Who Should The Leafs Target at The Trade Deadline?

We are just under a month away from the NHL trade deadline, which means it is trademachineszn. The Leafs have had a great first half of the year, which could have, and probably should have been even better than it was. Especially considering how the last week and a half have gone. Goaltending in the NHL is one hell of a roller coaster, let me tell ya. Our guy, Mr. Dubas, has made it clear that he is very, very interested in acquiring a top-six forward. Leafs fans have been coming up with all kinds of wild ideas for trades, but not many of them make sense; just go check out CapFriendly’s trade proposals if you want to see for yourself. I have no interest in some of the names, specifically Nick Folig-NO THANKS, or even Taylor Hall. I mean, when I think of playoff success, Taylor Hall is definitely one of the first names that comes to mind! 

Taylor Hall is a curse jokes aside, there are more than a few names I think the Leafs should go after, and I have even come up with the trades myself! Look, I’m not an NHL GM, I just play one on NHL 21. I don’t know the actual value of these players or how trades in the NHL really go down but using precedent and my brain, I tried to judge what a player would be worth. So, just keep that in mind before you rail on me because you think that the Leafs should be getting a 6th rounder back in an Anthony Mantha trade. 

Trade Number 1: Kyle Palmieri in Blue and White

Kyle Palmieri is at the top of that list when you go down the names of pending free agent forwards that know how to score and aren’t a black hole in their own end. Admittedly, Palmieri is having a tough year this year, particularly defensively, but he has been a consistent second-line winger over his career.

From the 15-16 season onwards, Palmieri’s goal-scoring per year has been 30, 26, 24 in 62 games, 27 in 74 games, and 25 in 65 last year. Seems good! He’s got quick hands and can move pretty well, most importantly though he knows how to finish off a nice pass, unlike some people on the Leafs’ second line… Sorry Kerf. Palmieri is lethal on the power play, 13th in power-play goals in the NHL over the last 5 years, and has even started to play the PK this year. You could play him with Nylander and Tavares or throw him on the third line if you want to add a legitimate goal threat on that line.

Now that I’ve made the case, here’s the trade

I think a Palmieri deal will look pretty similar to Jason Zucker’s trade and Tyler Toffoli’s deal too. Both transactions centred around a prospect, a fringe NHLer and an early-round pick. The Leafs pick here is a conditional second-rounder that becomes a first if the Leafs make the Stanley Cup, because, well, why not?

Regarding what the Leafs are giving up, Niemela was the 64th pick in last year’s draft and is their best defensive prospect not named Rasmus Sandin or Timothy Liljegren. He had an outstanding World Juniors and was named to the tournament’s All-Star team. He’s a good passer and can run a power play well. He can avoid players pretty well with his skating but defensively isn’t too strong just yet. I could see him being a very similar player to Jake Gardiner for the Leafs, or most likely another NHL team. 

Pierre Engvall is what he is, essentially. He’s still just 24, but it looks unlikely that he ever become a player that scores more than 15 goals at his absolute best. His transition play can be phenomenal due to his long strides and excellent spatial awareness, and he’ll kill penalties pretty well for you. He would be a solid addition to their third line for a team like the Devils that values possession-based hockey. 

The draft pick is in 2022 because it is being thrown around that GMs are leaning towards wanting picks from that draft class. You can learn a bit more about why that is here. Another note about this potential deal is that the Leafs and Devils made a trade less than 6 months ago and seem to have a good relationship.

Trade Number 2: French-Canadian to the Leafs?!?!

It seems like Anthony Mantha has been on the trade block ever since Stevie Y became the Red Wings GM. For some, that might be a red flag, but for idiots like me? Fuck no! How can I think of red flags when staring at all this blue. 

Realistically, Mantha to the Leafs has about the same odds as me picking a perfect bracket this year, but hey, I still filled one out, right?! On a serious note, Mantha has 3 years left after this at 5.7 million dollars per year. Combine that with Kyle Dubas saying he is more interested in rentals, and you struggle to see a fit with the Leafs, but if they could pull it off, it would be magical. Mantha had an individual expected goals of 14.59 in just 43 games last year. His ixG per 60 was better than names such as Nikita Kucherov, Patrick Kane and Mark Stone. 

Another guy having a less than a stellar year this year, but he’s just 26 years old and had been getting better every year before this season. The winger is a big gym with a wicked shot. Much like Palmieri, he’s more of a finisher than a creator, but the Leafs have two pretty good creators on their top two lines already anyway. He’s also much stronger defensively than most reputable goal scorers; his Even-Strength Defense Goals Above Average last year was the best on the Wings among forward by a large margin. 

The trade looks like this.

With Mantha’s contract, the price for him is significantly higher than a player like Palmieri, a pending FA. Alex Kerfoot has gotten a lot of excessive criticism during his time as a Leaf. Primarily because of what he represents regarding Nazem Kadri, but it seems likely that he’ll be the one to go due to his cap hit of $3.5 million if the Leafs make a bigger deal. Kerfoot is still only 26 years old and would be a good fit in Detroit, another team that values smaller, more skilled players. He’s shown that he’s going to be a very reliable 40 point a year guy who can kill penalties. In a more prominent role, he might be able to get to the 50 point plateau, but he’ll always impact the game regardless of his point totals. Not a salary throwaway by any means and would be an essential piece in this deal.

