With the 2023 NHL trade deadline looming, one team on the hot seat is Kyle Dubas’s Toronto Maple Leafs. Of course, the Leafs are sitting at fourth in the NHL with a 32-14-8 record, however none of that matters to Leafs nation if the team can’t get over the hump of the first round this year. With some holes in the lineup that need to be filled before the playoffs roll around, all eyes are on Dubas to make a big move and improve the teams’ chances at lifting the Stanley cup.
With so many players on the trade block leading into the deadline it’s easy to let the mind run wild with dreams of Patrick Kane and Dylan Larkin, however, let us take a step back and look at the five players that would best suit the team’s needs.
Best Maple Leafs Targets at the 2023 NHL Trade Deadline
Starting small with a player that would likely only cost the leafs a third-round pick is Luke Schenn.
Schenn is big, defensively responsible, and doesn’t socialize well with opposing players. At 33 years old, Schenn has put up a respectable five goals and 13 assists in addition to being a +5 this season through 53 games on a rebuilding Vancouver Canucks team while playing solid minutes.
However, if you’re acquiring Schenn for the playoffs it’s not for his scoring touch but for his experience and physicality. Schenn played a role in the Tampa Bay Lightnings back-to-back Stanley Cup championships in 2020 and 2021 and knows what it takes to go the distance in the playoffs. Schenn also leads the entire NHL in hits this year with 250 at the time of writing this article and is on pace to break the single-season record for hits. Despite not being the flashiest or the most exciting player on the market, Schenn brings some much-needed size and muscle to the Leafs blueline that it severely lacks and would be a great value pickup.
McCabe is a few years younger than Schenn and brings a bit more speed to the table while still maintaining the size and grit that teams want to have heading into the playoffs. McCabe has managed to put up two goals and 14 assists for 16 points while maintaining a +4 on a Chicago team that has been frankly awful this season.
McCabe would also come at a higher cost than Schenn due to being under contract through the 2024-25 season at a reasonable $4 million cap hit that would likely be even more reasonable due to Chicago retaining 50%. Even with the higher price tag, McCabe would fit nicely into the Leafs system and would help them compete for the next few years rather than being a rental.
If someone five years ago suggested that the Leafs could acquire Chicago Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews at the deadline let alone for the reported asking price of a second or third-round pick, they’d be considered insane.
However, nowadays it’s not only possible but would suit the Leafs needs very well. Toews has certainly slowed since his prime in the mid-late 2010s, but is still a good defensive forward who is incredible in the faceoff circles. His 28 points are nothing to scoff at either, especially with 14 of those points being goals. While Toews likely wouldn’t fill Toronto’s greatest need upfront for a true second-line left winger, at such a low asking price, he could be acquired in tandem with a bigger piece to bolster Toronto’s center depth.
Of the big names that are likely going to move this 2023 NHL trade deadline, one of the two the Leafs should be fighting tooth and nail to acquire is Jakob Chychrun.
Chychrun is an elite young defenceman who is signed to a bargain 4.6mil a year deal through the next two seasons and would be a key addition to any team looking to improve on defense. Despite injuries holding him out at the start of the season, Chychrun has come out of the gate swinging this season potting seven goals and 21 assists for 28 points in just 36 games played.
Chychrun also brings a similar size and defensive responsibility to the two defencemen mentioned earlier standing at 6’2″ and weighing in at 220 pounds. At only 24 years old, Chychrun is just entering the prime of his career and would likely make Toronto cup contenders not only this year but for the next two years of his contract as well.
The reported asking price for Chychrun is one of the highest on the market at two first-round picks and a top prospect but for a player of Chychruns caliber as well as being able to keep him on your roster for the next two years at an affordable cap hit, it should be no question that Chychrun is a top target for a team with cup aspirations like Toronto.
The holy grail of this NHL trade deadline should also be the Leafs top priority target this trade deadline. Timo Meier is an elite goal scorer who fits all of the Leafs needs on offense.
Meier is having an amazing season putting up 30 goals and 21 assists on a less-than-incredible San Jose Sharks team. Meier is fast, can play a physical game, has a high hockey IQ, and can put the puck in the back of the net. While Meier is listed as a right winger, the Leafs could easily slot him into the second line left wing position and finally solve one of the most notable holes in their lineup.
This allows the Leafs to have a solid top two forward lines while also allowing them fluidity with their bottom two lines to move players around and experiment with the best possible combinations since they would no longer be forced to keep Calle Jarnkrok as the second-line LW.
Bringing Meier in could be exactly what the Leafs need to finally get past the first round and reach the expectations they’ve had for years. No matter how many first-round picks or prospects it takes, Meier should be the top-priority trade deadline target for Kyle Dubas if he truly wants to see the Leafs go far in the playoffs.
While all of these targets would improve the Leafs in one way or another, only time will tell what moves the Leafs end up making before 3 pm EST on March 3rd and if those moves end up being enough to put an end to the longstanding cup drought in Toronto.
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