This has been a season of surprises for the Toronto Maple Leafs. More often than not, these surprises have been pleasant ones, albeit largely unforeseen by the media, the fans, and even the players themselves. As the season grows older with each passing day, the Leafs continue to play extremely well and are far exceeding the expectations set out for them at the beginning of the year. We are beyond the halfway point of the season and any examination of the standings would show that the Maple Leafs are right in the middle of a very congested playoff race in the Eastern Conference. Yes, the Toronto Maple Leafs are competing for a playoff spot in the latter half of the season; words that haven't been uttered by Leafs’ fans for the better part of a decade.
With the current state of affairs still considered a ‘rebuild’ the Maple Leafs are now faced with a tough choice: to buy or sell before the trade deadline. It would have surprised no one if the Leafs had, once again, been at the bottom of the standings and were looking to trade veterans for draft picks or simply making salary cap room for upcoming contracts via salary-cap-dump trades (e.g. David Clarkson and Dion Phaneuf). However, the Leafs are not at the bottom of the NHL. In fact, they are far from it. They have looked considerably competitive and boast some of the league’s better statistics, propelling them into the midst of a tight Eastern Conference playoff race. For the first time in what seems like forever, the Maple Leafs are a threat to make the playoffs.
Regardless if management wishes to stay the course so as to continue its delicate rebuild, or if they are inclined to make a push for the playoffs, they need to make a trade to address some of the glaring gaps in their lineup. The introduction of Las Vegas as an NHL team and the draft expansion should provide the Maple Leafs with several interesting options on the trade market. Here are 7 forwards, and 8 defensemen, the Leafs should attempt to make a trade for in order to round out their up and coming roster.
15 DEFENSEMAN: Hampus Lindholm
The Maple Leafs have had a relatively strong trade relationship with the Anaheim Ducks in recent years. Just this offseason, the Leafs traded several picks away to the Ducks in order to land goaltender Frederik Andersen who has quickly become one of the better number one goalies in the NHL. After that, the Leafs made another trade with Anaheim, sending goaltender Jonathan Bernier over for a conditional draft pick. More recently, the Leafs traded goaltender Jonas Enroth to Anaheim for a draft pick. There is definitely a grounded relationship between the Leafs and Ducks when it comes to the trade table. With such familiarity between the two in negotiating, the Leafs could potentially take advantage of such an amicable relationship by trying to land Ducks' defenseman Hampus Lindholm. Like other teams, the Ducks will have to deliberate as to which three defensemen they will protect in the expansion draft and with several solid blueliners, may very well have to face the reality of trading one, or losing them to the draft. Hampus Lindholm could very well be the one considered as trade bait and, given the right offer, could be dealt to the Leafs, whom Anaheim has seemed very comfortable in trading with.
14 FORWARD: Anthony Duclair
Although it seems unlikely that Arizona would be willing to part ways with Anthony Duclair seeing as how he is still signed under his entry-level contract, if the Maple Leafs were able to put together the right package, the Coyotes could just be willing to listen. Long time goaltender Mike Smith is heading into his late 30's, and although backup Louis Domingue looks decent, he has not yet proven he can be a number one goalie in the NHL. Additionally, long time captain Shane Doan is rumoured to be on the move before the trade deadline this season, meaning the heart and soul of their franchise will no longer be with the team. This may be a bitter pill to swallow for Arizona fans who have already suffered so many years of frustration. The Maple Leafs have several promising goaltending prospects in their system (Antoine Bibeau, Joseph Woll, and Garret Sparks) and a high-profile trade might be just what Arizona needs to instill some excitement back into their fan base. At the very least, the slightest whisper of Auston Matthews' name will bring the Coyotes to the table.
