For the first time in years, the Toronto Maple Leafs are in the better half of the NHL. After a remarkable season last year, the Maple Leafs are looking to improve even more and show the NHL that they mean business. With the emergence of young forwards like Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner, and William Nylander, the Maple Leafs are a team that are going to be at the top of the offensive charts for years. Yet, there are still a handful of areas that they need to improve upon if they want to have success now. To fix these holes, they will need to rid of their surplus players, even if they are beloved by the city.
With all of that said, this article will focus on ten players that the Maple Leafs need to acquire and five that they need to rid of. The areas that the Maple Leafs need to focus primarily on are their below average defence and veteran presences in the locker room. The Maple Leafs have accomplished so much since the start of their post-Phil Kessel era and it is now time for them to try to win. The future looks very bright for the Maple Leafs, but there still is some serious work to do before they can classify themselves as true contenders.
Nonetheless, let’s look at the players they should acquire to help their chances of winning and five players they could get rid of in the process.
15 Need To Get: Tyson Barrie
With Matt Duchene finally getting traded from the Colorado Avalanche, it is safe to assume that they are finally starting their rebuild. The Avalanche still have a handful of talented players on their roster and Tyson Barrie has been in the rumour mill for a handful of years. The Maple Leafs are desperate for a top-4 defenceman and they should take a look at Barrie.
The Maple Leafs do not have a top right handed defenceman and Barrie fits that mold perfectly. It is apparent that the Maple Leafs are an offensively driven club and that is how they are going to continue to have success. Barrie is a solid two-way guy and is very quick, so him going to Toronto would make a lot of sense. The Leafs should consider this.
14 Need To Get: Joe Thornton
The Toronto Maple Leafs are off to a good start this season and it is safe to assume that they are, at a minimum, playoff contenders. This is amazing to see because this shows that their rebuilding efforts are at a consistent pace and they can show that they are a good team. Yet, the Maple Leafs are a young team and could use a veteran down the middle. That is where Jumbo Joe comes in.
The Maple Leafs have a lot of offensive talent so acquiring a star centre like Joe Thornton may not be a necessity, but it would benefit them immensely. Although Thornton has never carried the Sharks to a Stanley Cup, he is a very clutch player and could help the Leafs’ forwards score even more goals. With one year left on his deal, he could be an excellent rental.
13 Need To Dump: Josh Leivo
Josh Leivo is the lone victim of this Toronto Maple Leafs rise in talent because, although he is a very good hockey player, he simply does not fit into the depth chart. Leivo is spending his prime years as a healthy scratch for the Leafs and realistically, it is easy to assume that this is not what he wants permanently. The Leafs should give him a chance to play by moving him.
It may be hard for the Maple Leafs to part ways with Leivo because he gives them very reliable depth, but at the end of the day, it is unlikely that Leivo wants to keep doing this. Over the past few seasons, Leivo has not played more than 15 games, but has done a spectacular job statistically each time he got to play. The Leafs should use him as their prime asset when looking for a trade.
12 Need To Get: Mike Green
Mike Green would be an excellent addition for the Toronto Maple Leafs because, like Barrie, he is a right handed shot and could be used in their top-4. Green is a very offensively driven defenceman who has the ability to put up very strong point totals because of his passing ability. With one year left on his deal, this should be a no brainer for the Maple Leafs.
Green is a low risk, high reward type of player because of all the success he has had in his NHL career and he would be only be on the cap hit for the remainder of this season. Green would help the Maple Leafs already lethal offence enhance even more and could ultimately lead them to a strong playoff performance. This one should be done by the trade deadline.
11 Need To Get: James Neal
The Maple Leafs are pretty stacked on the wings, but if they truly want to win a Stanley Cup this season, they should look at acquiring James Neal from the Vegas Golden Knights. Like Green, Neal has one year left on his contract so he would not be a significant factor on their cap past this season. Neal could provide them a scorer on the wing and leadership.
For the Maple Leafs to acquire Neal, they most likely would have to part ways with one of their roster players, so that is the one negative from this. Also, there would be no chance that Neal would be brought back after this season so he would purely be a rental. Yet, if the Leafs want a consistent 20 to 30 goal scorer on their roster for the playoffs, Neal would be an excellent addition.
10 Need To Dump: Dominic Moore
Dominic Moore is another player on the Maple Leafs’ roster who simply does not fit into their depth. Now, that is not a knock on Moore because an abundance of NHL teams would love to have him in the locker room. Moore is a very sound defensive forward and has been an integral part of every team he has played on. The Leafs should move him to give him the chance to continue his career.
The Maple Leafs are one of the rare NHL teams that have an immense amount of forward depth. Yet, on the back end, they are fairly weak and they could use Moore to sweeten up a deal for a defenceman. Moore still has the ability to be a solid fourth liner in the NHL, but on the Maple Leafs, that simply will not happen with all the stars they have.
9 Need To Get: Drew Doughty
Although the Los Angeles Kings have not made it clear that they are willing to trade Drew Doughty, the Maple Leafs should pursue him. In a recent interview, Doughty made it clear that he was very interested in playing for the Maple Leafs once he hits the open market. With his contract coming to a close in a few seasons, the Leafs should look at pursuing him.
At the end of the day, the Maple Leafs may have a bit of power over the Kings when it comes to Doughty. If they decide that they want to win now, they definitely could look at making a big deal with them by parting with one of their top young players. Yet, they also can wait until he is a free agent and test their luck there. In that case, they would lose nothing and get their franchise defenceman.