The Wings have stacked their cupboard pretty darn well when you look at their forward prospects. Names like Filip Zadina, Lucas Raymond and Joe Veleno will be seen on their team sheet for years to come, but defensively it’s a different story. The big club’s defensive unit is arguably the worst in the league, and after Mo Seider, the prospect pool is a bit shallow. Liljegren has been another player that has sparked contentious debate amongst Leafs fans, but this year, I’ve only seen positive things when it comes to his play in the AHL. The Swede is a near-flawless skater, which is part of the reason why he was projected to be a top 5 pick before he got mono in his draft year. More importantly, though, he’s developed defensively into a genuine two-way defenseman. His puck skills and vision are off the charts, and at 21, he’s taken the time to fully evolve his game into a point where he could now step into the NHL tomorrow. If he gets dealt, a lot of Leafs fans won’t be happy no matter the return.

Finally, the first is again in 2022 because those are deemed more valuable at this point in time. Again this trade in a COVID world is unlikely, bordering on inconceivable, but I really think Mantha would fit in perfectly with the Leafs, and if they can do it, they should.

Trade Number 3: We Love Sveden!

Now finally, the player who, in my eyes, is the crown jewel of them all. Rickard Rakell. Rickard Rakell leads the Anaheim Ducks in points (19), ixG, Wins Above Replacement, Goals Above Replacement and primary assists (12). He has inarguably been their best player this season, and more importantly, he’s been healthy all year! After his 35 goal, 69 point (nice) season in 17-18, Rakell had back-to-back injury-riddled years where he couldn’t ever quite get up to full speed. He had just 85 points in 134 games, and his goal-scoring had dropped dramatically despite the fact his ixG was still phenomenal. This year he has continued that trend as he has just 6 goals from 1o.7 xG, which, compared to his teammate Adam Henqirue’s 8 goals from 5 games, makes it look like Rakell is cursed. A change of scenery, however, could be the special ingredient that breaks that curse. Especially if he was put on a line with his compatriot Willy Styles. Rakell is highly skilled and, being a Swede, has a particular knack for knowing where to be and what the right play is most of the time. Dubas’s interest in rentals should be cast aside here; Rakell’s cap hit is just under $4 million, and he only has one year left after this. His addition would give the Leafs 4 players who have scored 30 goals before in their top six, and that’s without mentioning Mitch Marner; dare I say it, the Leafs would be a juggernaut offensively. 

Now here’s the trade, and it’s a doozy.

It’s a lot, I know, but if Rakell is going to be traded, the Ducks will get a haul. 

I already went into Kerfoot in-depth when talking about the Mantha deal, and all of that applies here. He wouldn’t block any of the Ducks’ younger, more skilled guys because he isn’t good enough to, but he’d be a great player for them to learn off of. 

Now onto the most significant part of this deal, the Leafs’ 15th overall pick from last year, Rodion Amirov. Amirov was considered by some to be the steal of the draft at 15 due to his potential offensively. The winger shot just jumps out at you when watching him play. It’s released very quick, more times than not, with pinpoint accuracy. Here’s a look at some of his highlights from last year.

This year Amirov has played consistently with the KHL’s Ufa, but his ice time has been less consistent. He’s still managed to score 9 goals in 39 games which isn’t bad for a 19-year-old. Watching him at the World Juniors, I was impressed with how tenacious he was. His forechecking and protecting of the puck was at a higher level than anyone else on Russia, and he rarely lost a battle. I’d be sad if the Leafs let him go because I think he’d be a perfect fit with any of our stars, but usually, there is a cost when trading for elite players in the NHL.

Roni Hirvonen is another excellent piece for the Ducks. The smaller centre had 19 points in 44 games in the Finnish league this year and was one of Finland’s best players at the World Juniors. He was picked in the second round last year by the Leafs, and although he won’t blow you away with his skill, he will impress you with his work ethic and game awareness.

Finland relied upon Roni to close out games for them and play big minutes down the stretch, and for good reason. He won’t be ready for a couple years, but the Ducks have time to wait.

The first-round pick is really a conditional second, again with the condition that if the Leafs make the Stanley Cup final, it becomes a first. Now you can stop typing out your hate message…

I just want to reiterate that these trades are based on nothing but my own silly brain, and I honestly wouldn’t be surprised if the Leafs stayed reasonably quiet at the deadline due to the quarantine rules. I know Dubas will try as hard as he can to improve his group, as this is an opportunity he can’t ignore, but it won’t be easy. He can’t just focus on the now when the salary cap is in the situation it is, we’re going to need some of these prospects to play and play well for us down the road, so you can’t give them ALL away. Whatever happens, buckle up, because this could be the wackiest trade deadline we’ve ever seen.

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