NHL Notebook: Are the Leafs good enough to be buyers, should the Predators move one of their goaltenders, and more

Photo credit:John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports
Cam Lewis
5 months ago
The Edmonton Oilers will host the Toronto Maple Leafs on Tuesday night in a match-up of teams moving in different directions.
While the Oilers set a new team record with their 10th consecutive win over the weekend, Toronto is mired in a three-game skid in which they blew a lead in each of the losses. The Leafs were up 3-1 in the second period against the Islanders and lost 4-3 in overtime, they went up 3-0 over the Avs in the first period and lost 5-3, and they led 2-1 at the start of the third period against the Red Wings and lost 4-2.
Toronto comes into their game in Edmonton with a 21-12-8 record, good for sixth in the Eastern Conference with six more teams behind them within four or fewer points. In Monday’s edition of The 32 Thoughts Podcast, Elliotte Friedman speculated whether the Leafs are in a strong enough position to be buyers ahead of this season’s trade deadline.
“Should this team really be buying? Is this the year to buy? They have to be asking themselves, with the limited amount of stuff that we have to trade, is this really the year to buy? And I would be asking myself that again this weekend.”
The Leafs have sold a lot of future assets to load up for playoff runs in the past few years under general manager Kyle Dubas. He traded their first-round pick in 2021 for Nick Foligno, moved two second-round picks in 2022 to get Mark Giordano, and dealt a couple more first-round picks in 2023 to acquire Ryan O’Reilly, Jake McCabe, and a few others.
Dubas and the Leafs parted ways in the off-season and new general manager Brad Treliving has taken a fairly conservative approach with the team’s roster thus far. He’s made only one trade (Sam Lafferty to the Canucks for a fifth-round pick) and his free-agent additions over the summer (Max Domi, Tyler Bertuzzi, and John Klingberg) were one-year contracts.
There’s plenty of time between now and the March 9 trade deadline for the Leafs to turn their play around and warrant an investment from their general manager. But given the big-picture outlook, hanging on to draft picks and running with this group into the playoffs might be the move.


The Seattle Kraken’s nine-game winning streak was snapped by the Pittsburgh Penguins

Looking further ahead on Edmonton’s schedule, they’ll next host the Seattle Kraken on Thursday. This game had the potential to feature two teams on massive winning streaks, but the Kraken had their nine-game heater come to an end on Monday when they were dropped by the Pittsburgh Penguins.
The Kraken will travel from Pittsburgh to New York to face the Rangers on Wednesday before flying to Edmonton to cap off a six-game road trip against the Oilers. Heading into Tuesday’s games, the Oilers and Kraken are tied for eighth in the Western Conference standings with 47 points, though Seattle has played four more games than Edmonton has.

Oct 19, 2023; New York, New York, USA; Nashville Predators goaltender Juuse Saros (74) makes a save against the New York Rangers during the first period at Madison Square Garden. Mandatory Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

Should the Nashville Predators trade Yaroslav Askarov or Juuse Saros?

One spot ahead of the Oilers in the standings are the Nashville Predators, a team that wasn’t expected to contend this season. They traded Mattias Ekholm to Edmonton ahead of last year’s trade deadline, missed the playoffs, and then moved on from Ryan Johansen and Matt Duchene in the off-season.
The Preds are 24-19-1 on the season and have a solid chance of making it into the playoffs. Interestingly enough, unlike in previous years, the Preds are doing well despite some mediocre play from star goaltender Juuse Saros. After finishing fourth in Vezina Trophy voting last season, Saros has a .900 save percentage through 34 games this year.
Meanwhile, in the American Hockey League, 2020 first-round draft pick Yaroslav Askarov has a .926 save percentage in 19 games. Askarov made his NHL debut in 2022-23 and was called up for a couple of starts in December. All told, he has a .914 save percentage in those three outings.
Askarov looks like the goalie of the future in Nashville, but bringing him up now might diminish the value of Saros, who could be relegated to a backup role given the way his season has gone. Saros has one more season after this one left on his contract with a cap hit of $5 million, so there’s no rush for Nashville to make a move.
The goaltender Nashville might receive the most calls about is Askarov, who other teams might view as a possible star being blocked by a quality veteran. The Preds would surely be able to net themselves a massive return for the 21-year-old despite the fact he hasn’t proven himself at the NHL level yet.
How valuable would a good goalie on a cheap, entry-level contract be for a team pressed right up against the salary cap ceiling? For a team like the Oilers, they could have a goaltending duo of Stuart Skinner and Askarov cost them under $4 million in 2024-25.

Marc-Andre Fleury passes Patrick Roy for second on NHL all-time goalie wins list

Finally, one more note about goalies… Marc-Andre Fleury picked up the 552nd win of his career on Monday night in a 5-0 shutout over the New York Islanders. The win vaulted Fleury over Patrick Roy on the NHL’s all-time goalie wins list, second only behind Martin Brodeur with an untouchable 691 wins.
The Wild are 18-20-5 on the season and don’t look like a team that’ll be buying ahead of the trade deadline. Fleury would be a nice addition for a team in need of a 1B goaltender with playoff experience, but the 39-year-old future Hall of Famer has a no-movement clause on his contract and might not be interested in changing teams for the third time in four years.

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