Ah yes, the all important search for secondary scoring. A search that seems a little more pointless after Travis Boyd and Wayne Simmonds scoring last night, but with the injuries to Joe Thornton and Nick Robertson, it’s going to be a storyline that likely won’t go away, and one that the Leafs would probably be wise to pursue, but maybe not with the same sense of injury that seemed required a few days ago.
I didn’t think Toronto would need forwards, but here we are. With Nicholas Robertson and Joe Thornton out long-term, the Maple Leafs are searching for any potential upgrades to what they’ve got.
So when we look at what they’ve got, this largely points to a few players needing to show more. Both Ilya Mikheyev and Alexander Kerfoot seem more primed to be defensive specialists, and an offensive output should be considered a pleasant surprise, rather than a line that can be counted on to produce. Jason Spezza certainly doesn’t look to be a secondary scoring option so far, but it’s questionable how much he’s been given linemates to help him produce offense. One of those linemates has been Alexander Barabanov, who is still finding his footing in the NHL, has been off the score sheet in the four games he’s played in. Pierre Engvall would likely also fall into one of the more defensively minded players not likely to provide a solution to secondary scoring.
Of course we can point back to Boyd and Simmonds who have scored. We can point to Jimmy Vesey, who probably has shown that he’s a preferable top six complimentary player over Ilya Mikheyev, and Zach Hyman has also retaken his rightful place in the top six. Both of them are capable secondary scoring options, albeit now in the primary roles.
So assuming that the Leafs still have internal options worth exploring, which include cycling Brooks, Boyd, Spezza, Barabanov, and Engvall through the fourth line to see what can click together, the Leafs might not have a significant need on the tertiary aspect of their secondary scoring. If the bigger concern resides with the fact that Hyman’s numbers are down (although his underlying numbers are great), Mikheyev’s offense is non-existent, and Simmonds is a net presence bumper rather than an offensive driver, it might stand to reason the Leafs are exploring their options.
Who’s available to help?
Well. I guess we can scratch Patrik Laine and Pierre-Luc Dubois off the list, although if that’s what you were considering as potential targets it may be necessary to lower your expectations anyway. Jack Roslovic might have been the player in that deal who could have been a fit for the Leafs, I guess we can scratch him as a target as well.
In a shortened season where anything could happen, and health might play an important role on the standings, I’m not sure there are too many teams waving the white flag and going into sell mode on their potential free agents just yet. Instead the Leafs will be at the mercy of trying to make a hockey trade, and that’s likely going to come down to who needs defensive depth, and if Toronto is going to move on from Travis Dermott or if they plan to quickly cut ties with Mikko Lehtonen because they can’t give him the ice time he wants.
With an entire league of potential trade partners, it’s difficult to pin down who the Leafs would be looking to acquire, but if I had to guess, the Leafs are going to be looking along the lines of a Blake Coleman or Jesper Fast. Neither one of those options are realistic.
Who is realistic, until you consider the Leafs salary cap situation is Tyler Johnson. Johnson would be a solid third line player, both offensive and defensively, but the big point of contention is his $5M salary, which would need to be halfed by the Lightning in order to make any trade even remotely palatable.
Backfilling from outside the North division doesn’t really work
Unless the Leafs are wanting to act now and get help in two weeks, bringing someone in from the U.S. to backfill Robertson or Thornton isn’t really going to work. That leaves the Canadian Division, and the perpetually in the need of defense Oilers and Jets, and the desperate for anything Senators. Unfortunately none of these teams have forwards to spare that could make much of a difference over the Leafs existing bottom six/taxi squad.
While it seems the Leafs might be making some calls around offensive help, it’s entirely possible they are eying help for further down the line rather than the immediate replacement of Robertson and Thornton. Right now the Leafs are still likely okay with seeing what they have with Barabanov, Boyd, and even Brooks. They may continue to consider the 11F/7D option in their lineup as well over that time. Depending on how they continue to do in the short term, that will probably establish what happens next. Worst case scenario, Thornton and Robertson will be back eventually.