NHL Rumor Mill – December 23, 2022

NHL Rumor Mill – December 23, 2022

Will the Maple Leafs attempt to acquire a notable forward like Ryan O’Reilly, Bo Horvat or James van Riemsdyk at the March trade deadline? Read on to find out in today’s NHL rumor mill.

NOTE: I will be taking my annual Christmas break from Dec. 24 to Dec. 26. The next update to this site will be Tuesday, Dec. 27, 2022.

SPORTSNET: After the Toronto Maple Leafs shipped Denis Malgin to the Colorado Avalanche for Dryden Hunt earlier this week, Luke Fox felt they still needed to address a vacancy among their top-six forwards. “That move should still be coming,” wrote Fox. “It will just need to wait until after the holidays.”

SPECTOR’S NOTE: But how long after the holidays will the Leafs need to wait? What vacancy do they need to fill? Which players could they pursue to address that issue? Don’t worry, they’re plenty of answers to those questions. Read on…

Fox believes Maple Leafs general manager Kyle Dubas must be very bold at the March 3 trade deadline. He suggests Dubas follow the example of Tampa Bay Lightning GM Julien BriseBois, whose moves in the last three trade deadlines helped the Lightning win the Stanley Cup in two of their three straight trips to the Finals since 2020.

St. Louis Blues captain Ryan O’Reilly (NHL Images)

The Leafs will have sufficient cap space to make moves leading up to the deadline with defenseman Jake Muzzin and his $5.625 million cap hit on long-term injured reserve until the postseason and perhaps beyond. Fox believes Dubas must address the Leafs’ need for a second-line left wing by acquiring a natural winger or a center and shifting John Tavares or the new center to the left side.

Fox mentioned Vancouver’s Bo Horvat, St. Louis’ Ryan O’Reilly and Chicago’s Patrick Kane among possible options. Others include Chicago’s Jonathan Toews, Detroit’s Tyler Bertuzzi, St. Louis’ Vladimir Tarasenko or Ivan Barbashev, San Jose’s Timo Meier, and Columbus’ Gustav Nyquist.

He also listed potential trade targets to bolster the blueline. The most expensive option would be Arizona’s Jakob Chychrun. Other defensemen who could be available include Arizona’s Shayne Gostisbehere, Anaheim’s John Klingberg, Columbus’ Vladislav Gavrikov and Vancouver’s Luke Schenn.

SPECTOR’S NOTE: Most of those players could become available leading up to deadline day. Which ones could the Leafs afford to acquire? Let’s take a look, shall we?

THE ATHLETIC (subscription only): Joshua Kloke and Harman Dayal examined three potential trade proposals the Leafs could make for the Canucks’ Bo Horvat. The Canucks seek a package that includes multiple young players. They aren’t expected to have much interest in a futures-only package.

Kloke’s proposals involve a young player like Timothy Liljegren or a prospect such as Matthew Knies. Ultimately, Kloke and Dayal are skeptical that the Leafs can put together a sufficient offer to land Horvat.

SPECTOR’S NOTE: Never say never, I suppose, but the Canucks would have to be desperate for the Leafs to have a decent shot at acquiring Horvat. By that, I mean the Canucks fail to find any teams willing to meet their asking price and are forced to accept lesser offers.

There’s nothing wrong with Liljegren and Knies has NHL potential. Nevertheless, there’s just not enough there in Kloke’s proposals that I believe would put the Leafs over the top in a bidding war.

TSN (stick tap to NHL Watcher): During a recent appearance on Leafs Lunch, Darren Dreger was asked what it would cost the Leafs to land Blues captain Ryan O’Reilly. He doesn’t think they’ll part ways with Knies and would be shocked if he doesn’t sign with them once his NCAA season is over. Dreger also wondered about Nick Robertson and if he could be moved.

SPECTOR’S NOTE: The Blues are enduring an up-and-down season thus far. If they drop out of the race they could entertain offers for O’Reilly if they can’t get him under contract before March 3. However, I don’t like the Leafs’ chances of landing him if they’re unwilling to include Knies in the deal.

TORONTO SUN: Michael Traikos wondered if Dubas would bring back James van Riemsdyk at the trade deadline. The 33-year-old winger spent the best seasons of his career with the Leafs and said he loved playing in Toronto.

SPECTOR’S NOTE: van Riemsdyk would be a more affordable option than Horvat or O’Reilly. However, he’s at the stage in his career where his best seasons are behind him. “JvR” might not fit well within their current system.

TORONTO STAR: Nick Kypreos wondered if Dubas would wait to sign Knies in the hope that he makes a big splash directly out of college hockey the way Cole Caufield did for the Montreal Canadiens in 2021. If not, Kypreos suggested Arizona Coyotes forward Lawson Crouse or Canadiens winger Josh Anderson would be available at the right price.

SPECTOR’S NOTE: I expect Dubas will make a significant move or two by the March trade deadline. His job probably depends on it. The Leafs’ impressive regular-season performance won’t mean squat if they can’t win a playoff round. I don’t see how Dubas keeps his job if the Leafs make another first-round exit.

Again, I’m not fully ruling out the Leafs landing someone like Horvat or O’Reilly but I doubt they’ll get either guy without including Knies and perhaps their first-round pick as part of the return. The same goes for Kane, Toews, Tarasenko, Meier, and Chychrun.

The others shouldn’t cost the Leafs a first-rounder and/or their top prospect. Nevertheless, the asking prices could rise if there are multiple teams bidding for their services. Clubs like the Coyotes and Canadiens will want returns that suit their rebuilding plans. Their respective general managers have been able to get solid returns in the trade market.