Almost from the moment Patrick Marleau put pen to paper to become a member of the Maple Leafs ahead of the 2017-18 campaign, there was some concern in Toronto regarding when or how the franchise would shed the third year of his three-year, $18.75-million contract.
The cause for the concern was clear, too. While Marleau was still a decent contributor, one who scored 43 goals and 81 points over the past two seasons with the Maple Leafs, the third year of the contract presented – and now presents – problems beyond the overpayment for a greybeard in the twilight of his career. At $6.25-million per season, the 39-year-old Marleau, who will turn 40 ahead of next season, is eating up significant salary cap space at a time when two of Toronto’s centerpieces, Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner, are set to see their second NHL contracts kick in. For Matthews, his deal is done, and it’s one that carries a hefty $11.634-million cap hit. For Marner, there’s been no such agreement, but speculation is that he’s seeking a similar payment on his new deal. And the potential for the pair of Maple Leafs stars to eat $22-million of the available spending room makes retaining Marleau and his hefty contract somewhat untenable.
It’s for that reason, as well as Toronto’s interest in re-signing restricted free agents Kasperi Kapanen and Andreas Johnsson, that the Maple Leafs find themselves attempting to shed the weight of Marleau’s pact. The result? The veteran winger has been the focus of trade chatter over the past week and linked to multiple teams as the Maple Leafs seek the cap relief necessary to execute their off-season signings.
At first, there was talk that the Los Angeles Kings kicked the tires on Marleau. That was later followed by a report that Toronto had a discussion with the Arizona Coyotes. And you can rest assured that there will be links made between Marleau and a few other organizations before all is said and done – and chances are the Maple Leafs are hoping that all is said and done either at or before the NHL draft, which takes place June 21 and 22 in Vancouver.
By getting Marleau’s deal off the books by then, Toronto will have additional cap flexibility beyond the $8.8 million they are projected to have available this summer. The extra spending room might be enough to ensure that Marner, considered a prime offer sheet target, gets a deal done with the Maple Leafs before June 26, when RFAs who are eligible to sign offer sheets are permitted to see what competing teams are proposing. This is to say that moving Marleau sooner rather than later has an added benefit, and if trade talk surrounding the veteran is already heating up, he seems bound for a pre-draft or draft-day trade.
He’s not the only one, however. Here are several others who could be shipped out by the time the dust settles on the draft:
Phil Kessel, Pittsburgh Penguins
Kessel, 31, was all but moved last week before he stepped in and vetoed his trade to the Minnesota Wild, according to The Athletic’s Michael Russo. Even with that, though, there seems there’s really, truly some fire to go along with the smoke that the Penguins are looking to move the winger. That Kessel finds himself in the rumor mill is no surprise. He’s landed there often over the past few years in Pittsburgh. But now seems like the right time for a Kessel trade, as the Penguins' roster is in need of a minor overhaul after a disappointing finish to the campaign and a mediocre regular season performance.
Kessel’s modified no-trade clause, which sees him list eight teams to which he’d be willing to accept a trade, complicates matters, but the failed trade probably won't discourage Pittsburgh. Getting Kessel’s pact, which carries a $6.8-million cap hit, off the books can afford Pittsburgh much-needed cap space to retool their roster.
Jason Zucker, Minnesota Wild
Kessel's link to the Wild can’t be noted without mention of Zucker, who was apparently part of the Penguins’ return. That the trade to Pittsburgh was nixed means that it’s now twice that Zucker was primed to pack his bags only for the deals to fall through, as the Calgary Flames reportedly had a deadline deal in place for the 27-year-old that fell apart at the last second. It goes without saying that Zucker is probably waiting for the phone call that sees him shipped out, and surely the Wild aren’t going to attempt to enter the campaign with a player they’ve tried and failed to trade not once, but twice, still on the roster.
Zucker had a big downturn in production last season, falling off from his career-best 33-goal, 64-point season and posting 21 goals and 42 points in 81 games. He carries a $5.5-million cap hit for the next four seasons.
Kyle Turris, Nashville Predators
What a disaster the past season was for Turris. Injury knocked him out of 20-plus games and he could never find his groove. That led to his eventual benching in mid-March, when Turris was made a healthy scratch in back-to-back games. Not at all what the franchise was expecting after signing him to a six-year, $36-million contract extension in November 2017. The thing is, if the Predators had more success this season, Nashville would likely be more interested in keeping Turris around. They were ousted in the first round, though, and now it seems likely the Predators will shuffle the deck.
The good news for Nashville in all of this is that Turris’ showing at the World Championship, where he scored four goals and 10 points in 10 games as Canada’s captain, will give some potential suitors more faith in the 29-year-old’s ability to bounce back next season. Anything to help interest.
T.J. Brodie, Calgary Flames
Brad Treliving has been the Flames’ GM since 2014 and he has made a deal at each and every draft since stepping into the big chair. That includes minor deals – acquiring Brandon Bollig in 2014 – to blockbusters, such as the acquisitions of Noah Hanifin and Elias Lindholm from the Carolina Hurricanes in exchange for Dougie Hamilton, Micheal Ferland and prospect Adam Fox last season. So, if the past is at all indicative of the future, count on Treliving being active at the draft, and Brodie could be the prime trade candidate for a few reasons.
Why? Brodie, 28, is the third-highest paid rearguard and had his ice time slashed last season, and a more one-way than two-way defender, his services might be the most expendable given Hanifin’s presence. Some have posited that Travis Hamonic, not Brodie, is the more likely rearguard to move, but there’s a slightly greater cap benefit in moving the latter. The only reason to move the former over Brodie, however, might be that Hamonic has no clauses on his contract. That could increase the return.
Nikita Zaitsev, Toronto Maple Leafs
A promising debut campaign in Toronto helped Zaitsev cash in with the Maple Leafs: after 82 games in the NHL, he inked a seven-year, $31.5-million contract. Unfortunately, Zaitsev’s time in Toronto hasn’t gone all that well since. He saw an offensive downturn of more than 20 points in his second campaign in the big league and followed that up with a dismal 14-point output across 81 games this past season, a dip in production that was paired with a nearly two-minute cut in his average ice time. It was no surprise then when Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman reported the Maple Leafs and Zaitsev are exploring options to get the 27-year-old a clean slate.
That both team and player are on board with such a move makes it seem much more certain that he’ll be traded, and like the situation surrounding Marleau’s potential move, clearing the contract, which carries a $4.5-million cap hit in each of the next five seasons, before the draft could significantly improve Toronto’s chances of being able to retain their most prized possessions.
Jacob Trouba, Winnipeg Jets
It has long been speculated that Trouba is not long for Winnipeg, and the Jets face a crucial decision with the defenseman this off-season. After an arbitrator awarded the 25-year-old a one-year, $5.5-million pact last season, he’s now an RFA once again. It seems like the perfect storm for Trouba to move on, too, with Winnipeg facing a cap crunch and the defender fresh off of a career-best 50-point season.
What makes Trouba a quality pre-draft trade chip, too, is that a potential return could not only include a decent roster player or prospect, but a pick or two for the upcoming draft that sweetens the pot. That would mean the Jets have those prospects in the system sooner rather than later, and with only three picks available in the coming draft – and no first-round or third-round choices – it might be worthwhile to get at least one more 2019 pick as part of a trade return.
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