5 options the Leafs could explore to bolster their forward group

Feb 18 2021, 10:04 am

You can say a lot of negative things about them over the years, but you can never say that Toronto Maple Leafs have been a team to simply run the exact same roster out every season.

Despite sitting first in the NHL standings entering play Thursday, it looks like there still could be a shakeup in Toronto’s forward group.

Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman reported in his 31 Thoughts column both that he believes the Leafs will look for a top-six winger,” and that “the Alex Galchenyuk trade is a sign the Jimmy Vesey experiment is in trouble.”

Galchenyuk was acquired Monday from Carolina after beginning the season in Ottawa, picking up one goal in eight games.

After trading out Kasperi Kapanen and Andreas Johnsson this past offseason, winger depth was always going to be a bit of a question mark when it came to the Leafs lineup. They’ve obviously got proven talents in Mitch Marner and William Nylander, but no other Leafs winger outside of Zach Hyman has put up more than five points in this season’s 16 games.

If the Leafs are looking to add another forward, the NHL’s quarantine rules complicate things a little bit, with players from American teams having to isolate for 14 days before joining the roster.

However, with the Leafs’ strong start to the season, they should be able to take the risk if they’re willing to wait a bit for some help.

Dangled from the Leafs’ trade bait tree would likely be third-line centre Alex Kerfoot, a future draft pick or two, and potentially pending RFA defenceman Travis Dermott. There’s only a few players Toronto is likely to part with at this point, although crazier things always do seem to happen in Leafs Nation. There is also an assumption the trading team may need to eat some salary.

Here are five options for the Leafs to bolster their forward group:

1. Taylor Hall – Buffalo Sabres

Stats: 12 GP, 1 G, 8 A, 9 PTS
Cap hit: $8m (2021 UFA)

We’re starting off hot. Somehow never managing to stick around long enough to earn a true big money contract, former MVP Taylor Hall has struggled to score so far this season. Of course, the acquisition cost would be quite high, likely starting at least at a first round pick. Buffalo would also need to retain half of Hall’s salary.

But a Hall-Matthews-Marner line (or something similar) could be tantalizingly dangerous. If the move is there, I think it would be a big whiff if the Leafs didn’t at least give it a shot for a guy who already spends much of his offseason training in Toronto. Dream big.

2. Marcus Johansson – Minnesota Wild

Stats: 10 GP, 2 G, 1 A, 3 PTS
Cap hit: $4.5m (2021 UFA)

If you can’t beat ’em, steal ’em four years later? Marcus Johansson has been a part of two playoff series victories over the Leafs in his career, with Washington in 2017 and Boston in 2019. In the Capitals series, Johansson delivered the death blow for the Leafs, scoring both Washington goals in a 2-1 Game 6 overtime win that eliminated the Leafs from the postseason.

He’s gotten off to a slow start on a struggling Wild side, but could be a perfect bounce back candidate if paired with the right centre. John Tavares, perhaps?

3. Andrew Copp – Winnipeg Jets

Stats: 16 GP, 4 G, 8 A, 12 PTS
Cap hit:  $2.82m (2021 RFA)

Andrew Copp would be one of the easier acquisitions out there, by the way of not having to quarantine.

The big question mark is obviously whether the Jets, who appear in the thick of the playoff hunt, would be willing to sell off an asset that’s providing them value moving forward.

But if Winnipeg does find themselves as sellers, Copp could be a piece worth exploring.

4. Kyle Palmieri

Stats: 9 GP, 0 G, 4 A, 4 PTS
Cap hit: $4.65m  (2021 UFA)

Kyle Palmieri has served his role over the last few seasons as “a pretty good forward on a pretty bad team” quite well.

Having scored 24 goals or more each of the past five seasons, Palmieri is, you guessed it, struggling to start this campaign. But he’s also an expiring deal with decent upside and has the ability to put the puck in the back of the net.

Not that they need any more of it, but Palmieri also has leadership qualities as he serves as one of the Devils’ assistant captains. Bringing in a vet forward like him could jumpstart the Leafs’ offence if deployed correctly.

5. Nick Robertson – Toronto Marlies

Stats (AHL): 2 GP, 1 G, 3 A, 4 PTS
Cap hit: Entry-level ($821K, 2023 RFA)

It may be the least flashy solution, but sometimes just because a player is new doesn’t mean he’s always better.

Yet to crack the Leafs lineup this season outside of one game, Nick Robertson, the Leafs’ top pick from the 2019 draft, showed glimpses of his ability in the playoffs last summer against Columbus, notching a goal in his four appearances.

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