The Toronto Maple Leafs have many paths to improving their team.
With such a unique roster, the Toronto Maple Leafs will have an abundance of pathways they can follow to upgrade his team, all with their own benefits and downsides.
In the upcoming days, I will be breaking down the Leafs roster into six different trade tiers and Dubas’ best trade options for acquiring the coveted right-shot top 4 defensemen Toronto fans have been clamoring for for years.
This offseason has the potential to be like no other. Let’s see how the Leafs can improve their team.
Toronto Maple Leafs Trade Options
For one, a wealth of teams will be forced to trade out significant parts of their roster just to get under the $81.5 projected cap ceiling for 2020-21.
Next, if a team like Toronto wants to further add to their roster, it is going to take a substantial move to be cap compliant as well as head into the new season with an improved team.
There is a large contingent of the hockey world expecting this to be one of the most unique and chaotic offseasons in recent memory, and I fully support this notion.
As such, Kyle Dubas could possibly join in on the chaos and go straight for a defenseman. One example of a strong right handed blue-liner who would fit into the Leafs style of play, and who seems to be the kind of player they like is Brett Pesce.
However, in any behemoth of a trade for a Brett Pesce-type defensemen, one player will almost have to be guaranteed to be included in the deal – Timothy Liljegren.
Liljegren, a 6”0, 190 lb defensemen from Sweden, was drafted 17th overall in 2017 by the Toronto Maple Leafs.
Heading into his draft year, Liljegren was oozing with potential. Scouts had him ranked as the top defensemen in his draft class, ahead of players such as Miro Heiskanen and Cale Makar, and projected him to be a top five pick until Liljegren was forced to miss the first two months of his draft eligible season due to mononucleosis, causing his draft stock to fall and allow Toronto to pick him at #17.
Drawing comparisons to Erik Karlsson, Liljegren was praised for his modern skating ability, playmaking from the back end, and offensive prowess (source; Sportsnet).
It is safe to say Timothy Liljegren’s 11-game NHL debut in 2019-20 did not go smoothly.
Bouncing around between the AHL, the press box, and the Leafs third defensive pair, Liljegren only registered one assist in his 11 games, mostly playing in a heavily sheltered bottom pairing role.
Liljegren started 54% of his draws in the offensive zone (stats courtesy of hockey-reference.com), while playing majority of his even-strength minutes alongside fellow freshman and Swede, Rasmus Sandin.
Obviously two rookies paired together is not an ideal situation, so judging Liljegren on his play in the NHL so far isn’t really fair.
It is reasonable to assume Liljegren only received NHL minutes due to the significant injuries Toronto sustained on their blueline, and had Morgan Rielly, Jake Muzzin, and Cody Ceci been healthy all year, Liljegren would not have made his debut this season, instead continuing his development in the AHL.
Kyle Dubas and the Toronto Maple Leafs front office are hoping Liljegren is able to reach the lofty comparisons he had established for himself heading into his draft year and become the bonafide #1 right-handed defensemen has was projected to be.
However, with the Toronto Maple Leafs in win-now mode, Liljegren is in an interesting position.
Primarily, the Leafs, unfortunately, are short on time with Auston Matthews’ contract finishing up in four years and do not have the luxury to wait for Liljegren to finally flourish and establish himself as the top 4 right-shot defensemen they desperately need.
Putting up 5 goals and 30 points in 40 games this past season in the AHL (stats courtesy of hockeydb.com), Liljegren may finally be showing his full potential in the minors and could turn into a fantastic trade chip for Dubas.
Because of this, the Leafs GM must tread lightly and be very careful if he were to trade Liljegren as Leafsnation has experienced the heartaches of trading away a player with high potential in a win-now move and watching them flourish on other teams.
Leafs management continuously raves about Liljegren’s improvement and applauds his dedication to perfecting his craft and subsequently, it would be shocking if they did decide to move him.
Though, Kyle Dubas is an intelligent person and realizes he would be doing his team a disservice if a fellow GM called about Liljegren, offering a stud defensemen in exchange and he refused to entertain the idea.
Overall, Liljegren adds another wrinkle to an otherwise dramatic upcoming offseason for Kyle Dubas and Co. I expect a significant upgrade to the current blueline, most likely coming in the form of a trade, and it would be disappointing if Liljegren, someone drafted with such high potential, never got a chance to play a full season in Toronto.