8 Need To Get: Alec Martinez
If Doughty doesn't pan out, Alec Martinez is a player that the Toronto Maple Leafs should look to acquire because he is the definition of a clutch hockey player. As a member of the Los Angeles Kings, he has already won two Stanley Cups with the team and scored the game winning Stanley Cup goal in Game 5 of the 2014 finals. With the Leafs in desperate need for a defender, Martinez fits the mold perfectly.
It has been reported that the Kings are looking to move one of their defenceman because they are currently in a tough spot with their salary cap. Martinez appears to be the player most likely to be traded and with that, the Leafs should absolutely acquire him. The Leafs need a talented and experienced defenceman on their blueline if they want to become true contenders in the future.
7 Need To Dump: Matt Martin
Matt Martin is a very important player on the Toronto Maple Leafs because he provides them with a strong presence of physicality. Although he is not a player who will light up the scoresheet, he does help protect the Leafs young stars and that cannot go unnoticed. Yet, at $2.5 million per season and him under contract until 2020, he does make too much.
Although it would hurt to see him go, this may be the time for the Maple Leafs to get rid of Martin’s contract because right now, he has value. With young stars like Mitch Marner and Auston Matthews due for their big raises coming soon, they need to save up as much cap as possible. Gritty forwards are replaceable and can come at a far cheaper price than Martin.
6 Need To Get: Antti Raanta
The Arizona Coyotes are off to one of the worst starts in NHL history and that is mainly because they simply lack an identity. One player on the Coyotes that the Maple Leafs should look to acquire is their starting goalie, Antii Raanta. Although Raanta is not a game changing player, it would provide the Maple Leafs with a much needed backup goalie and could be great depth for the team.
Raanta would be an excellent addition for the Maple Leafs because this season, goaltending has been pretty terrible for the Maple Leafs. Raanta would not be the permanent solution for their troubles, but he would be a solid rental that would take a lot of pressure off Frederick Anderson. With the Coyotes being so bad, it is easy to believe Raanta will be on the move.
5 Need To Get: Jonas Brodin
The Minnesota Wild have put Jonas Brodin on the trading block numerous times during his tenure there thus far and it is easy to believe that he will be traded at some point. The Wild are a team that have a lot of cap issues due to the enormous contracts they gave to Zach Parise and Ryan Suter back in the 2012 offseason. With that, it is understandable that a player must go.
Brodin would absolutely fit into the Maple Leafs system because they are an offensive team and they need a top defender badly. The Maple Leafs have the talent and assets to make a deal for Brodin happen and they should seriously make this become a reality. If the Maple Leafs want to be a serious contender, they need a top defenseman now. Brodin could be their guy.
4 Need To Dump: Tyler Bozak
Tyler Bozak has built himself up to be a very reliable NHL player and for awhile, was the top centre on the Toronto Maple Leafs. Bozak should be well respected in the city for all the work he put in for the franchise and his loyalty to the club, even during the darkest years. However, with the Maple Leafs core getting younger and progressing, it is time for Bozak to be let go.
Bozak only has one year left on his deal and there is very little chance that the Leafs will be able to afford him with their top prospects needing extensions. Also, it is apparent that Bozak’s role on the team is continuing to decrease. Bozak simply does not possess the same talent as the younger stars to be in the Maple Leafs top-6 anymore. With that, they should trade him so they do not lose him for nothing.
3 Need To Get: Oliver Ekman-Larsson
Oliver Ekman-Larsson is going to be traded by the Arizona Coyotes before he inevitably leaves them during the 2019 offseason. With that, the Maple Leafs should jump on that opportunity because as it has been previously established, they are team who desperately need a top defenceman. Ekman-Larsson would fit into the system perfectly so this one would make a lot of sense.
It is time for the Maple Leafs to try to pounce on this now because the Coyotes are off to an abysmal start this season. They may recognize that they need to get rid of their veteran talent as soon as possible to have an effective rebuild like the Leafs did. Ekman-Larsson could very well be the player that helps lead the Maple Leafs to an abundance of playoff success.
2 Need To Get: John Tavares
Although this may be a long shot, the Toronto Maple Leafs should look at acquiring John Tavares. The Maple Leafs are loaded with offensive talent upfront, but realistically, they could part ways with one of their top players or prospects to bring in Tavares. If they could bring him in on a reasonable contract, this could ultimately lead the Leafs to a Stanley Cup.
For the past few years, there has been speculation that John Tavares would love to play for the Maple Leafs because he grew up in the area. Now with Toronto being at the top half of the NHL, it would make a lot of sense for Tavares to go there to try to win a Stanley Cup. Look for Toronto to try to acquire his services if the Islanders cannot lock him up to a new extension.
1 Need To Dump: James Van Riemsdyk
This may hurt a lot of Toronto Maple Leafs fans, but it is safe to believe that James van Riemsdyk's time in blue and white is coming to a close. There is no doubt that the Maple Leafs want to keep JVR on their roster, but with their top young players needing new contracts, it is easy to see that he is expendable. JVR wants his big NHL contract and that cannot happen in Toronto.
Yet, this does not necessarily have to be a big loss if they are able to use him to bring in a new defenceman. JVR has a lot of value and it is easy to understand why. He has been one of the Leafs’ top scorers since becoming a member of the club and is still in his prime for a handful of seasons. The Leafs need to get something back from JVR soon because they cannot lose him for nothing.