No one’s quite sure if the Toronto Maple Leafs will be buyers or sellers at the NHL’s February 26th trade deadline. The Leafs have some obvious holes, particularly on defence, and it’s decision time for Leafs GM Lou Lamoriello when it comes to the futures of pending UFAs James van Riemsdyk, Tyler Bozak and Leo Komarov. There’s a lot up in the air right now in Toronto and it doesn’t help that the head coach is now weighing in with his opinion.
Leafs coach Mike Babcock joked with reporters earlier today that he hopes Lamoriello makes a deadline deal to help the team.
Reading between the lines and it’s clear that Babcock feels like his team could use a few more key ingredients. Most obvious is the Leafs’ need for another capable, reliable defenceman in their top four. The loss of Nikita Zaitsev for six weeks, who just so happens to be returning from injury tonight against the New York Islanders, was almost too much for the Leafs to bear. With Morgan Rielly on the shelf now, who knows how this team’s defence corps will adapt.
The Leafs have been linked to New York Rangers captain Ryan McDonagh, Detroit Red Wings blue liner Mike Green, rugged Vancouver Canucks defenceman Erik Gudbranson and Columbus Blue Jackets defenceman Jack Johnson in various reports. Whether or not Lamoriello makes a move on any of those players remains to be seen. But what we do know is that Babcock will be watching closely come trade deadline day.
Rumor: Leafs still pursuing Tavares?
Go back in time for a moment to the summer of 2016. The Leafs had just drafted future superstar Auston Matthews and GM Lamoriello managed to pull off a blockbuster deal for former Anaheim Ducks goaltender Frederik Andersen. The entire hockey world was fixated on Tampa Bay Lightning captain Steve Stamkos as he prepared to hit free-agency for the first time in his career. Little did we all know that two blockbuster trades, PK Subban for Shea Weber and Taylor Hall for Adam Larsson, were about to go down… but I digress.
The talk amongst Leafs fans at the time was whether or not the Leafs should pursue Stamkos in free-agency. Ultimately, Stamkos elected to stand pat, signing a massive eight-year, $68 million deal with the Lightning just two days before the opening of free-agency. Fast forward to 2018 and the same level of rumour and speculation now surrounds Islanders captain John Tavares.
The “will he or won’t he” type intrigue around Tavares is a league-wide story this season and you can bet that if the 27-year-old Mississauga native hits the open market, there will be teams lining up out the door to make him an offer. Will the Leafs be one of those teams? Should the Leafs be one of those teams?
There’s an argument to be made that the Leafs don’t really have the roster space for Tavares at the top end of their lineup, but with a special player like him, you make room. The problem is that he’s sure to command top dollar should he elect to test the free-agent waters, and with pricey extensions on the horizon for Matthews, William Nylander and Mitch Marner, can the Leafs afford Tavares?
Sure, right now the idea of walking away from a Tavares signing seems crazy… but in three or four years time it may look like the best move the Leafs never made.
What’s your take? Should the Leafs be in on the Tavares Sweepstakes? Or, do they have more pressing matters to deal with before wading into free-agent waters?