Rumor: Leafs still pursuing Tavares?

With the superstar in his hometown tonight, the rumour mill is running at full capacity.

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Go back in time for a moment to the summer of 2016. The Toronto Maple Leafs had just drafted future superstar Auston Matthews and GM Lou Lamoriello managed to pull off a major deal for former Anaheim Ducks goaltender Frederik Andersen. For once, things were beginning to look up for Leafs fans. Meanwhile, 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 New York 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 Auston 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?

Leafs still can’t figure out if they’re buyers or sellers

Will the Toronto Maple Leafs be buyers or sellers at this year’s NHL trade deadline? Facing uncertainty with pending free-agents like James van Riemsdyk, Tyler Bozak and Leo Komarov, the Leafs could be forced into making a move that hurts their playoff chances now, but sets them up better or the future. If they manage to pick up a capable top-four defenceman in a potential JVR, Bozak or Komarov trade, all the better. So, the question of buyer or seller is lacking a third option, really: both.

In his latest rumour roundup article for The Sporting News, NHL trade insider Lyle Richardson of Spector’s Hockey takes a look at four defencemen on the trade market and analyzes the likelihood of each ending up in Toronto. Up first: New York Rangers captain Ryan McDonagh. The 28-year-old blue liner has been rumoured to be on the trade block for weeks now with multiple reports linking him to the Leafs. The New York Post’s Larry Brooks even proposed a McDonagh for Nylander swap that Leafs fans were none to pleased about. Assuming the cost if JVR for McDonagh or Bozak, Komarov an a pick, do you make this deal if you’re the Leafs?

Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman has already reported on the Leafs interest in smooth skating Colorado Avalanche defenceman Tyson Barrie before, so it’s no surprise that Richardson sees him as a target for the team, as well. The 26-year-old Barrie is under contract for two more seasons at $5.5 million per. He’s been out of his team’s lineup for nearly six weeks, during which time the Avs have gone on a run and managed to get themselves back into playoff contention. The team’s success without Barrie in the lineup has made him expendable in many fans’ eyes.

Friedman’s counterpart over at TSN, Darren Dreger, said he’d be shocked if the Leafs hadn’t talked to the Columbus Blue Jackets about the acquiring veteran defenceman Jack Johnson. The 31-year-old Johnson requested a trade earlier this month, despite playing on one of the NHL’s biggest Stanley Cup contenders. With financial lawsuits and bankruptcy hanging over his head however, Johnson is most concerned with securing his financial future and scoring a big deal in free-agency this upcoming offseason. Playing big minutes on a good Leafs team could provide with him a huge boost.

Finally, for a cheaper option Richardson suggests the Leafs inquire about Vancouver Canucks defender Erik Gudbranson. The pending restricted free-agent has had two inconsistent seasons in Vancouver and the team may be happy to move along from their experiment with the tough, rugged, physical defenceman. A mid round pick or a decent prospect should get the job done. Worth it?

Whether or not the Leafs elect to buy, sell or stand pat at the deadline remains to be seen. But one thing’s for sure, the team won’t be lacking in options.