider moving one of Engvall, Nash or even Kerfoot to the wing to have Nash and Engvall both remain in the lineup. That really leaves three forwards to plausibly come out of the lineup.
Wayne Simmonds, Alex Barabanov and Joe Thornton are all players to look at bringing out of the lineup. I truly feel like a three-game rotation of these three will benefit. Joe Thornton hasn’t been as strong of a player as he was to start the year. Perhaps at 41 years old, some nights off could benefit Thornton. Simmonds has had a history of injuries both this year and years prior. Allowing him some rest could also preserve him if the Leafs are going to go on a deep playoff run.
Possible Last Minute Lines
As previously mentioned, Nash is a player you want defending leads. A fun exercise is discussing possible lines that Sheldon Keefe could use to defend the lead in the dying minutes. On defence, the natural selection is the Muzzin-Holl pairing, and the second pair would be T.J. Brodie and Zach Bogosian, a pair Keefe only puts together in the last few minutes.
At forward the Leafs would begin to rely on Riley Nash. Pairing him with Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner, who have both improved significantly defensively this season, to defend the lead could be intriguing, with William Nylander, Zach Hyman and Joe Thornton to round things out. Or perhaps top load with their best defensive forwards with Hyman, Nash and Matthews. It will be interesting to see the late game, defensive lines after the Riley Nash trade.
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