With the calendar rolling over to mid-January today, the 2017-18 NHL season has officially passed the halfway mark. GMs across the league are working overtime to identify their team’s needs in advance of the NHL’s February 26th trade deadline, so that they can potentially swing a deal for their team that can help them down the stretch and into the playoffs.
One team with a glaring need is the Toronto Maple Leafs. Despite boasting some dynamic offense in the team’s forward lines and a top flight NHL goaltender in Frederik Andersen, the team’s blue line is still a work in progress. Morgan Rielly is a stud, no one’s denying that. Jake Gardiner is a total mixed bag… you never know what kind of effort you’ll get from him each night. Nikita Zaitsev is out, still, with a broken foot. Ron Hainsey has been good, if not unspectacular. Ditto for Connor Carrick and Andreas Borgman. Roman Polak continues to be a hot button issue in Toronto. So… with all this in mind, it’s pretty obvious that the Leafs could use another top-four defenseman to push the team’s depth players down the lineup.
On TSN’s 1050 in Toronto this morning, TSN analyst and NHL insider Darren Dreger addressed the Leafs situation and was asked point blank, “do you believe the Leafs that they will acquire another defenseman before the trade deadline?”
“Yes, I do,” replied Dreger. “I think it’s going to be more of a depth player, a 5 or 6th defenseman. It’s all about having depth in the position.”
Invariably, there are always depth players to be had at the deadline, but with the Leafs potentially on the precipice of something special the team’s fans want to see its management group push their cards all in and make a bigger splash. The problem there? Most of the big, franchise altering deals come during the summer these days. Might the Leafs have to bide their time, recoup some assets and then take a run at a true #1 defenseman this summer?
Dreger outlines a plan whereby the Leafs could acquire Arizona Coyotes star defenseman Oliver Ekman-Larsson, but there’s some risk involved and Leafs fans will need to be patient.
“If Lou Lamoriello and the Toronto Maple Leafs decide that they’re not there from a Stanley Cup perspective, maybe they decide to throw James van Riemsdyk on the trade block,” says Dreger. “Or Tyler Bozak, or Leo Komarov, or all three. It’s very unlikely, but imagine what the return could be?”
JVR for OEL? It’s unlikely that the Coyotes would go in for such a deal. They’re a rebuilding club with a focus on the future, so they’re much more likely to demand high end picks and prospects in return for their star blue liner. But ok… let’s stick with Dreger’s idea.
“If Evander Kane and the Buffalo Sabres are going to get a 1st round draft pick, a prospect and a conditional pick if Kane signs somewhere… imagine the haul the Leafs could get for all three of those guys.”
Interesting. So the key then would be parlaying those picks and prospects into OEL?
“So then when you go to the draft floor, you’re into a serious conversation with John Chayka and the Arizona Coyotes about Oliver Ekman-Larsson,” explains Dreger. “You want two first round-picks and a prospect to get this guy done? Yeah… we can do that. These are the kind of conversations the Leafs can put themselves in, but it’s going to hurt to acquire the assets to get into that conversation.”
Seem like a plausible plan? Or is Dreger out to lunch? What if the Leafs trade JVR, Bozak and Komarov only to turn around and see OEL traded elsewhere? What if OEL doesn’t accept a trade to Toronto? The plan is fraught with potential problems, so we don’t see it going down quite the way Dreger draws it out, but it’s interesting food for thought, nonetheless.
Whether or not Lamoriello and the Leafs swing for a homerun at the deadline next month or not remains to be seen, but most fans and analysts do expect the veteran GM to do some tinkering. If they can acquire another defender, preferably a right-handed veteran, akin to Hainsey, they’ll likely jump at the chance. Anything richer than that though… all bets are off.