It seems like long ago already, but this time last year the Toronto Maple Leafs were in full tank mode. Last in the NHL, chasing the first overall pick, and dealing pending unrestricted free agents. This season, things are significantly different in the standings. One of the few similarities could be on March 1st, however, as the Toronto Maple Leafs trade deadline could have some parallels to last year.
Toronto Maple Leafs Trade Deadline Could be a Creative One
A Look Back to Last Year
In the month before the trade deadline in 2016, the Leafs made five trades. Those five deals can be separated into two distinct categories, one of which Toronto’s management can look to capitalize on once again.
The first of the two are the rental deals, the pending UFAs traded to playoff contenders. Shawn Matthias, Roman Polak, and James Reimer were all dealt in the span of six days in the lead up to the deadline.
Then you have the second category, the one the Leafs could be replicating on March 1st. The cap dump. On February 9, 2016, Dion Phaneuf was traded to the Ottawa Senators. On February 28, 2016, the Maple Leafs acquired Brooks Laich.
The Phaneuf trade is a beast of itself, but it has aspects the Leafs could choose to pursue in the next week. In dealing Phaneuf, Toronto acquired cap dumps Jared Cowen ($3.1 million), Colin Greening ($2.65 million), and Milan Michalek ($4 million). All of the players had two years remaining on their contracts. That’s a total of nearly $10 million for two years, in just one trade.
The Maple Leafs bought out Cowen last off-season. Greening and Michalek have been playing in the AHL with the Toronto Marlies. Again, this trade was very unique. The Leafs traded a $7-million player with six years remaining, for three players totalling $9.75 million with just two years remaining.
The Cap Dump Template
The trade the Leafs could mimic in the coming week is much more similar to the deal that occurred last February with Washington. The Capitals, desperate to get free from Laich’s $4.5-million cap hit, traded the veteran forward to the Maple Leafs along with defensive prospect Connor Carrick and a 2016 second-round pick. In exchange, Washington received the much cheaper Daniel Winnik, and a fifth-round pick.
This is the trade the Leafs could make. Toronto essentially bought an NHL-ready prospect and upgraded a fifth-round pick to a second-round pick. The template is quite simple. Acquire expensive, short-term contracts with a prospect and/or a pick, in exchange for a much cheaper player. This year the Leafs have $4.4 million in true cap space at the deadline. But thanks to cap genius Brandon Pridham, the Leafs have a secret weapon. With Joffrey Lupul, Stephane Robidas, and Nathan Horton on long-term injured reserve, the Leafs have up to $17.8 million to spend at the deadline. That is a lot of room to work with.
A Potential Match
With that much room, rumours are sure to fly. A potential match is out west, with the Calgary Flames. 33-year-old Dennis Wideman was a healthy scratch on Tuesday, with “many teams interested” in the $5.25-million defenseman. Wideman is a pending UFA but has not been very good this season. He has just 16 points in 51 games, and after Michael Stone‘s acquisition, he is the odd man out in Calgary.
The Flames are right up at the cap ceiling. If they want to add more at the deadline, they will have to shed some salary. Wideman is the obvious choice, and Toronto may be the suitor. The Maple Leafs have a defensive deficiency in the prospect pool and in the NHL. Acquiring Wideman can help the Leafs defense down the stretch. The main piece would be the prospect involved, however. Calgary has three very intriguing prospects on the blueline in their system that the Leafs could be interested in. Rasmus Andersson, Oliver Kylington, and Brandon Hickey are all pieces the Leafs would love to add.
Of course, this is just an example of a player the Leafs could look to acquire to benefit the future. General manager Lou Lamoriello has made the statement time and time again. Toronto will make moves that improve the team long-term, and will not chase over-priced rentals on the very thin market. The Maple Leafs may not be active in a conventional way on March 1st, but don’t be surprised to see a bit of creativity from the Leafs brass.