Interest has been reported by the Edmonton Oilers in Nikita Zaitsev from the Maple Leafs. With links to Connor Brown also existing, Toronto could look to make a bigger hockey deal and get back a solid return on two NHL ready players.
As we all know, Nikita Zaitsev wants out of the Toronto Maple Leafs organization. The Russian defenseman seemingly hates the media attention, especially after his downturn in form over the past two seasons. Regardless, with his intentions known it falls to Kyle Dubas to move him out and bring in a solid return to help fill out the team.
Connor Brown, on the other hand, is a player almost every Leafs fans would want to stay on the team. He earned his $2.1m deal a few seasons ago but has unfortunately priced himself out of a stay in Toronto. He has a history with Connor McDavid in Erie and could possibly be kicked into a deal to Edmonton for a better return.
The Leafs would surely be prioritizing defensemen in any trade with Edmonton. With solid players on the backend, the Leafs could steal away one of their top two right-shot defensemen who currently pair with studs Oscar Klefbom and Darnell Nurse.
Call it a long shot, but the one-for-one return for Taylor Hall would be a perfect fit alongside Morgan Rielly on the Leafs top pairing. He’s solid defensively, is a good passer, and would compliment the offensive-minded Rielly with his more stay-at-home style of play.
Statistically, he’s had a bit of an underwhelming eight NHL seasons. He started with the Devils in 2011-12 had his best season with New Jersey in 2014-15 when he put up 24 points. 15-16 saw him regress offensively but stacked up some nice +/- with a rating of +15.
In Edmonton, he’s been more of the same player that he was in New Jersey. Solid defensively, chips in offensively primarily with assists, and plays a quiet game. This is exactly what the Leafs need, too. I think Larsson has had too high of expectations on him due to his trade and a fresh start could be good in Toronto.
Forget Kris Russel (he had his chance to come to Toronto), and welcome in the ideal of Matt Benning being a solid return for Nikita Zaitsev. The 25-year-old right shot defenseman somehow has stayed above the +/- drowning line in Edmonton during his young career and could be a piece the new management is willing to move on from to get Zaitsev and Brown in the door.
Statistically, like Larsson, he isn’t going to fill the stat sheet for you and at 25 he is still growing into the position. Oh and as mentioned, he is a right shot D; if you believe in LS/RS pairings or not, the Leafs surely need more RS defenders to balance out their shooting threat from the point, so if brought in he’s likely got a shot at top minutes.
The fact that he’s young is exciting too. The Leafs core is in that low-20’s area and Benning fits in with that, too. With one year left at $1.9m he could get a pay raise after this season but not one that would break the bank or bust the Leafs cap, should he perform well in 2019/20.
The Maple Leafs certainly have targets on Edmonton. With a few solid RS defensemen and with Zaitsev being a RS too, there shouldn’t be an issue swapping the players. How much Toronto would have to kick in to make a deal happen would be the interesting part.
As mentioned, Connor Brown would likely be an addition to the deal which should sweeten the pot more than enough for Benning, but picks would likely need to be added for a Larsson deal.
As well, could the Leafs take a bigger swing and try to lure RFA Jessi Puljujarvi to Toronto? He hasn’t gotten on in Edmonton but Toronto’s forward depth could properly slot him in and get him firing as he should be.
Any deal with Edmonton and their new management team should be exploited as best that Dubas can. That team is looking to change the losing culture in their locker room and jailbreaking some undervalued players like Larsson, Benning, and even Puljujarvi could be massive for the Leafs development and depth.