Nothing gets you thinking about bringing in players quite like having Jake Muzzin, Zach Hyman, Joe Thornton, Jack Campbell, Frederik Andersen, and Wayne Simmonds out of the lineup. Last time I checked missing four key players and your top two goaltenders is a bad thing, and while it’s exciting to get a look at Mikko Lehtonen and Alexander Barabanov, it’s not as much fun as winning, and the Leafs might face some real challenges to win with this lineup, despite the four incredibly good players at the top of the roster.
So with that in mind, it’s time to consider some rental players. And given how early it is in the season, and the unfortunate nature of league parity, it’s pretty slim pickings at this point for who is selling and who might be available. Luke Fox of Sportsnet has compiled the list:
Buffalo: Taylor Hall, Eric Staal, Brandon Montour, Jake McCabe, Matt Irwin, Tobias Reider, Riley Sheahan, Carter Hutton, Linus Ullmark
Detroit: Darren Helm, Valtteri Filppula, Luke Glendening, Bobby Ryan, Sam Gagner, Marc Staal, Patrik Nemeth, Jon Merrill, Jonathan Bernier
Nashville: Mikael Granlund, Erik Haula, Pekka Rinne, Brad Richardson, Luca Sbisa
Ottawa: Derek Stepan, Ryan Dzingel, Erik Gudbranson, Mike Reilly, Braydon Coburn, Artem Anisimov, Matthew Peca
So in the absence of any specific rumours around the Leafs at the moment, we’re going to break down this list. Actually that’s not entirely true, there is Elliotte Friedman’s assertion that the Leafs are interested in Mikael Granlund, but that fits in with the nature of this list, so we’ll look at him in the context of the rental list. I think we can also safely say that Jake McCabe’s 6 to 8 month recovery period takes him off this list as well, and while the Leafs should be entertaining the idea of goaltending depth, Pekka Rinne has been stated to be on the Predators not available list, likely because he has no interest in leaving and Nashville doesn’t want to ask their long term goaltender to go against what he wants.
So here’s the breakdown of the interesting names:
The Big Fish
There is no doubt that Taylor Hall’s name stands out on this list compared to the rest of the group. A former Hart Trophy winner and first overall pick, but one who has been on a very Alex Galchenyuk or at least P.K. Subban style voyage in the past few years. The fact that Taylor Hall only has one goal in 15 games this year isn’t ideal. The fact that Taylor Hall didn’t pass 20 goals in the past two years is also a draw back, and the $8M salary is a definite deal breaker, as even at 50% retained the Leafs would struggle to place him in their lineup. Hall could be a fun player to revisit in free agency, especially if he needs to take a “show me” contract, but for now he’s off limits to the Leafs.
The next closest thing to a big fish is probably Granlund. He’s not as offensively gifted as Hall or has the high ceiling of Hall, but he also doesn’t have the cap hit, he adds some two way responsibility, and while size is lacking, he would actually make the Leafs more difficult to play against. Granlund represents a modest upgrade on Alex Kerfoot, although the Leafs would likely need to shed Kerfoot’s salary to make the deal happen, so is giving up an asset for that upgrade worth it? Probably not.
Eric Staal somewhat fits into the big fish category, if we are going reputation based and the fact that he’s really only one year removed from a pretty solid season. The fact that Staal does a lot of things that are lacking from the Leafs, but also fits in with the old dogs group could make him an interesting target. There’s the small matter of not wanting to pay the price to bring in Staal, and the fact that there is a very love/hate relationship between Staal and the Leafs, not to mention the always present challenge of salary, but Staal might be the best option for the Leafs, especially come playoff time.
What are your thoughts on a second go at the Jonathan Bernier era? Probably not overly enthused, but consider that Bernier has a .910 save percentage through his eight games this season, and that has been coming on the basement dwelling Red Wings. Obviously goaltending is more complicated than one appealing number, but if the Red Wings were to retain half of Bernier’s $3M cap hit, he could be worthwhile depth if the Leafs have to go without Andersen for a significant amount of time and if Campbell is shaky in his return.
Linus Ullmark is almost in an identical situation to Bernier, but with some slight differences. He’s taller, cheaper, but his save percentage is a bit lower at .906 and depending on whether it’s viewed as a pro/con he isn’t as well known within the organization.
Like Bernier, there’s a player with some familiarity on the list that might be worth exploring, and that’s Sam Gagner. While Gagner’s best hockey is behind him and he’s entirely an offensive asset, he probably wouldn’t cost a ton and the Leafs would be one of the few teams that he’d likely go to, as he has made it known he doesn’t want to distance himself from his family. Gagner played well for the Sheldon Keefe Marlies, and is close enough to John Tavares that they are investing in the Toronto Marlboros together, so as far as taxi squad depth goes, Gagner could be a player of note, but certainly not a priority.
Sticking with the Red Wings, it’s worth noting that Bobby Ryan has 5 goals in 19 games this season, and at $1M, that’s some good, cheap depth scoring that could fit on any of the bottom three lines. While I’m personally not the biggest fan of him, there is no doubt that the price is right on him for the Leafs.
Rentals aren’t appealing
Maybe we’ve spent too many years of the Leafs either missing the playoffs or being bounced in the first round to appreciate the idea of bringing in rental players. It hasn’t been something that has particularly worked well for the Leafs in the past, either by bringing in players like Plekanec, Clifford, or (sigh) Ryan O’Byrne) the Leafs have given up draft picks and not seen much of anything from the move.
While this list might be underwhelming at the moment, there is hope that it will improve. Eventually teams like New Jersey, New York Rangers, Anaheim, Vancouver, and a couple of others will join the rental list and the prices will drop on the players and there will be more selection than what we see today.
Given the Leafs interest in Granlund it would be interesting to know what the price associated with him is as the idea of the Leafs paying a premium for him doesn’t hold a lot of appeal, but if something can be worked out with spare parts and “B” prospects, maybe I could change my tune about rentals.