What’s the Alternative?
Currently, the market seems to be all over the place. We’ve seen a middle-six complimentary forward in Brandon Hagel go to Tampa Bay for two first round picks and two bottom-six roster players. Calle Jarnkrok went for a second, a third, and a seventh. We’ve seen Ben Chiarot go to Florida for a first, third, and a prospect. We’ve also seen Hampus Lindholm go to Boston for a large haul of a first and two second round picks (however, an extension was signed not long after the deal).
The Leafs did very well picking up Mark Giordano without paying any premium assets, and I’d like to see them continue in this vein if they are going to add more today.
At this point, if I was Dubas I’d try to wait it out and go for some secondary options like Jacob Middleton, or Justin Braun on the back end. The price for them was likely lower to begin with but as the buying market slowly shrinks and the sellers find less and less suitors, it will likely drive the price down. This should allow them to swoop in and grab a solid NHL player for a bargain compared to the prices currently being paid and especially by division rivals.
Although I’d still be weary to give up a first round pick on a rental, in the Leafs current situation, it could make sense.
I think it’s also the preferable position over giving up a tangible asset that you have invested in developing and who’s path to the NHL is likely much sooner than the 2022 first round pick would be. A Matthew Knies or Nick Robertson could conceivably contribute to the Leafs cup run this season, that 2022 first is at best contributing next year, likely not for at least another two seasons.
This as well as trading other picks and lesser prospects, would be a good alternative to trading a top prospect. It can also lead to a substantial upgrade, see for an example the Jake Muzzin trade where the Leafs traded Carl Grundstrom, Sean Durzi and a first round pick. Muzzin was a key member of the Leafs backend for multiple seasons and arguably our best defender and the cost was relatively low compared to the current market or the top prospect that some teams ask for.
The other and much less popular option is to stand pat, maybe grab an extra 12th or 13th forward and a 7th or 8th defenseman and see what the team can do.
They’re a top team by most metrics and even by basic counting stats, you can do a lot worse than enter the playoffs with the roster as it’s currently constructed. On top of this, you have internal options like Matthew Knies or Nick Abruzzese or Nick Robertson to fill the gaps on their ELC deals. You could also always offer an NHL deal to Josh Ho-Sang which was rumoured to be close to happening before the Beijing Olympics last month.
On the back end you’ll likely have Jake Muzzin return at some point from injury, giving the team a nice veteran presence to enter the playoffs with. Also, keep in mind that the Leafs acquired Ilya Lyubushkin earlier this season and he’s proven capable of moving up and down the defensive pairings.
Ultimately, the Toronto Maple Leafs goal is to win now. If they trade a top prospect and go on to win the cup, no one will care and if anything it will be treated as a necessary casualty on the path to victory.
However, winning is never guaranteed and if you can maximize your chances at as many cup runs as possible, I think the Leafs should choose that approach and hold onto these valuable assets who could be key pieces to multiple Toronto Maple Leafs Stanley Cup championships.