Rick Zamperin: With trade deadline nearing, Maple Leafs still have work to do
The NHL trade deadline arrives in less than two weeks and Toronto Maple Leafs GM Kyle Dubas still has some work to do to improve the team.
Yes, the Maple Leafs sport the fifth-best record in the National Hockey League and with 26 games remaining in the regular season, Toronto is getting ready for a third straight playoff run.
However, if the season ended today, the Leafs would be preparing for another first round series against the Boston Bruins. The B’s have eliminated Toronto in two of their last three playoff appearances, the other being a first round exit two seasons ago against Washington.
While I am more confident than ever that the Leafs can beat Boston in a seven-game series, that confidence level could be boosted a couple of notches, and adding another playoff veteran would do the trick.
Toronto Maple Leafs take the subway to practice at city hall in full equipment
Dubas is not contemplating a trade involving marquee prospects Timothy Liljegren and Rasmus Sandin, two up-and-coming defencemen with the AHL’s Toronto Marlies, and he has already sent the team’s first round pick in this year’s draft to Los Angeles in the Jake Muzzin trade.
So that leaves Dubas to dangle blueliners Calle Rosen and Andreas Borgman, as well as winger Jeremy Bracco, as potential trade bait. But to land a bigger fish, the Leafs will most likely have to move a player who is currently on the roster.
Kasperi Kapanen, who has 18 goals this season and will be a restricted free agent this summer, can certainly be used as a bargaining chip in a big trade but I don’t see Dubas wanting to depart with the speedy winger given his upside and the way he has performed this year.
If Dubas has any plans to bolster the Leafs’ lineup, and hopefully that means adding another playoff-tested defenceman, he will have to include a player like Andreas Johnsson. The 24-year-old is set to become a restricted free agent this summer but he won’t cost his new team much cap room and he can produce offensively, as demonstrated by his 14 goals.
Don’t expect Toronto to part ways with impending free agents Jake Gardiner and Ron Hainsey. Despite being one-dimensional blueliners, they still play an important role on the team. And not many GMs are going to be salivating over acquiring defenceman Nikita Zaitsev, who has a $4.5 million cap hit for the next five years, or Connor Brown and the $2.1 million he is owed next season.
With all that being said, there’s no guarantee that any trade will put the Leafs over the top. We’ve seen many times in the past where a team has loaded up for the post-season only to fall short of their Stanley Cup dreams. If Dubas isn’t able to add a big piece to the puzzle, Toronto is still well-equipped to go on a deep playoff run, but it may not end in a championship celebration.
© 2019 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.