13 DEFENSEMAN: Jamie Oleksiak
This is the other Oleksiak. Not the gold medal winning Canadian Olympian Penny Oleksiak, but her brother Jamie who plays defense for the Dallas Stars. Jamie Oleksiak is a mammoth of a defenseman standing at 6'7", 255 lb who is a relative newcomer to the NHL. Although he is in the beginning of his NHL career, Oleksiak is signed under a regular contract, not an entry-level one, which means that he would be automatically unprotected at the expansion draft unless the Stars chose to shelter him. However, with the option to only protect three defensemen, the Stars would likely look to shelter Jordie Benn, John Klingberg, Patrick Nemeth, and Johnny Oduya leaving little room for Oleksiak. The Leafs have been hard-pressed in recent years to find a solid shutdown defenseman, especially one with considerable size. Therein, it seems like Oleksiak would be a good fit in Toronto. Going the other way, Dallas needs more depth if they are to make a playoff run in the Western Conference, which the Leafs could provide in exchange for hometown kid, Jamie Oleksiak.
12 FORWARD: Vladislav Namestnikov
With the NHL expansion draft set to happen at the end of this season, the Tampa Bay Lightning have a vast number of players on their roster which they would like to protect. Up front, the Lighting lay claim to many talented forwards, most of whom are younger players, and are certainly hoping to protect seven of their best. Vladislav Namestnikov is a skilled player so it may seem strange why the Lightning would be willing to trade him. However, when you consider that Steven Stamkos, Ryan Callahan, Alex Killorn, Jonathan Drouin, Valtteri Filppula, Tyler Johnson, Nikita Kucherov, Ondrej Palat, Cedric Paquette, and Michael Bournival are also Lightning forwards, it becomes more apparent as to why they could be willing to trade him rather than losing him to Las Vegas for nothing. The Leafs would certainly benefit from Namestnikov’s skill and would have no trouble finding a place for him as perhaps their third line center, once and for all giving them the depth down the middle they’ve been missing since Mats Sundin left.
11 DEFENSEMAN: Calvin de Haan
As a plus rated defenseman, Calvin de Haan has a great ability to shut down his opposition both in the neutral zone and in his own defensive end. Such defensive prowess must seem very enticing to a Maple Leafs team that has very little defensive depth. Therefore, it would not be surprising if the Leafs were to make a pass at de Haan, who is one of several solid defenders on the Islanders' blueline. As mentioned earlier, the Islanders are in a state of emergency as a franchise and are looking for solutions to turn things around. Perhaps one of their best options at this point is to trade one of their defenseman, as they are loaded with young talent on the backend, in order to fill other urgent needs like scoring. The Leafs have a plethora of offensive talent, both young and old, and would likely be willing to part ways with one or two pieces if it meant landing defensive depth, and an experienced shut down defender like de Haan.
10 FORWARD: Brandon Pirri
Although Brandon Pirri was recently acquired by the New York Rangers, given the right offer, they might be willing to trade him. This is partly due to the fact that they also recently acquired highly-sought-after free agent Jimmy Vesey and traded for Mika Zibanejad from the Ottawa Senators. In other words, the Rangers are very deep in the forward category (consider Mats Zuccarello, Chris Kreider, Derek Stepan, and Rick Nash also). The other reason why New York could be open to dealing Pirri is the fact that they are situated in the NHL's toughest division. The Metropolitan division is the class of the league which includes the Washington Capitals, Pittsburgh Penguins, and the surprising Columbus Blue Jackets. As hard as it is to even make the playoffs out of this division, New York has had huge issues in getting past the second round once they’re there. With Henrik Lundqvist getting older, the window for the Rangers to win a Stanley Cup may be shrinking. Pulling off a deal by moving Pirri to acquire a piece that may help their playoff chances might make sense to an organization with such high expectations. It should also be noted that Toronto is Pirri's hometown.
9 DEFENSEMAN: Tyson Barrie
Much like his teammate Matt Duchene (more on that a little later), Colorado defenseman Tyson Barrie will be shopped around the league by the Avalanche front office due to the current situation of their franchise. With the organization in disarray, and the team sitting 30th out of 30 in the league, Colorado is desperate to trade several key pieces in order to begin rebuilding. Although the Avalanche are a seemingly good team on paper, they have not been able to translate anything into on-ice success and have lost all sense of an identity. Barrie would instantly improve the Maple Leafs' defensive end and would allow for a more even spread of talent on the Toronto blueline. Beyond depth, adding Barrie would add a scoring touch to the Leafs' backend which has not been known to score a lot of goals (at least in recent years). As Colorado is looking to create a new identity, the Leafs could package together an enticing bundle of prospects and picks which would go towards the Avalanche's rebuild.
