The Toronto Maple Leafs have been in a tough battle with the Tampa Bay Lightning. The series isn’t the only thing the Leafs should take from them.
It’s safe to say that the Toronto Maple Leafs and the Tampa Bay Lightning don’t like each other after six very physical games in the opening round of the NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs.
While it shouldn’t be a vengeful act, the Leafs have the opportunity to both make themselves better and the Lightning worse by poaching one of the Bolts off their current roster.
With free agency opening on July 13, the Maple Leafs will have the opportunity to dip into the market and sign players currently on expiring contracts. While we’ve covered who the Maple Leafs could lose and the best unrestricted free agents they could acquire, there is one under the radar player who would make a great addition to Toronto’s squad.
The Leafs should make an offer to the Lightning’s left-winger, Nick Paul. He is the sort of player that every team wants in the post season. Paul will pick up the occasional point while adding explosive energy and physicality to to the lineup.
Toronto Maple Leafs and Nick Paul
Paul ended up in Tampa for their playoff push via trade from the Ottawa Senators. The Sens accepted a package of Mathieu Joseph and a fourth-round pick in 2024 for the pesky winger. It was the second time in Paul’s career that he’s been traded. The first was as a part of the package shipped to Ottawa by the Dallas Stars for Jason Spezza and Ludwig Karlsson.
In these Stanley Cup playoffs, Paul has been deployed by Coach Jon Cooper for various purposes. He has been used to build momentum, coming out with the Bolts’ third line to try and overwhelm with their forechecking and throwing their bodies around. He has also been used to win important faceoffs.
In the regular season, the 27-year-old, 6’3″, Mississauga, Ontario native played in 80 contests. He recorded 16 goals and 16 assists for a total of 32 points. Paul was pinched for a total of 39 penalty minutes and he lay 106 hits. He averaged 16:31 in ice time.
In the post season, where Paul’s game is best, his usage increased. He has averaged 17:52 minutes per game. He has two assists, 21 hits, 3 blocks, and 10 shots on goal. In Game 6, his presence on the ice was so pivotal that Cooper had Paul skate 19:25.
The important piece for the Toronto Maple Leafs would be the cost of acquiring Paul. He is coming off a deal that has paid him an annual salary of $1.35 million. Toronto will certainly be up against the salary cap next year, so if Paul has heavy salary demands, the Leafs would have to look elsewhere to fill the spot he’d occupy. Most likely, he will be in for a raise but not necessarily a significant one.
Paul would look great playing for the Maple Leafs next year. While his isn’t the sexiest of names that will be available once free agency opens, his impact should be felt when the games matter most.