The Toronto Maple Leafs’ need to bolster their blueline depth reached a new level of urgency following foot injuries to defensemen Morgan Rielly and Jake Muzzin. Rielly is expected to miss eight weeks. Muzzin has resumed skating, but isn’t expected to return until sometime following the all-star break.
Last Tuesday, TSN’s Bob McKenzie reported the Leafs were getting lots of calls from clubs trying to exploit the situation. While the injuries to Rielly and Muzzin requires short-term help on the left side, McKenzie feels their long-term need is for a right-side rearguard.
Other pundits also weighed with trade targets. Sportsnet’s Sonny Sachdeva proposed pursuing Calgary’s T.J. Brodie or Travis Hamonic, San Jose’s Brenden Dillon, Los Angeles’ Alec Martinez, Colorado’s Nikita Zadorov or Ian Cole or Buffalo’s Zach Bogosian. The Toronto Sun’s Terry Koshan suggested rental options such as Dillon, New Jersey’s Sami Vatanen or Chicago Erik Gustafsson. Koshan also doesn’t rule out Leafs GM Kyle Dubas pursuing a defenseman with term remaining on his contract.
Most pundits feel adding a top-four blueliner, especially one signed beyond this season, could cost the Leafs a good, young forward such as Kasperi Kapanen, Alexander Kerfoot or Andreas Johnsson. CapFriendly indicates each carry affordable multi-year contracts worth between $3.2 million to $3.5 million annually. It takes quality to add quality. Given the Leafs’ limited salary-cap space, the addition of a top-four defenseman could lead to a dollar-in, dollar-out deal involving one of those wingers.
The Leafs also require a reliable backup for overworked starter Frederik Andersen. The Athletic’s James Mirtle reported Toronto made multiple inquiries into the availability of New York Rangers goaltender Alexandar Georgiev. With veteran Henrik Lundqvist not going anywhere and Igor Shesterkin’s promising future, Mirtle feels Georgiev could be the odd man out. Mirtle speculates the Leafs would be willing part with futures such as a draft pick or prospect. The Rangers, however, could attempt to squeeze them for one of those young forwards.
ALL EYES ON KREIDER
With the New Jersey Devils shipping winger Taylor Hall to the Arizona Coyotes last month, New York Rangers left winger Chris Kreider has become the most the most attractive target in the trade market.
The Blueshirts still haven’t decided if they’ll shop or attempt to re-sign the 28-year-old Kreider, who’s slated to become an unrestricted free agent in July. Nevertheless, there’s a growing sense among NHL observers that he’ll hit the trade block before the Feb. 24 trade deadline.
TSN’s Pierre LeBrun believes Kreider remains “front and center” in the rumor mill. He thinks the Rangers could absorb up to half of the winger’s $4.625-million cap hit to facilitate a deal, speculating the St. Louis Blues or Boston Bruins could come calling. NBC Sports Boston’s Joe Haggerty cites multiple sources claiming Kreider remains the Bruins’ top trade target. GM Don Sweeney has a recent history of making big moves near the trade deadline, acquiring Rick Nash in 2018 and Charlie Coyle and Marcus Johansson last season.
The Rangers will want a good return if they put Kreider on the block. Haggerty suspects the Bruins could be forced to part with their first-round pick. That’ll likely be the asking price for any club expressing interest in Kreider. The Rangers could also seek a second-rounder and a quality prospect or a young NHL forward in return.
WILD OPEN FOR BUSINESS
Bill Guerin has yet to make a significant trade since taking over last summer as Minnesota Wild GM. With his team sliding out of playoff contention, he could be ready to swing a deal or two in the coming weeks.
TSN’s Darren Dreger and The Athletic’s Michael Russo believe Guerin is willing to entertain offers as the trade deadline approaches. Russo said some around the league wonder if Jason Zucker could be available. He also thinks blueliner Jonas Brodin could draw interest from the Maple Leafs, Colorado Avalanche, Carolina Hurricanes and Vegas Golden Knights.
Dreger and Russo wondered if Matt Dumba could be available. The 25-year-old defenseman netted a career-high 50 points in 2017-18, but he’s struggled to regain that form after missing most of last season with a ruptured pectoral muscle. He’s in the second season of a five-year, $30-million deal and lacks no-trade protection until 2021-22.
Should Guerin shop Dumba, there would be no shortage of interest. Trading him, however, could be an extreme measure that haunts the Wild if he regains his offensive form elsewhere. Whether Guerin retools or overhauls his roster, Dumba should remain part of their future.
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