Leafs Roster Becoming Too Crowded: Four Players They Could Target to Clear Room

Brad LeClairCorrespondent IMarch 14, 2013

TORONTO, CANADA - JANUARY 24: John-Michael Liles #24, Nazem Kadri #43 and Jake Gardiner #51 of the Toronto Maple Leafs celebrate Nazem Kadri goal against the New York Islanders during NHL action at the Air Canada Centre January 24, 2013 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada.  (Photo by Abelimages/Getty Images)
Abelimages/Getty Images

As the Toronto Maple Leafs continue to get more healthy as the days go on, the Leafs roster situation continues to get cloudier and cloudier as they welcome more players back.

With Matt Frattin returning last week and the coinciding roster move of Mike Brown getting dealt to the Edmonton Oilers for a conditional pick, GM Dave Nonis and company will have to be prepared to make more roster moves as the injured start to return.

Injured sophomore defenceman Jake Gardiner has been honing his craft in the AHL ever since he returned a tad too early from his post-concussion syndrome. When he first returned, Gardiner's game was timid, it was full of mistakes, and it just wasn't Jake.

He was a shell of his former self in other words. However, as he got healthier in the AHL, his game began to return to him, and now he's back to dominating the competition in the AHL. Gardiner is too good for the AHL and the Leafs know it.

He has three games left before he'll require having to go through waivers to get sent down again to the AHL, so if the Leafs call him up, it will be for good.

Why a move hasn't been made yet, much to the chagrin of Gardiner agent Ben Hankinson, is because the Leafs are likely trying to make a move or two to clear some roster space for his eventual return.



— Ben Hankinson (@benhankinson) March 13, 2013



Another player nearing a return is All-Star winger Joffrey Lupul, whose scoring touch is much needed on either the Leafs top line, or their second line, where Mikhail Grabovski and Nikolai Kulemin are struggling to create any sort of offense in the opposition's zone.

With Lupul likely a week away or so (just speculating on his return), you're looking at a Leafs team that can boast five lines of NHL talent, with an NHLer in Tim Connolly also sitting on the farm as possible trade bait.

UPDATE: According to TSN, John Michael Liles makes his return to the lineup tonight against the Pittsburgh Penguins. He will be taking the place of Mike Kostka. Ben Scrivens starts in goal for the Leafs as they look to take the season series against Sidney Crosby and the Pittsburgh Penguins.

How do the Leafs clear room? Will they clear room?

Right now the Leafs are in a good situation, it's a situation any GM would want to be in. Having too much NHL talent on their hands.

I'm going to throw out three names that the Leafs could look into as possible trade targets in an attempt to clear some roster space.

These players have been mentioned in trade rumors, and I'm really just trying to put two and two together here.

Ryan Clowe

An unrestricted free agent at seasons end, Clowe would bring more toughness and grit to an already tough Leafs team. The major difference between Clowe and, say, another former Shark Frazer McLaren is that Clowe is a well respected offensive player, while McLaren is really only good for a few garbage goals a season and delivering the beatdown on numerous NHL tough guys.

The Sharks could use a guy like Clarke MacArthur plus a prospect for Clowe, or they could opt to improve their defence by asking for John Michael Liles for Clowe. For the Leafs though, they would sooner package their second round pick and possibly Tim Connolly for Clowe, as there are no guarantees Clowe would resign with the team.

Speaking on NHL Network Radio on Wednesday, TSN Hockey Insider Darren Dreger says that Clowe is an unrestricted free agent this summer, and while the Sharks would like to sign him, they also have to consider their payroll as the cap comes down next year.

"[The Sharks] are not shopping Clowe, they are listening to interest," said Dreger. "This is a big ticket type of trade; you're talking about a first round draft pick or two seconds, you're talking about a prospect player, and maybe another component as well just to get the Sharks listening.

Chris Stewart

A resurgent Chris Stewart's a name that I'm adding to the fold as rumors are swirling about his possible departure from the Blues organization.

Darren Dreger speculates that the Blues has some interest in Leafs winger Nikolai Kulemin, and forward Chris Stewart is a player whose name has come up in trade speculation.

"Stewart's name is out there, and when a name like that surfaces based on how well he's played this year and he continues to produce, then you know that there's an expected high level of return," Dreger explained. "St. Louis and Doug Armstrong have been looking for a defenceman since basically the start of the year."

Dreger added that the Blues at least had some interest in Toronto's Nikolai Kulemin, whom he believes would fit in well with head coach Ken Hitchcock's philosophy and depth up front.

Stewart plays the game with a mean streak. He hits hard and can drop the gloves with anyone. At over 6'2" and 230 pounds, Stewart is a big body the rather small Leafs could use up front. With only James Van Riemsdyk over 6'1" and 200 in the top nine, the Leafs could really use another big bodied presence who can score in their top nine. 

Stephen Weiss

The Toronto-born Weiss would be an excellent addition, to an already potent Leafs attack. With Weiss out for the season with a wrist injury, the would be a move made with next season in mind.

With unrestricted free agents Tyler Bozak, Clarke MacArthur, and Tim Connolly all expiring this year and no real distinct word on whether the Leafs plan to resign any or all of them, the Leafs could get a bargain here with Weiss.

The Panthers are spinning their tires right now, and with rookies Jonathan Huberdeau and Jakob Markstrom as the only real building blocks on the franchise, the club will be in full sell mode heading into the deadline.

Expect stars like Brian Campbell, Kris Versteeg and Tomas Fleischmann to all be available as well, as the Panthers look to re-tool in preparation for the 2013-14 season.

They would likely be asking for a top-end prospect and some defensive help in return for Weiss, as Joe Colborne, Tyler Bozak, Clarke MacArthur, Tim Connolly, Tyler Biggs, Stuart Percy, Mike Kostka, and Jesse Blacker are all names I would look at involving in a Weiss trade.

Paul Stastny

Another name as possible trade bait is Paul Stastny of the Colorado Avalanche. With the emergence of John Mitchell and the continual development of youngsters Matt Duchene, Gabriel Landeskog and many others, the Avalanche may look to unload Stastny's mammoth $6.6 million contract onto someone else.

The Leafs may be a great landing spot for Stastny as the Leafs do have a ton of expiring contracts, or at worst, a similar player in Mikhail Grabovski, who is signed to a slightly cheaper contract at $5.4 million.

Whichever way the Avalanche prefer, there's no denying that Stastny is the Avalanche's top trade bait. He could fetch the Avalanche Grabovski, or the Avalanche could look to acquire Tim Connolly and Tyler Bozak instead, as both are expiring contracts, but could provide the Avalanche with some much needed depth going forward.