Elliotte Friedman wondered if this summer will be the “Summer of Kawhi” for the Toronto Maple Leafs. He suggested that he sees this offseason as the time when GM Kyle Dubas could make a big move and send one of his top players from the roster for a top player from another roster, drawing a comparison to the Toronto Raptors when they traded a shocked Demar DeRozan, then added Kawhi Leonard. That was the season the Raptors won the NBA championship.
Our own Peter Baracchini from The Hockey Writers discussed the pros and cons of such a move, and while Friedman didn’t specify who in the industry he might be speaking about, it’s fairly easy to put some of the pieces together. There are ways to deduce who won’t go, who might go, and who the Maple Leafs might target in such a trade. In other words, who is the Demar in a potential deal with the Maple Leafs and who is the Kawhi?
Who the Maple Leafs won’t trade
DeRozan was shocked when he was traded by the Raptors. Those leaving the Maple Leafs probably won’t be nearly as surprised. In part, no-trade and no-move clauses will take into account Kyle Dubas’ ability to actually trade certain players. Also, so many names have popped up in trade rumors that almost everyone is now fair game.
Among those likely to stay are John Tavares and Morgan Rielly. Both players have full no-movement clauses and Tavares signed with the Maple Leafs specifically to play for the team he loved growing up. It would take just the right trade for it to give up, and its cap hit and production drop don’t make it an easy move even if it had. So he’s also unlikely to bring back anyone who’s going to be a major ground shaker for the Leafs.
Meanwhile, Rielly just signed an extension and he’s perhaps the most important defenseman on the Maple Leafs roster. Don’t expect Dubas to talk about Rielly with other teams, at least not yet.
One of the stars that could be traded but won’t is Auston Matthews. Sure, he could play in free agency at the end of the 2023-24 season, but he’s just too good and there isn’t a player (other than Connor McDavid) the Maple Leafs could get in return who would help their team more than matthews
Trading Marner would be the real risk
If the Maple Leafs wanted to make a move that would shake the team to its core, Mitch Marner is the guy. He makes nearly $11 million off the salary cap, has tremendous value in a trade, and there would be teams willing to pay a huge return to add him to their roster. He’s the closest thing to a surprise Maple Leafs swap, and even then it wouldn’t be a total shock given his name has come up a lot in the past.
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The question would be who can the Maple Leafs win that will help them more than Marner? If Marner is DeRozan, then who is Kawhi? The way Marner and Matthews click, it’s hard to imagine anything else quite like it. In fact, Marner is probably the Kawhi in this equation. Only when Dubas believes the sum of the parts is greater than the whole would the Maple Leafs send Marner out, essentially adding two players in place of one of the team’s best players. Even then, he should be safe, because when a trade like this goes sideways, it’s grounds for losing his job as a GM.
William Nylander might make sense
Remember, the kind of deal Friedman is talking about is one where a big name leaves the list that many fans probably won’t be happy about. At the same time, the returning player should make the difference that takes the Maple Leafs over the top. As such, it is worth the sacrifice. In this scenario – and as Barachinni wrote in his article – William Nylander immediately comes to mind.
Nylander possesses incredible skills and talents. He is perhaps the Maple Leafs’ most talented offensive player. He can also drive a head coach insane with his decisions on the ice. All of this can happen in the same game and sometimes in the same shift.
At the end of the day, his talent and salary would be tempting for teams, and Sportsnet’s Luke Fox wrote in a recent mailbag segment that he thinks Toronto could get a big haul for Nylander if they wanted to move him. Fox adds that Nylander is the closest thing the Leafs have to a DeMar DeRozan.
Who could the Maple Leafs target in this deal?
If the Maple Leafs move Nylander, Fox believes it would pave the way to bringing in someone like JT Miller. He’s certainly not the only candidate out there who would qualify as a major encore.
In terms of other differentiators, Fox wonders if Jakob Chychrun and his beautiful cap hit would be an option. If so, would moving someone like Jake Muzzin make that trade possible? At Forward he wonders if Timo Meier, Nikolaj Ehlers or Dylan Larkin would be a good fit? All three have salaries below their perceived worth, and all three are on teams that may make changes. Deploying Alex Kerfoot would be the beginning of such a move.
Tyler Bertuzzi’s name has come up in connection with the Maple Leafs before, but his vaccination status could be a cause for concern. It shouldn’t be logistically, as the Edmonton Oilers proved that Josh Archibald’s situation didn’t stop them from using the forward when they think they need it.
The most obvious change concerns the position of the goalkeeper. If the Maple Leafs don’t work out a deal with Jack Campbell and Dubas is able to slash Petr Mrazek’s salary, there’s an open window to add a top-flight goaltender and it could be argued that no position is quite as important to the success of a team. Fox mentions John Gibson from Anaheim, but Darcy Kuemper will also be available from Colorado.
It would be a surprise if the Maple Leafs just let Campbell run and/or trade his rights around the NHL Entry Draft. The talk is that they’d love to do a deal, and even with whispers that he could come in at a higher price than the Leafs are willing to pay, many believe this expansion will eventually be completed. But what if the Maple Leafs just go in a different direction?
If Dubas realizes and believes he can bring in another goalie, that’s a big step that would fit under the criteria of this “Summer of Kawhi.”
Jim Parsons is a senior freelance THW writer, part-time journalist, and audio/video host who lives, eats, sleeps, and breathes NHL news and rumor while also writing features about the Edmonton Oilers. He’s been a trusted source at The Hockey Writers for more than five years, but beyond that, his mission is to keep readers up to date with the latest NHL gossip and tech talk. Jim is a daily must-read for readers who want to be “in the loop.”
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