Welcome to Oilersnation’s Deadline Targets series. Over the next few weeks heading into the trade deadline, I’ll be walking through the teams expected to unload at the deadline and the players who could be fits on the Oilers for their playoff push. Today, we have the Toronto Maple Leafs.
The Edmonton Oilers and Toronto Maple Leafs can help each other out right now. One team needs a good winger and one team needs a veteran defenceman. There might be a good old-fashioned hockey trade to be made here.
During the Leafs and Flames game last night, Darren Dreger mentioned on Insider Trading that both the Oilers and the Flames were seeking upgrades to their top-six forward group. He mentioned specifically that the Oilers could have their eyes on a potentially expendable member of the Leafs’ third-line trio.
Dreger: The Battle of Alberta may drift off the ice as well because the Edmonton Oilers are also looking for a top-six forward. [It was mentioned earlier how the Flames are seeking a top-six right winger.]
I’m not sure about the Flames, but I believe the Edmonton Oilers are going to pay close attention to what happens with the Toronto Maple Leafs. Again, there’s speculation around the likes of [Kasperi] Kapanen, [Andreas] Johnsson, and maybe Alex Kerfoot.
The Oilers and Leafs both have pretty glaring needs right now. As we know, the Oilers could use some extra punch up front. They need a top-six winger and a third-line centre would help a lot too. The Leafs, on the other hand, badly need help on their blueline. Jake Muzzin is currently on the Injured Reserve and Morgan Rielly is out for eight weeks with a broken foot. The most veteran member of their top-four right now is the wildly underwhelming Cody Ceci.
It’s always been known with the Leafs’ roster composition that, at some point, they would have to sell from their abundance of forwards in order to upgrade their blueline. It’s clear they never wanted to deal away any their core four of Auston Matthews, John Tavares, William Nylander, and Mitch Marner, but that still leaves a few good wingers on the roster who could be moved to help upgrade their blueline.
The problem of defence for the Leafs is one that persists even when they have a fully healthy blueline. The team ranks 26th in the league in goals against and they’re in the bottom third of the league in terms of allowing unblocked shot attempts. They’re a middle-of-the-pack team in terms of expected goals against based on shot quality and volume, meaning their blueline probably isn’t as much of a wasteland as some would suggest, but it’s still far from a strength. Adding a veteran defenceman would go a long way in helping Leafs fans witness a playoff series win for the first time ever on high definition television.
Let’s go through the names.
- Kasperi Kapanen has a breakout season last year in his first full year in the NHL, scoring 20 goals and 44 points as Toronto’s middle-six jack of all trades. That season was good enough to net him a three-year deal worth a reasonable $3,200,000 annually. He’s a great skater, can finish, and has the added value of being a solid checking forward who can kill penalties.
- Andreas Johnsson was another depth breakout forward for the Leafs last year, scoring 20 goals and 43 points playing mostly alongside Auston Matthews. Johnsson’s breakout season got him a four-year deal worth $3,400,000 annually. At a glance, Johnsson and Kapanen are ridiculously similar players, but the key difference between the two is Kapanen is more of a two-way guy as Johnsson doesn’t kill penalties.
- Alex Kerfoot is the more out of left field name here. He was acquired in the Nazem Kadri for Tyson Barrie swap to slot in as Toronto’s new third-line centre. After scoring 43 and 42 points in his first two seasons in Colorado, Kerfoot has seen a slight dip in production, as he has just 18 points in 42 games. Kerfoot signed a four-year deal worth $3,500,000 after arriving in Toronto.
The name that makes the most sense, for me, is the former first-round pick, Kapanen.
Though Kerfoot’s name is being mentioned in trade talks, I have a hard time seeing the Leafs sell from their depth up the middle rather than their depth on the wings. If they trade Kapanen or Johnsson, somebody like Jeremy Bracco from the AHL could step in, whereas removing their third-line centre would have a much greater effect on the team’s lineup.
When it comes down to Kapanen and Johnsson, the former is the stronger all-around player. Johnsson has had the added benefit of playing alongside Matthews and Nylander for a good chunk of his time in the league while Kapanen produced 20 goals on the team’s third line with Kadri and Patrick Marleau. Given Kapanen’s speed, he could be a prime fit alongside Connor McDavid on the top line. He would also give a boost to the Oilers’ penalty kill.
The fit for Edmonton is pretty obvious, but now it comes down to whether a deal can be found that also works for the other side. Giving up Kris Russell isn’t enough for the Leafs and giving up Darnell Nurse would be too much for the Oilers. The player right in the middle is Adam Larsson.
I discussed a few months back the awkward position the Oilers are in with Larsson with only one more year left on his deal and a handful of blueliners working their way up from the AHL. It’s difficult to say right now if he has a future with the team.
The trade is one for one. Adam Larsson for Kasperi Kapanen. Edmonton gets their winger and Toronto gets their defenceman. Is this enough for the Leafs to part ways with an effective, cost-controlled winger? Are the Oilers in a position yet to be giving away a veteran defenceman before a playoff push? Is this something that should wait for the off-season?
There are plenty of questions, but there does seem to be something here. Remember, the Flames are also out there kicking tires on a top-six winger upgrade. Beating Calgary to the punch on this would be another win even beyond upgrading the team.