The Leafs have a 10-2-1 record, so naturally we’re starting to do a weekly rumours post highlighting their need for players. This is the second week of it. It’s going to be a thing. That said, you look at what good teams do, and it’s that they continue to add even when their lineup is seemingly getting it done. Last year’s Blake Coleman and Zach Bogosian additions by Tampa are certainly worth pointing out as it gave them key players to help them in the playoffs and in Coleman’s case, a very talented, low cost option to fit in with a tough salary cap situation. A good Leafs team doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be talking about adding, and apparently Kyle Dubas agrees, and that brings us to the first rumour…
Elliotte Friedman said on 31 thoughts the podcast that there's a winger he thinks the Leafs are interested in but he can't prove it yet to report.
— J (@Account4hockey) February 9, 2021
So that’s a ton of mystery for us to digest. We’ll try and identify good winger targets for the Leafs a little later in this post, but for now we’ll look at what’s there on the surface. What we know right now is that Simmonds, Robertson and Thornton are out. Prior to connecting on a goal last night, the offensive production from Kerfoot and Mikheyev was essentially nil, and Jimmy Vesey and Alexander Barabanov appear to be worthwhile experiments that aren’t exactly panning out. We’ve seen really encouraging stuff from Travis Boyd, Jason Spezza, and even Nic Petan. And Adam Brooks, Joey Anderson, and Pierre Engvall will certainly be worth looks as well at some point. The depth is there, but consistency might not be. Nor the physicality that they’ve come to love from Simmonds. Looking makes sense.
We’ve looked into whether Sam Bennett makes sense for the Leafs, and in short he does if you ignore his salary, his free agency status, his agent, and the fact that Calgary seems to be putting a premium on him. He’s also not the guy Friedman would be talking about as the Leafs and Bennett has already been put out there.
What we know about the situation is the Leafs would like scoring from their bottom six, physicality from their bottom six, and someone who could push for a job on the Tavares/Nylander line. A pretty tall order considering the cap space they have to work with, but if the Lightning could find Blake Coleman, who’s to say Dubas won’t find his mystery player too.
Elliotte confirmed Virtanen and Gaudette are available.
Mentions he has heard rumblings about Juolevi being available as well but not sure if that's true.
— Taj (@taj1944) February 8, 2021
So there are a few interesting names there. We’ll start with Juolevi because it’s not likely that the Leafs are looking for another defenseman that they’ll struggle to find space for in their lineup. He’s an interesting change of scenery player to consider, but at 22 and not a huge NHL resume, the Canucks are probably wanting more than they should for the former 5th overall pick.
Virtanen is really comparable to Bennett, right down to the cap hit, although Virtanen has another year on his deal. His numbers prior to this season are better than Bennett’s, but only one goal is 12 games and becoming a healthy scratch also raises some flags on Virtanen.
Gaudette might be appealing for the Leafs to consider. He’s strictly a bottom six option, and one that has been underperforming as well. He lacks the ceiling of Virtanen or Bennett, and their toughness, but he is depth that’s available now. With a taxi squad friendly cap hit, Gaudette could be a decent fit, and he does hit free agency at the end of the year. If the price isn’t too high, it wouldn’t hurt to kick tires, but Gaudette falls into an improving depth category, not an immediate area of need for the Leafs.
So who could replace Simmonds?
So this is stepping outside the rumour aspect of the post, and is a bit more into my own personal speculation and dream boarding when it comes to who the unidentified player is that Friedman was suggesting.
A couple of games ago I would have said we are right to be focusing on the Canucks as a trade partner, but not for the names mentioned above. Tyler Motte, despite not being particularly big, has been hitting absolutely everyone this year and has been one of the few Canucks putting the puck in the net. With a $1.225M cap hit for this season and next, he seemed like a potential fit for the Leafs. Of course now he’s injured, thanks in part to the Leafs.
While he could be an option when he returns, we’ll look at some of the other potential candidates the Leafs could be interested in.
I’m going to try and manifest this one into existence, but there are few players in the league that better suit the needs of the Leafs than Scott Laughton. At $2.3M and heading into unrestricted free agency, there is a price tag attached to Laughton, both this season as him being a bargain in trade and next season in his contract being significantly more expensive than $2.3M. Laughton would give the Leafs a more physical option at 3C, and potentially allow for Kerfoot to shift to wing where he is stronger and more capable of reintegrating offense back into his game.
The biggest problem with Laughton is that there is absolutely no reason for the Flyers to trade him as he’s the kind of player they can use right now too in their solid season. He’s not going anywhere unless the Flyers truly want someone off the Leafs. I’ll probably have to let this one go until it becomes the only thing I talk about during free agency.
Finally, with the rumours that the Penguins were interested in Dermott under Jim Rutherford, it will be interesting to see if any talks circle back around on this once a new GM is named. I can’t imagine the Leafs would want to move on from Dermott, but the Penguins do have a forward that Dubas and Keefe know very well in Jared McCann who can add to their bottom six.
The real answer here should be it’s hard to pin down what the Leafs are looking at, but salary constraints combined with the quarantine period will make a usually slow NHL trade market even more challenging to get something done in.