Last week, Toronto Maple Leafs general manager Kyle Dubas pulled off a huge trade that dealt Kasperi Kapanen to the Pittsburgh Penguins. The move cleared salary cap space, picked up a first-round draft pick, and hinted that the work of building the Maple Leafs for next season was far from complete.
That leaves Maple Leafs fans wondering what’s up next? Everyone knows that the team needs help on defense. Towards that end, hockey analysts are having a field day proposing radical trade ideas. In this post, I’ll explore some of them.
Radical Trade Idea One: William Nylander for Aaron Ekblad and Anton Stralman?
Yesterday, Stephen of Editor in Leaf proposed a radical trade that could fix the Maple Leafs defensive woes. The Maple Leafs would trade William Nylander ($6.9 million cap hit), Alex Kerfoot ($3.5 million cap hit), and Travis Dermott (not yet signed) to the Florida Panthers in return for defensemen Aaron Ekblad ($7.5 million cap hit) and Anton Stralman ($5.5 million cap hit).
Stephen noted that, if the Maple Leafs really wanted to improve their right-side defense, trading for both Ekblad and Stralman would immediately solve the problem. With those two defensemen, the top-six would consist of Morgan Rielly, Jake Muzzin, Aaron Ekblad, Anton Stralman, Justin Holl, and Rasmus Sandin or Mikko Lehtonen.
Ekblad checks almost every box that turns Dubas’ crank – more so than the regularly-mentioned Alex Pietrangelo. Ekblad is from Ontario, he has size at 6-foot-4 and 215 pounds, he contributes offensively and can move the puck quickly to the team’s talented offense; and, he’s on a “reasonable” salary with term – $7.5 million per year through the 2024-25 season.
Ekblad also plays tons of minutes and has averaged almost 23:00 TOI with the Panthers. Although he has six seasons of experience, he’s still only 24 years old and (with Rielly) could become the centrepiece of the Maple Leafs’ defense going forward. Given the injuries this season, Ekblad could help carry the beleaguered defense in ways that Tyson Barrie could not.
Stralman’s a different kettle of fish. He’s a defensive defenseman, which might be a good thing for the Maple Leafs. He played 88 games for the team during the 2007-08 and 2008-09 seasons and was drafted by Toronto in the 2005 NHL Entry Draft, but traded in 2009.
From Dubas’ perspective, the problem with this trade is that he’d have to give up someone he really wants to keep, and I’m not certain he has done that yet as a general manager. Ekblad is a top-notch young defenseman – one of the best in the NHL, and wouldn’t come cheaply. It would likely take a package that includes a quality player and salary, which is where William Nylander enters the picture.
Mike Hoffman and Evgenii Dadonov are on expiring contracts, and after Jonathan Huberdeau and Aleksander Barkov the Panthers need offense, which Nylander could provide. Kerfoot could be a second-line center and scoring option as well. He didn’t hurt his marketability with his strong penalty killing during the Maple Leafs’ short postseason appearance.
Giving up Nylander in a trade might be tough, but he’s not likely to become in Toronto the powerhouse offensive option he could be in Florida. The Maple Leafs don’t need scoring as much as they need defense. Even if Nylander scored 50 goals a season with the Panthers, he’d never be as valuable to the Maple Leafs.
The trade would come down to Ekblad who would stop pucks going into the net and is signed for five seasons at $7.5 million for Nylander who puts pucks into the net and is signed for four seasons at $6.9 million.
It’s a radical trade, but an interesting one. Given the relative ages and skills of both players, I think Ekblad has move value than Pietrangelo right now.
Radical Trade Idea Two: How Much Do the Maple Leafs Like Darnell Nurse?
Last week, James Mirtle was interviewed on TSN1260 radio Edmonton, and noted, “I know the Leafs like Nurse.” He might have also said, “I know the Leafs like Pietrangelo or Ekblad.” The one thing that makes this comment interesting is that both Dubas and head coach Sheldon Keefe know Nurse well because he played with them with the Soo Greyhounds.
In an article yesterday in The Leafs Nation, Jon Steitzer explored the possibility of Nurse coming to the Maple Leafs. The article noted that he shows up well in statistical analyses among defensemen, even though he played significant minutes with a rookie partner (Ethan Bear) and behind Leon Draisaitl and Connor McDavid (neither of whom are powerhouses in the defensive zone).
Nurse is a defenseman who brings speed, good on-ice hockey sense, good puck-carrying ability, and a physical edge. However, he doesn’t check many of the other Maple Leafs boxes. He’s a left-shot defenseman, his salary-cap hit is $5.6 million, and he doesn’t come with term; he will become a UFA after two seasons.
One thing that might make a Nurse-to-Toronto trade work is that the Oilers want what the Maple Leafs seem to be willing to trade. Edmonton doesn’t seem happy with goalies Mikko Koskinen or Mike Smith and they want to add scoring for McDavid and Draisaitl. Maple Leafs Frederik Andersen and Andreas Johnsson come into play. Rumors imply that the Maple Leafs would move either or both players.
Related: Worst Toronto Maple Leafs Trades
The Oilers might be interested, and they have strength on defense to trade. Evan Bouchard seems to be a lock for a roster position, and 19-year-old Philip Broberg seems to be quickly rising towards the roster. A trade like that might balance from a salary-cap perspective, which, given the flat cap, is always a consideration.
Although Mirtle noted that Dubas likes Nurse, which I don’t doubt, it just doesn’t seem as if “liking” him is enough. After being beaten around by the Columbus Blue Jackets for five games, Nurse’s physical presence is appealing, but his ontract is too high and too short. Going from speed-dating to a commitment with this young defenseman seems too iffy.
I taught at the University of Alberta for many years and got to watch Nurse play. I think he’s a great young defenseman, but I don’t think he’s what the Maple Leafs need right now.
What’s Next for the Maple Leafs?
It’s hard to say what Dubas will do next. However, he’s given every indication that improving the Maple Leafs’ defense is on his grocery list. With the playoffs still underway, a move might be a few weeks away.
Related: Revisiting the Nazem Kadri Trade
Until that time, speculation is rampant about whom the Maple Leafs might be after. New Jersey Devils defenseman P.K. Subban’s name has even surfaced. Subban, in every good sense of the word, is a media giant and was recently voted the “best social media follow” in a recent NHLPA’s player poll. His presence in Toronto would be a lot of fun.
But Subban’s not a good fit either unless the Devils (who are sellers) would retain a large chunk of Subban’s $9 million salary. Interesting, isn’t it?