8 FORWARD: Brett Ritchie
Much like the Tampa Bay Lightning, the Dallas Stars have a plethora of talented forwards, including Brett Ritchie a promising young player who has started to translate considerable OHL and AHL success into NHL productivity. Similar to Tampa Bay, the Stars must also keep the expansion draft in mind as they near the trade deadline. The Stars will most likely protect forwards Jamie Benn, Tyler Seguin, Jason Spezza, Patrick Sharp, Antoinne Roussel, Jiri Hudler, Cody Eakin, and Adam Cracknell, leaving little room for other forwards. After Ritchies entry-level contract expired, the Stars signed a one year deal with the twenty three year old, suggesting they were hesitant to fully commit to the player. The Maple Leafs would certainly benefit from having another young, skilled forward and Ritchie's size (6'3", 220 lb) would be a plus. If Stars management believed that their team could contend this year, the Leafs could offer them some depth players such as Roman Polak or Matt Martin, in addition to a prospect, in order to entice Dallas into making the trade.
7 DEFENSEMAN: Kevin Shattenkirk
Like many teams across the league, the St. Louis Blues are facing many difficult decisions due to salary cap constraints, pending free agents, and the expansion draft happening this year. One such pending free agent is defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk who has played the majority of his career so far in St. Louis. Rumours surrounding potential trades for Shattenkirk have been swirling for months now, and it has been said that Shattenkirk would be willing to be traded to a team closer to his home on the East Coast (preferably a contender). Now, although Toronto is not the closest city to the East Coast, it is certainly closer than St. Louis is to his hometown in the state of New York. It is also increasingly debated as to when the Maple Leafs will become legitimate contenders (the consensus being relatively soon with their current rate of development and rebuild). In order for this trade to happen, the Leafs would most likely need to be willing to deal one of their top 6 forwards such as Nazem Kadri, Tyler Bozak, or James van Reimsdyk (who are all having terrific years so far). The Leafs would probably even have to throw some other pieces into the fray in order to land Shattenkirk, but for such an elite defenseman, the Leafs would likely be willing to pay the price.
6 OFFENSE: Ryan Strome
There has been plenty of turmoil in Brooklyn this season. The New York Islanders are currently dead last in the Eastern Conference after making it to the second round of the playoffs last year. Perhaps their surprising decline can be attributed to losing Kyle Okposo to the Buffalo Sabres in free agency, but certainly no one would have predicted such a terrible first half of the season for the Islanders. Amidst all of the Islanders' struggles has been the inconsistent play of Ryan Strome, leading to a handful of 'healthy scratch' demotions for the young forward. Moreover, in the offseason, the Islanders would only commit to a two year deal with Strome, an unusually short contract length for a 5th overall pick (2011). Recently, the Islanders fired head coach Jack Capuano, indicating that something was not right with the team. As the Islanders shift their focus to their soon-to-be free agent star player (John Tavares) and with the season potentially lost, perhaps now is the perfect time for the Maple Leafs to make an attempt at Strome.
5 DEFENSEMAN: Andrej Sustr
Much like Oleksiak, Andrej Sustr has size – and lots of it. The Tampa Bay Lightning defenseman stands at 6'7" and weighs 220 lb. The 26 year old has played in over 200 NHL games so he has relatively solid experience, but more importantly has great playoff experience for such a young player. Sustr has never been one to fill the score sheet, but is rather known for his big body presence and ability to shut down opposing forwards in his defensive zone. With the expansion draft approaching, the three defensive positions likely to be protected by the Lightning are Victor Hedman, Nikita Nesterov, and Anton Stralman, so Tampa Bay will likely look to trade Sustr before the deadline, rather than risking his departure for nothing in return. The Maple Leafs have lots of prospects and picks to play around with and could potentially throw together a package deal worthy of Tampa Bay's interest.
