The team has a number of upcoming free agents (both UFA and RFAs), including top-six center Tyler Bozak, and it will be interesting to see how management handles the futures of these players.
As always, goaltending will be a topic of discussion before the deadline in Toronto. Starting netminder James Reimer and backup Ben Scrivens have played well this season, but acquiring a veteran goalie is still a possibility for general manager Dave Nonis.
With several young NHLers, plenty of depth, a number of talented prospects and their 2013 first-round pick, the Leafs have plenty of assets to make a trade to improve the roster before the deadline.
Let's look at the latest rumors, news and speculation involving the Leafs and potential trades. Check back to this article on a daily basis for the latest reports.
Nicholas Goss is an NHL lead writer at Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter. He was a credentialed reporter at the 2011 Stanley Cup Final and 2012 NHL playoffs. All salary information courtesy of Capgeek.
UPDATE: Friday, March 29 at 10:12 a.m. ET
Miikka Kiprusoff's name has come up in trade rumors over the last few days because of the Calgary Flames' struggles this season and the possibility that they will go into sell mode at the trade deadline.
Would the Leafs have interest in the 36-year-old goaltender? Mark Spector of Sportsnet provides an update.
If Kiprusoff's on the market it will severely test TOR GM Dave Nonis' resolve. He doesn't want to give up picks/prospect, but...— Mark Spector Sports (@SportsnetSpec) March 26, 2013
After the Flames traded Jarome Iginla for just two NCAA prospects and a 2013 first round pick on Thursday, they would likely want a massive return for Kiprusoff if he was traded. With that said, the Leafs would be wise to not pursue the veteran goaltender before the deadline and keep their top prospects.
---End of Update---
James Reimer and Ben Scrivens are good young players, but they are unfamiliar with the pressure and intensity that a playoff race creates late in the year.
Scrivens is just 6-8 this season (1-4 in last five starts) with a 2.63 GAA in 17 games played. And if Reimer (who is injury-prone) misses any length of time with another injury, the Leafs might fall out of a playoff spot.
Finding a better backup or a veteran with playoff experience to take over the No. 1 job should be something that Nonis considers before the deadline.
Bruce Garrioch of the Ottawa Sun recently offered his take on the Toronto goalie situation.
You have to wonder if GM David Nonis is finally going to get a goaltender. James Reimer and Ben Scrivens have arrived back on earth. The Leafs have been linked to goalie Jonathan Bernier of the Kings and Vancouver’s Roberto Luongo. Either would be better than what they’ve got.
Speaking on Sportsnet's Hockey Central at Noon, Kings general manager Dean Lombardi recently addressed Bernier's situation.
Lombardi on calls for Bernier: "I don't know how much I can listen to them for how well he's playing.... He's been a critical part for us."— Hockey Central (@SNHockeyCentral) March 22, 2013
Bernier is 7-2 this season and has allowed one goal or fewer in six of those starts. His strong play has been a huge boost for the Kings because No. 1 goalie and reigning Conn Smythe Trophy winner Jonathan Quick has underachieved this season with a 10-10-2 record, an .897 save percentage and a 2.48 GAA.
Since Bernier is an RFA at the end of the season and Quick's new 10-year contract extension begins next season, it wouldn't be surprising if the 24-year-old backup is moved before the deadline. Lombardi needs to add a top-six winger and/or a defensive defenseman to his roster for the playoffs, and Bernier is his best trade chip.
Bernier would be an upgrade over Reimer and give the Leafs a talented No. 1 goalie that would play a major role in the team's success now and well into the future, but the asking price will likely be high. However, the Leafs do have strong depth on the blue line, so working out a deal with the Kings is certainly possible.
As for Luongo, the Leafs are one of the few teams with the salary-cap flexibility needed to acquire the Canucks star. But the nine years remaining on his deal is a huge concern. He would be an immediate upgrade and guarantee that Toronto makes the postseason in 2013, but the Leafs shoudn't part with valuable trade assets to acquire a 34-year-old goaltender with several playoff failures on his resume and a terrible contract.
Nonis should see what the price is for Bernier, and if it's too much, his best option would be to keep his team's current goaltending duo intact for the rest of the season.
UPDATE: Friday, March 29 at 10:20 a.m. ET
There is no new report on any NHL team having interest in Komisarek at the trade deadline. At this point, the likely scenario is him being bought out in the summer and becoming an unrestricted free agent.
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Mike Komisarek's career in Toronto has been a failure, but he may still have value to a playoff contender because of his size, toughness and playoff experience.
He was sent to the AHL to get some playing time with the Toronto Marlies after clearing waivers (via TSN's Darren Dreger) last week. If he plays well for the Marlies, there might be some interest in him on the trade market.
