With the March 3 trade deadline fast approaching, the Toronto Maple Leafs have just over a month to bolster their roster before another decisive playoff series, where they will attempt to extinguish their demons by playoffs.
There isn’t much financial flexibility to work with though, meaning general manager Kyle Dubas will likely be limited to one notable acquisition this year.
The Maple Leafs, like several other NHL clubs, are strapped for cash this season and currently sit well above the $82.5 million salary cap. But with Jake Muzzin ($5.625 million), Nick Robertson ($796,667) and Victor Mete ($750,000) residing on long-term injured reserve, the management’s relief pool includes about $7.17 million. dollars.
Toronto is already using just over $6 million of that figure, leaving them with $1.135 million in spending with a roster of 23 skaters. This amount can be increased by sending a few players to the minors – like Bobby McMann and Joey Anderson, perhaps – and operating with 21 players.
So how should Dubas spend his team’s remaining cap space? Will he add another defender at the back? Or improve his top-six attacking group with a reliable goalscorer?
As depleted as the Maple Leafs defense is this season, the current squad has performed well so far, ranking sixth in goals against per game, sixth in shots allowed per game, 11th in expected goals against and 10th in goals against. chances of scoring against. Up front, however, it might make more sense to acquire a new linemate for John Tavares and Mitch Marner, preferably a southpaw.
And with several top-six forwards reportedly available, there’s likely to be no shortage of potential targets for Toronto. So let’s take a look at a few of them.
Cap reached: $3 million, UFA after 2022-23
Son of Tie Domi, who played 12 seasons with the Maple Leafs from 1994 to 2006, Max Domi has languished with the Chicago Blackhawks this season.
The 27-year-old impending UFA leads his club in goals (14) and points (32) in 45 games while ranking second among forwards in average ice time (18:22). He’s also tied for first in power-play points (14) and fourth in expected goals (six) at 5-5, according to MoneyPuck.
Unlike previous seasons, Domi shot pucks at a much higher rate in 2022-23 and converted to the second-highest shooting percentage (13.5%) of his career. By comparison, the left-hander’s 13.8 percentage in 2018-19 led to career highs in goals (28) and points (72) in his inaugural campaign with the Montreal Canadiens.
The 5-foot-10 forward had three goals and six points – including an overtime winner – in 14 playoff games with the Carolina Hurricanes last season following a deadline day trade from the Columbus Blue Jackets .
Domi has had just 11 hits so far – which would rank last among Toronto regular forwards, a William Nylander guard – but he is known for his physicality and dusting after whistle. So for a team lacking guts, especially at forward, the 2013 12th overall pick would make the Maple Leafs a tougher opponent.
There probably wouldn’t be a place for the Winnipeg, Man., native in Toronto’s top power-play unit, though he could improve the secondary group’s offensive ceiling. And he would act as another web presence, joining Michael Bunting in this regard.
The Maple Leafs could incorporate Domi’s friendly cap into their roster without the Blackhawks retaining 50%, limiting his acquisition cost. But if Chicago cut its cap number in half, it could allow Dubas to take another step elsewhere.
Cap reached: $5.5 million, UFA after 2022-23
Like Chicago, Columbus will also try to sell parts to improve their lottery chances in pursuit of the first overall selection in next summer’s draft, which will likely see Nyquist traded for the second time in his career.
The 33-year-old, who moved from the Detroit Red Wings to the San Jose Sharks in February 2019, is in the final season of his four-year contract with the Blue Jackets and has been a half-point regular by match. during his tenure with the franchise.
Nyquist is a four-time 20-goal scorer and fell just short of that mark last season, finishing with 18 goals in 82 games. This season, the 5-foot-11 left-hander is tied for fourth in team goals (10), tied for third in even-strength goals (eight) and third in expected goals (7, 3) 5 against 5.
Despite four goals and 10 points with the man advantage in 2021-22, the veteran forward is pointless in those situations this season. He was effective shorthanded, however, pocketing a pair of shorthanded markers, tied for the team lead.
At this point in his career, Nyquist is still logging significant minutes every night, earning a career-high 18:06 in average ice time. And thanks to his versatility, he would likely play a reliable role in Toronto’s top six or last six.
Although Nyquist hasn’t made the playoffs since 2020, he would come with seven seasons of playoff experience, including a berth in the Western Conference Finals with San Jose in 2019. During that run, he has scored one goal and 11 points in 20 games.
The Maple Leafs would demand the Blue Jackets keep 50 percent of Nyquist’s cap shot, but as a second-tier winger he could pose another scoring threat alongside Tavares and Marner.
Cap reached: $4 million, UFA after 2023-24
After three and a half seasons in Carolina, Niederreiter signed a two-year, $8 million contract with the Nashville Predators in the offseason. But with his team underperforming and likely to miss the playoffs, he could be made available via trade.
The 30-year-old had a productive inaugural campaign with the Preds, posting 13 goals and 23 points in 47 games. Tied for second in goals, second in even-strength goals (11), second in expected goals (9.5) at 5-5 and fifth in points (23) among Nashville skaters .
Niederreiter produced consecutive 20-goal seasons with the Hurricanes from 2020-22 and is on pace to extend that streak to three straight this season, accomplishing the feat for the seventh time in his career.
Skating alongside teammates Ryan Johansen and Mikael Granlund at 5-on-5 has been an effective combination for Niederreiter, who averages 15:49 of ice time, the second-highest of his career. The 6-foot-2 southpaw isn’t a power-play specialist, but has scored two goals and four power-play points, making him a viable candidate for Toronto’s second unit.
Similar to Domi, Niederreiter would bring some physicality to the Maple Leafs, as he had over 100 hits in seven of his 12 NHL seasons, including 2022-23. He’s been a key source in that department this season, with his 103 hits ranking fourth among Predators forwards.
The fifth-overall selection of 2010 has nine seasons of playoff experience, four of which have seen his respective team progress beyond the first round. Last season, Niederreiter scored four goals — three against the Boston Bruins in the first round — and five points in 14 games.
As a non-lease acquisition, Niederreiter would likely cost more than Domi and Nyquist, especially with Nashville set to retain 50% of its hit cap. But it might be worth paying a little extra for a player of his caliber.
Given Toronto has six pending UFA forwards and two pending RFA forwards with arbitration eligibility after this season, adding a skater signed through 2023-24 could come in handy this summer.
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