4 FORWARD: Riley Sheahan
Although the Red Wings have made the playoffs every year since the dinosaurs were around, or so it feels, they just haven’t looked the same this year. Sitting near the bottom of the Eastern conference standings, Detroit needs to shake things up if they are going to make a push for the playoffs and keep their streak alive. The Maple Leafs have several veteran players that could add some grit and depth for the injury-riddled Red Wings which would go a long way in propelling them into the playoff race. However, if the Red Wings are going to accept their fate this season and look forward to the future – considering they have several aging players – the Maple Leafs also have several pieces which they could offer Detroit. Riley Sheahan would be a perfect fit in Toronto with his size down the middle, granting the Leafs depth at the center position and perhaps the ability to allow William Nylander to remain and develop on the wing. Whichever way the Red Wings try to go in the next month or so – playoff hungry, or future friendly – the Leafs would regret not trying to trade for Riley Sheahan.
3 DEFENSEMAN: Jaccob Slavin
The Carolina Hurricanes are stocked with young talent, both on forward and defense, and should have no problem protecting nearly all of them considering many of their young players are on entry-level contracts. The Hurricanes are particularly deep on defense with youthful players and could generate a high level of interest from around the league concerning potential trade offers. One such player which they might be willing to accept a trade for is Jaccob Slavin. This is partly because they have lots of young talent on the blue line (Justin Faulk, Noah Hanifin, Ryan Murphy, and Brett Pesce) but also because Carolina has played surprisingly well this year – much like the Leafs – and are on the cusp of a playoff spot. If the Hurricanes are looking to make a push for the playoffs, they will likely look to trade for some depth. If this is the case, Toronto may be able to offer them players like Roman Polak or Leo Komarov as potential bait. Slavin would be an ideal fit for Toronto moving forward as he is a young defender who stands at 6'2", 205 lb and is a plus rated player so far in his career. He would add much needed depth on Toronto's blueline and would help shoulder the burden of shutting down the oppositions top lines, granting more breathing room to players like Morgan Reilly and Jake Gardiner.
2 FORWARD: Matt Duchene
Imagine the Maple Leafs forward corps if they were able to trade for Matt Duchene! They would immediately become one of the fastest and most offensively entertaining teams in the entire NHL. Duchene would complement an already speedy, skilled group of forwards and would give the Leafs a lethal one-two punch down the middle with Auston Matthews. Taking a look around the league, most of the elite, dominant teams are blessed with at least two superstar centers and if the Leafs are looking to develop into a Stanley Cup contending team, they will certainly need two of their own. The situation in Colorado is frightening if you're an Avalanche fan. The Avalanche are by FAR the worst team in the NHL this year and are once again grossly failing to meet the expectations set out for them. Not only did former head coach Patrick Roy decide to quit, the trade rumours are now swirling as the team is reportedly looking for anything that might right the ship (or at least distract fans for a little while). Landing Duchene would cost the Leafs a lot but it may just be worth it if they didn’t have to give up any of their elite rookies.
1 DEFENSEMAN: Travis Hamonic
Aside from the upheaval that is currently underway in Brooklyn, as the Islanders fired their head coach Jack Capuano, Travis Hamonic publicly requested that he be traded from the team. This demand came even before the Islanders were in the cellar of the Eastern Conference; the request originally came in 2015 during a season that saw the Islanders go to the Eastern Conference semifinals in the playoffs. Although Hamonic has since rescinded the request, citing family matters for its issuance, it is something that many GM's have probably not forgotten. Any time a high-profile player requests a trade from his team, the entire league takes notice and many GM's begin looking at potential trades to land that player. Hamonic would be a great addition to the Leafs blueline as he is a relatively big body who matches up against opposing first lines, while also adding an offensive element to his game.