The biggest challenge in trading the 31-year-old veteran is finding a team that is willing to take on his $4.5 million salary cap hit and $3.5 million salary for the 2013-14 season—which is also when the cap ceiling drops about $6 million to $64.3 million. Although, any team that acquires him would also have the option of buying him out in the summer.
Toronto won't expect to get much in return for Komisarek if he's dealt, but the cap relief that would result from getting rid of his contract would be very beneficial to Nonis' offseason plans.
If the Leafs agree to pay some of his salary, it wouldn't be a total shock if a contender that is desperate for a third-pairing defenseman acquires Komisarek, who has played in four games this season with zero points.
UPDATE: Friday, March 29 at 10:20 a.m.
Since the Leafs' chances of ending their seven-year playoff drought this season are very high, don't expect the team to trade its most skilled offensive player and best goal scorer. Toronto will need Phil Kessel if it's going to have any success in the postseason. There is no recent report involving Kessel in trade rumors or speculation.
---End of Update---
Phil Kessel is one year away from being eligible for unrestricted free agency, which has created plenty of debate over how the Leafs should handle the situation. Should they re-sign their best forward to a long-term deal or trade him when his value is high?
Per Kevin Paul Dupont of the Boston Globe on March 3 (pay-wall warning):
Rumors persist in Toronto the Maple Leafs might shop winger Phil Kessel before the trade deadline, as he's has convinced many up there that he's neither a leader nor core performer.
On the open market, it wouldn't be surprising if Kessel received offers of $8-plus million per season as one of the league's top goal scorers and someone still in the prime of his career.
However, it seems unlikely that he will be traded this season because his value to the Leafs' chances of making the playoffs is extremely high and there's no winger on the team's roster who is capable of stepping into a top-six role and giving head coach Randy Carlyle anywhere close to Kessel's level of scoring production.
Trading someone of Kessel's caliber at this point in the season with just a five-point cushion in the playoff race would be a huge mistake, especially if Toronto wasn't getting a young star in return.
Through 14 games in the month of March, Kessel has 14 points (six goals, eight assists) in 10 games and is playing his best hockey of the season.
UPDATE: Friday, March 29 at 10:23 a.m. ET
Tyler Bozak is one of the Leafs' best trade chips because of his expiring contract and ability to play in a top-six role. He's also needed for shootouts because of the 11 Leafs players who have participated in a shootout this year, Bozak is the only one who has scored.
Toronto has won four of its last six games and should not make any major changes to its roster. For the first time in several years, the Leafs don't need to make a deal at the trade deadline to ensure they earn a playoff spot.
If the Leafs don't acquire a veteran goaltender like Roberto Luongo before the deadline, expect Bozak to be in Toronto for the rest of the season.
---End of Update---
The Tyler Bozak situation is an interesting one for Nonis. His No. 1 center is eligible to become an unrestricted free agent in the summer, but he is an important part of the Leafs' offense and power-play success.
Bozak ranks fifth on the Leafs in scoring with 18 points (nine goals, nine assists) in 32 games, fifth in power-play points (three goals, three assists) and third in power-play time on ice per game (3:01/g). He also leads the team with 30 takeaways and has 17 blocked shots and 47 hits.
The 27-year-old is the Leafs' most reliable faceoff man as well, with a team-leading 53.6 success rate among players who have taken at least 50 draws. His ability to win key faceoffs, especially in the offensive zone, is a valuable part of the Leafs' success.
Bozak has a $1.4 million salary for this season and will get a huge raise in his next contract. After Leafs center Mikhail Grabovski signed a five-year, $27.5 million contract last season, Bozak will likely want a similar deal—or even something larger, such as $6-6.5 million per year.
Most top-six centers make over $5 million as UFAs on the open market, and if the Leafs don't think he's worth that, he could leave in the summer. Since there isn't much top-six center depth in the 2013 UFA class, there could be a lot of interest in Bozak during the offseason.
Acquiring a first-round pick in exchange for Bozak before the deadline, probably in the 25-30 range from a playoff contender, wouldn't be a bad situation for the Leafs. But then Nazem Kadri would have to play a top-six role and face opposing teams' best defensemen much more often. He's not ready for that kind of pressure at this point in his career, especially when his performance as a third-line center has been a huge success this year.
It's probably going to take a huge overpayment from a desperate team to acquire Bozak, because the Leafs don't need another late-first-round pick. If Bozak is traded, another young, established NHLer should be going back to Toronto.
Unless the Leafs go on a losing streak leading up to the deadline and fall down the standings, which is unlikely, expect them to keep Bozak for the playoffs and either trade his negotiating rights for a draft pick after the season or let him walk as a UFA.