It seems that at one time or another, every star player in the NHL has been rumored to be coming to Toronto. Every week, it’s someone new. Rumors started by respected hockey analysts are blown way out of proportion, and soon, Twitter is blowing up with potential trade scenarios that would bring another city’s star player to the Leafs.
While it’s not usually recommended that you read too much into all of the outlandish rumors you hear on Twitter, I believe that this time things may be different.
The Leafs are on a bit of a losing skid, going 4-6-2 in their last 12 games. It would be a shame to see their stellar start to the season go to waste, and I for one believe that Leafs president and general manager Brian Burke will not let this happen.
With Ron Wilson seemingly here to stay, it is my belief that Burke will in fact make a blockbuster trade and acquire one of Eric Staal, Rick Nash, Bobby Ryan or Zach Parise before the NHL’s Feb. 27 trade deadline.
38 GP, 7 G, 13 A, 20 PTS, minus-20 plus/minus
The Carolina Hurricanes are near the bottom of the Eastern Conference standings. They’ve also already made a coaching change, firing Paul Maurice in favor of former Montreal Canadiens assistant coach Kirk Muller. However, this team still can’t seem to win hockey games.
With the little offense he has produced this year to go along with a ghastly minus-20 plus/minus rating, team captain Eric Staal is not contributing the way he should be. That is why I think that right now is the time for the Carolina Hurricanes to move him.
Staal is still young at only 27 years of age and has already won a Stanley Cup and an Olympic gold medal. Trading Staal would fetch tremendous return that would provide some depth throughout the Hurricanes lineup.
However, Staal has five years remaining on a seven-year, $57.75 million contract, which carries an $8.25 million dollar cap hit. He also possesses a no-trade-clause, which, in addition to his high cap-hit, could make it very difficult to move him.
With the Toronto Maple Leafs well below the salary cap at the moment thanks to some injuries, and Staal being from Thunder Bay Ontario, I believe that neither his cap hit nor his no-trade-clause would prevent a deal from happening.
In my opinion, a package of Mikhail Grabovski, Nazem Kadri, Cody Franson and a second-round pick or a prospect would be enough to get a deal done. Grabovski could take Staal’s spot at center right away and I think Kadri would mesh well with Carolina’s young All-Star, Jeff Skinner. Franson, who has been finding his groove lately, would provide Carolina with some much-needed depth on the backend.
36 GP, 10 G, 14 A, 24 PTS, minus-20 plus/minus
Similar to the Hurricanes, Columbus sits near the bottom of their respective conference with the season all but over for them.
This year was supposed to go much differently for the Blue Jackets, though. Offseason acquisitions Jeff Carter and James Wisniewski were supposed to help contribute so team captain Rick Nash would not have to carry the team for yet another season.
I believe that Nash has had enough of this organization and that it is time for a change of scenery for the Olympic gold medal-winning power forward.
With seven years remaining on his eight-year, $62.4 million contract and a cap-hit of $7.8 million, it could be very hard for Columbus to move Nash. However, Toronto has the cap-space and the pieces to make a deal, and I think that it’s very possible they will.
I could see Nikolai Kulemin, Nazem Kadri, Jonas Gustavson and a second-round pick or a prospect being enough to make Rick Nash a Maple Leaf. Kulemin and Kadri are both talented wingers who could compliment Carter nicely.
Kadri can also play center if Columbus feels more depth at center is needed. Gustavsson has played great lately and could possibly stabilize the shaky goaltending situation in Columbus.
35 GP, 11 G, 7A, 18 PTS, minus-eight plus/minus
Like Carolina and Columbus, Anaheim is having an absolutely awful season. Nobody on the Ducks have played up to expectations (with the exception of the ageless wonder that is Teemu Selanne). They have already made a coaching change, firing Randy Carlyle and hiring former Washington head coach Bruce Boudreau. However, the team still sits near the bottom of the Western Conference standings with next to no hope of a playoff berth this season.
