Toronto’s chockfull of talented forwards, but the Maple Leafs could seek a blueliner on the trade market before the campaign begins. Meanwhile, another Original Six franchise, the Rangers, could be looking to beef up down the middle.
As the first week of NHL preseason draws to a close, Colorado Avalanche center Matt Duchene’s ongoing trade saga continues to dominate headlines. However, it’s not the only chatter floating around in the rumor mill.
The Toronto Maple Leafs surprising improvement last season raised expectations of fans and pundits for 2017-18. Still, concern over their blueline depth is increasing speculation they could swing a deal for a defenseman.
Appearing on TSN’s “Leafs Lunch” on Wednesday, Gord Miller and Dave Poulin discussed that possibility with host Andi Petrillo. Miller thinks there’s a “50 percent chance” the Leafs acquire a blueliner before the start of the season. He and Poulin believe the Leafs could use one of their young scoring forwards as trade bait, with Poulin suggesting they might dangle a prospect.
The Los Angeles Kings and Anaheim Ducks were floated as possible trade partners. Poulin sees the Kings as a team in transition and doubts they’ll get involved. While the Ducks have defensive depth, Miller notes blueline regulars Sami Vatanen and Hampus Lindholm are still recovering from offseason shoulder surgery.
Petrillo brought up the Vegas Golden Knights, noting they’re currently overstocked with defensemen, but Miller isn’t sure they have what the Leafs need. He said he’s intrigued by the Dallas Stars, who carry several young rearguards such as Patrik Nemeth, Jamie Oleksiak and Julius Honka.
A better option, however, could be the Carolina Hurricanes. They’re loaded with young, established defenders such as Justin Faulk, Jaccob Slavin, Brett Hesce and Noah Hanifin, with promising Haydn Fleury waiting in the wings.
It’s assumed general manager Ron Francis could eventually peddle one of them for a scoring forward. For now, he’ll likely wait and see how things unfold this season for his club before jumping into the trade market.
If the Leafs and Hurricanes do discuss a trade, Francis will likely want a proven scorer. That could stoke rumors of Leafs forwards James van Riemsdyk or center Tyler Bozak hitting the trade block. Both are unrestricted free agents next July, but Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman last Friday reports the duo expressed interest in re-signing with Toronto.
The Columbus Blue Jackets could be another trade option for the Leafs. Jackets defenseman Ryan Murray was frequently mentioned in this summer’s rumor mill linking him to Duchene and the Avalanche. He admitted to The Athletic’s Aaron Portzline that he was surprised to still be with the Jackets when training camp opened this month.
Murray, 24,fell from a top-two defense spot to a third-pairing role last season. If the Jackets can’t swing a deal for Duchene and remain willing to swap Murray for a forward, perhaps there’s a swap to made with the Leafs.
RANGERS LOOKING TO ADD DOWN THE MIDDLE?
The New York Rangers could be worth watching in this season’s trade market. Having dealt away Derek Stepan to the Arizona Coyotes in June, they’re lacking experienced skill at center. Mika Zibanejad is expected to replace Stepan on the first line while Kevin Hayes could center their second or third line.
Justin Tasch of the New York Daily News last week reported the Rangers intend to try out versatile forward J.T. Miller at center. If he does well, he could fit into the second-line spot.
Tasch also reported Rangers GM Jeff Gorton isn’t ruling out the possibility of pursuing a top-nine center via trade. The Blueshirts carry around $3 million in salary-cap space, leaving sufficient wiggle room to add depth if necessary.
Finding the right player for that role won’t be easy. Tasch notes the defending Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins remain in the market for a third-line center. Still, a couple of options could be available to the Rangers before the start of the season.
The Detroit Red Wings must shed salary before the start of the season to free up space to re-sign winger Andreas Athanasiou. Center Riley Sheahan ($2.07-million cap hit) recently popped up in training-camp trade chatter.
Boston Bruins forward Ryan Spooner ($2.85 million) can play center or wing and occasionally surfaced in the rumor mill last season. He’s on a one-year contract and could be available if his struggles with the Bruins continue.
Rumor Roundup appears regularly only on thehockeynews.com. Lyle Richardson has been an NHL commentator since 1998 on his website, spectorshockey.net, and is a contributing writer for Eishockey News and The Guardian (P.E.I.).
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