Toronto Maple Leafs should be sellers at the trade deadline

Jake Muzzin #8 of the Toronto Maple Leafs (Photo by Jana Chytilova/Freestyle Photography/Getty Images)
Jake Muzzin #8 of the Toronto Maple Leafs (Photo by Jana Chytilova/Freestyle Photography/Getty Images) /

Due to their recent struggles, the Toronto Maple Leafs should consider being sellers instead of buyers at the trade deadline.

It’s incredible how a week can change everything. After having a 1-3-0 record over their past seven days, it’s time the Toronto Maple Leafs recognize they need to be sellers at the NHL trade deadline.

Much of the talk in Toronto will be about how it’s unacceptable for the Maple Leafs to miss the playoffs but in reality, the franchise would need a miracle run to even make it to the Eastern Conference finals.

For example, say the Toronto Maple Leafs squeak into the postseason. Their first-round opponent would be divisional rivals in either the Boston Bruins or Tampa Bay Lightning. Toronto would clearly be a massive underdog and it would take a tremendous upset to make it out of the first round.

More from Puck Prose

Should such an upset occur, the Toronto Maple Leafs second-round opponent would likely be the team they didn’t face in the opening round between the Bruins and Lightning. That would mean Toronto would have to pull off two massive upsets against the top two teams in the East simply to get to the conference finals.

Then once Toronto would reach the conference finals the Pittsburgh Penguins or Washington Capitals would likely be waiting. Another tall task, given both clubs still have core rosters that have recently raised the Stanley Cup.

Having to go through three of the top four teams in the conference simply to make it to the Stanley Cup finals is more a pipe dream than a realistic run given how the Maple Leafs have played this season. Crazy upsets have occurred in the playoffs as eighth-seeds in either conference have made it to the finals but those runs are few and far between.

As a result, the Maple Leafs need to stop fooling themselves and must look towards the future. Toronto has a pair of defensemen that could fetch a big price given the market being set by recent deals for defensemen.

Tyson Barrie and Jake Muzzin are unrestricted-free agents at the end of the season and both players could return draft picks and maybe even a quality prospect in a trade.

Barrie hasn’t worked in Toronto since arriving last summer. His defensive lapses have been under the microscope in the hockey hotbed of the market as he’s shown he’s more a complementary piece than a reliable workhorse in crunch time. Hanging on to Barrie only to lose in the first round and watch the defenseman walk in the summer is a gross misuse of an asset that could return at least a second-round draft pick and quality prospect.

Muzzin has a Stanley Cup ring and would be one of the best players moved prior to the trade deadline. His steady defensive play, big body, and strong hard-hitting style are exactly what a contender needs in the playoffs. There have been rumors a contract extension to stay in Toronto is all but confirmed, however, if it is the club should move him now and then sign him in the summer.

Trading a player away at the deadline only for that player to return in the summer is hardly uncommon in the NHL. The Maple Leafs have even done this recently when they traded Roman Polak at the deadline in 2016 only to sign him back that summer. Plus, the return for Muzzin given the desperate market for quality defensemen could be as big if not bigger than what Toronto originally paid to acquire Muzzin, meaning a first-round pick and prospects.

As far as other expiring contracts on the roster, Jason Spezza and the recently acquired Kyle Clifford could bring back mid-round draft picks. Neither would break the bank in a return but both could help add depth to contenders, and provide the Maple Leafs with additional draft pick currency should they want to package the picks in June to move up in the draft or in other deals.

It might seem strange for Toronto to flip a player like Clifford weeks after acquiring him but the reality of the bigger picture must set in. Making the playoffs can’t be the goal for this club, it has to be winning the Stanley Cup. Given the significant injuries to Morgan Rielly, Andreas Johnsson, Cody Ceci, Ilya Mikheyev, and the banged-up Frederik Andersen, the signs are clear that this is not Toronto’s year.

dark. Next. 5 Bold Predictions For The Trade Deadline

Subtracting from the current roster given how poorly they’ve played wouldn’t even be devastating to their playoff chances given how inconsistent the Florida Panthers are also playing. However, losing players for nothing in free agency while losing in the first round once again is unacceptable given the assets that could be acquired via trade for players with expiring contracts.