Bobby Ryan is the youngest player on this list at only 24 years of age. You may ask why Anaheim would trade away a young 30-goal scorer, but the answer is easy. Anaheim desperately lacks scoring depth as well as depth on defense. The team’s three most valuable assets are Ryan Getzlaf, Corey Perry and Ryan. Two of these three players helped lead the Ducks to the team’s first ever Stanley Cup back in 2007. One of them did not.
The return for a player like Bobby Ryan would be astronomical. Seeing as Leafs GM Brian Burke drafted him second overall (behind only Sidney Crosby) in 2005 when he was general manager of the-then Anaheim Mighty Ducks, and also selected him for team USA at the 2010 Olympics, we know Ryan is a player Burke would love to have on his hockey team.
Ryan has a much lower cap hit than Eric Staal or Rick Nash at $5.1 million, with four years remaining on a five-year, $25.5 million contract. Because of this, Toronto would have much more competition from other teams in trying to acquire Ryan than they would in trying to acquire Eric Staal or Rick Nash.
A package of Luke Schenn, Mikhail Grabovski and Nikolai Kulemin for Ryan and a pick or prospect would likely be what it takes to get a deal done. Kulemin could replace Ryan on Anaheim’s top line with Getzlaf and Perry, while Grabovski could really help their scoring depth.
Schenn would provide the Ducks with another great young defenseman to add to their core of young defensemen, which already includes Luca Sbisa and Cam Fowler. No Leafs fan wants to see Luke Schenn get traded, but the inclusion of him in any package for Ryan would likely be what it takes to get a deal done.
36 GP, 12 G, 17 A, 29 PTS, minus-five plus/minus
The only player on this list having a good personal season on a team actually in the playoff picture. However, he is also the only player on this list without a long-term, big money contract.
Zach Parise is making $6 million on a one-year contract and is an unrestricted free agent at season's end. This means that on July 1, Parise can sign with any team in the NHL. As much as New Jersey wants to keep their captain, the presence of Ilya Kovalchuk may prevent this from happening.
Kovalchuk, a player who is no better than Parise, was given a 15-year, $100 million dollar contract with a $6.67 million cap hit by the Devils. If I’m Zach Parise (and feeling selfish), I’m demanding at least a 10-year, $70 million dollar contract. This may not make sense to the Devils to pay two players who both play left wing around $7 million a year when they are already up against the cap.
If the Devils decide they want to trade Parise before the trade deadline in February (so they get something in return for him instead of letting him walk away on July 1 for nothing), the Leafs will be pushing very hard to get him.
It may take something along the lines of Nikolai Kulemin, Cody Franson and Ben Scrivens to acquire Parise. Kulemin could play right wing on New Jersey’s top line with Kovalchuk and Zajac. Franson would add a puck-moving defenseman, something the Devils are severely lacking.
Also, Scrivens could potentially succeed Martin Brodeur between the pipes in New Jersey when he does eventually retire.
I truly believe that the Leafs will make a blockbuster deal before the NHL trade deadline in February. I am sure that any huge trade the Leafs make will bring one of Eric Staal, Rick Nash, Bobby Ryan or Zach Parise to Toronto. Who the Leafs give up in return is really anyone’s guess though.
There just seems to be a perfect storm brewing. Burke is known to have great interest in all of the players I mentioned. The teams of three of these players (Staal, Nash, and Ryan) are all at or near the bottom of the standings and may finally be willing to move a previously untouchable player in a desperate attempt to improve their hockey club.
Parise, being an unrestricted free agent at the end of the season, may be moved by New Jersey just so he doesn’t walk on July 1 for nothing. While all of these players are possibly becoming available to other teams for the first time, Burke has put his team in a position where they can make a big move.
The Leafs have depth at all positions, especially defense, and a plethora of young talent both in the minors and on the roster. These assets could provide some very attractive pieces to another team in a trade.
Time will tell if my bold prediction becomes a reality, but one thing is for sure. If Leafs general manager Brian Burke sees an opportunity to improve his hockey club by bringing in one of the players from this list, he will do everything in his power to make it happen.
Follow me on Twitter @JLattBatt