Yesterday, I looked at the prospect of the New Jersey Devils sending pending unrestricted free agent defenseman Sami Vatanen to the Chicago Blackhawks. It seems all but certain Vatanen will be dealt before the NHL Trade Deadline, and there are sure to be a number of teams wanting his services. It’s up to the Devils and de-facto/interim general manager Tom Fitzgerald to choose the best return.
One thing I wanted to stress is that we are focusing on the best return for the Devils, not the best trade partner. If a team that doesn’t need Vatanen’s services wants to overpay with a first-round pick plus more, be my guest. There are plenty of teams that have a need for Vatanen’s services but as a New Jersey Devils fan blog, we want to know who’s willing to pay the most. Not where Vatanen will fit in best once his red and black jersey gets hung up for the possibly last time.
One potential trade partner is the Toronto Maple Leafs. While there are no specific rumors connecting the two teams, Toronto has a clear need for a defenseman. Maybe Vatanen will heading north of the border in the near future.
Why the Maple Leafs Could Be a Fit
The glaring issue on Toronto’s offense juggernaut of a team is their blue line. Sure, their backup goaltending behind Fredrik Andersen can use an upgrade, but that would be a mere band-aid on the problem Toronto has on defense. Last year they haphazardly acquired Jake Muzzin to a varying degree of success and effectiveness.
Vatanen is the best defenseman on the market, so Toronto would be wise to inquire about his services. And it’d be stupid for Toronto’s GM Kyle Dubas not to. Getting Vatanen, and being lucky enough to finally avoid the Boston Bruins in the first round, might get Toronto over their playoff hump.
Why a Trade to Toronto Might Not Work
Just a lingering thought, teams tend to at least try to avoid big trades within their own conference. Although the Devils and Maple Leafs are in different divisions, they still are both in the NHL’s Eastern Conference. As much as it pains me to say, I don’t think the Devils have to worry about a playoff match up with Toronto this season, or any playoff matchup at all. The fact the two teams are in the same conference should be a total non-factor in this trade.
What the Potential Return Might Be
In my article about the Chicago Blackhawks, I mentioned the Blackhawks are in no position to overpay since they’re both currently out of a playoff spot and shouldn’t trade away their future for a rental. Both are true about the Toronto Maple Leafs. But Toronto is in a completely different situation.
If any team is in the position to overpay, it’s the Maple Leafs. While the Blackhawks’ recent struggles are somewhat offset but their three Stanley Cup championships in the past decade, Toronto has no such luxury. There is always immediate pressure to win in Toronto, even more so in the Auston Matthews era. Now Toronto is in danger is missing the playoffs for the first time since Matthews came along.
While smart teams think of a team’s future and the long-term plan, Toronto is different. Their passionate but impatient fans want success now. Anything short of a championship is a failure, and missing the playoffs is a colossal failure. Dubas might pay a hefty price to avoid the latter and at least buy his team some time in the NHL playoffs.
Vatanen has more than proven himself worthy of a second-round pick. If Toronto offered a first-round pick, the Devils would be wise to do it before Dubas hung up the phone. However, Toronto’s first-round pick is a little tricky this year. The Maple Leafs’ first-round pick was conditionally traded to the Carolina Hurricanes in the dump of Patrick Marleau’s contract. The first-round pick becomes Carolina’s if Toronto doesn’t get a top ten pick. If not, then Carolina get Toronto’s 2021 first-round pick.
So unless Toronto is willing to trade a potential first-round pick this year, or their first-round pick next year, New Jersey might not be getting that return. A second-round pick, plus a prospect, might be a more likely return. Maybe getting a prospect might be better since their development time would be shorter than a player picked in the 2020 draft. Toronto’s cupboard might not be full, but Kyle Dubas might be heading into panic mode. And that would be great news for New Jersey.