Kadri, Brown among Leafs who could be dealt this summer By Luke Garrison (Saturday March 23rd, 2019)
PICTURED—NAZEM KADRI CELEBRATES // Original Photo—NHL Public Relations on Twitter
TORONTO—The NHL playoffs are just around the corner and another Leafs-Bruins first round series is all but set in stone.
The upcoming postseason excitement should be enough to preoccupy the minds of fans and onlookers alike; however, the Leafs’ upcoming cap woes are still being discussed with regularity.
It seems as though Toronto will opt to part ways with players such as Jake Gardiner, Ron Hainsey, and Martin Marincin at season’s end. But will that be enough?
Auston Matthews will begin to make $11.634 million annually and Mitch Marner should be able to command around a $10 million AAV as well.
The Leafs’ defence isn’t as horrid as many believe, but it’s certainly far from being elite or even consistent. How will Kyle Dubas hope to address this with next to no room under the cap?
In an ideal world, one or two of Calle Rosen, Andreas Borgman, and Rasmus Sandin will be ready to step into the lineup next season. All of them are young, good, and carry a cap hit of less than $1 million each.
But relying on rapid development is always a dangerous game. What if Sandin isn’t ready? After all, Nikita Zaitsev is the only right-handed shot defenceman on the roster (if you exclude fringe options such as Justin Holl and Igor Ozhiganov) and management has been seeking another for months.
PICTURED—LEAFS' UP-AND-COMING DEFENCEMAN ANDREAS BORGMAN // Original Photo—Zesty Maple Leaf on Twitter
There’s been many rumours regarding who might be on the Leafs’ radar. Brett Pesce and Dougie Hamilton from the Carolina Hurricanes have been at the forefront of the buzz. Alex Pietrangelo and Colton Parayko have both been discussed as potential targets as well.
Pesce is by far the most appealing of the group. He’s set to make just $4.025 AAV until the 2023-24 season and plays exactly the kind of simplistic, consistent game the Leafs crave. Did I mention he also shoots right-handed?
Even though his cap hit is reasonable, it’s not exactly microscopic. Someone from the Leafs’ forward group will have to be dealt in order to make room for his salary.
The obvious answer would be to move Patrick Marleau, but that’s a lot easier said than done given his no-movement clause. It’s unfortunate seeing as a 39-year-old winger who primarily plays on the third line should not be making $6.25 million per season.
Luckily, there’s only one year remaining on his contract so that problem will eventually solve itself.
The next-best (and much more realistic) option would be to trade Nazem Kadri. He’s a solid, complete player who could easily slot in as a second-line centre on most teams. Through 66 games this season, he’s racked up 15 goals and 39 points to go along with a 54.6% faceoff percentage and a 54.2 CF%.
His cap hit is also very reasonable with three years remaining at $4.5 million AAV which only further increases his trade value. The London, Ont. native does have a no-movement clause which kicked in this season, but that’s not a huge problem as it only allows him to give a list of 10 teams he’s unwilling to go to.
Another option would be to deal Connor Brown. The only problem is his trade value as it practically doesn’t exist. He has 6 goals and 25 points through 74 games this season and although his $2.1 million cap hit isn’t outrageously terrible, it’s still a tad too much given the plethora of young wing depth Toronto has.
Offensive production aside, he has played well defensively. His 49.9% CF% is pretty solid considering he has a 55.1% dzs% and he’s also only given the puck away 13 times. With one year remaining on his contract, moving him might not be a top priority.
PICTURED—LEAFS' FORWARD CONNOR BROWN CELEBRATES // Original Photo—Connor Brown on Twitter
Another name that’s been floating around is Nikita Zaitsev. He’s certainly become one of the most polarizing defenceman on the Leafs’ roster and his inadequacies have only been magnified since the injury to the former number-one defensive scapegoat--Jake Gardiner.
Zaitsev has a no-movement clause which kicks in on July 1st of this year and there’s been reports alleging that the Leafs’ brass tried to move him around the deadline. It seems kind of funny given that he shoots right, but it makes sense seeing as his past two seasons have been dreadful.
He looked decent during his rookie season; however, all of his offensive and defensive stats have been on the decline ever since. He certainly hasn’t been the player he was expected to be since signing a seven-year contract (in 2017) worth $31.5 million ($4.5 million AAV) and his time with the buds might already be up.
It’s hard to say whether or not there will be any takers this summer, but he will likely be on his way out if anyone’s interested. The question is whether or not trading him will involve retaining any salary.
In any case, there are questions all over the Leafs’ blue line heading into the summer. Whether they plan to solve these problems internally or externally remains to be seen; however, many fans are surely praying for the acquisition of Brett Pesce.
Getting rid of Kadri seems like the most rational way to create cap space, but this also isn’t a video game and there’s no telling what Kyle Dubas and his posse are thinking at this point.
PICTURED—NIKITA ZAITSEV BATTLES FOR A LOOSE PUCK // Original Photo—PensionPlanPuppets.com.
The Leafs’ success in this year’s playoffs will also play an integral role in the defence corps evaluation process.
If the buds end up acquiring a defenceman like Pesce, here is what the back-end pairings could look like heading into next season:
Rielly-Pesce Dermott-Zaitsev Muzzin-Sandin
There are a lot of “ifs” in this equation and keeping Zaitsev in the top-four certainly isn’t ideal; however, this would still be an improvement over the current pairings.
The Leafs could also opt to move Muzzin onto the right side of Dermott’s pairing if Zaitsev ends up leaving, but that would potentially leave a relatively inexperienced third pairing consisting of Rosen and Sandin (for example).
The idea of Muzzin and Sandin playing together has its appeal. Muzzin has been a solid anchor to offensive defencemen (such as Drew Doughty) throughout his career and he could help Sandin feel comfortable out there as he adjusts to the next level.
Another rearguard hopeful who hasn’t been mentioned too much in this article is Ozhiganov. He’s looked very weak and lost at times this year; however, his numbers are pretty decent considering he’s a rookie (albeit 26 years old).
His 53.7% CF% definitely stands out and he’s been decent at starting breakouts once he manages to gain possession behind the net.
With that being said, the Russian has still shown a lot of growing pains and a year of regular playing time with the Toronto Marlies could be very beneficial for him.
Either way, the Leafs have a lot of decisions to make concerning their back-end and it will be interesting to see how Dubas decides to handle it.
PICTURED—LEAFS 2018 FIRST-ROUND PICK RASMUS SANDIN HAS TAKEN THE AHL BY STORM // Original Photo—AHL on Twitter