The rumor of the hour has your Toronto Maple Leafs talking to the St. Louis Blues about defenseman Colton Parayko. The story goes that the Leafs would like to add the defender, while the Blues would like to add a little more scoring punch to their roster. While most fingers immediately point to restricted free agent William Nylander, it’s the talk from Leafs GM Kyle Dubas that has me second guessing that line of thinking. He has continuously denied that he has any intentions of trading the talented winger/possible center, and when asked directly if he could keep all of his big-ticket forwards and still stay under the cap he responded: “we can, and we will.” On top of that, in an interview in which he was asked outright about trading a player like Nylander for defensive help, his response was simple, he doesn’t believe it would be fair to John Tavares to trade away what makes the Leafs special so soon after signing him to his mega-deal. You better believe it’s offense, not defense, that makes this team special, and having John and Mitch Marner together, followed by Auston Matthews and William Nylander, is going to be hell for even the deepest defensive units in the league to handle.
So what can the Leafs offer the Blues if Dubas is true to his word when he says he isn’t willing to trade the big ticket forwards he has? To start, let’s run through needs:
Leafs: Colton Parayko. He’s a need in and of himself. At 25 years old he still has some room to grow as a defender, and if he were on the Leafs he would face top competition and have that chance immediately. He’s a massive player at 6’6” 230lbs, shoots right, plays a two-way game while logging time on both special teams units, and is signed to a manageable 5.5M per year deal that lasts through the 2021-22 season.
Blues: Their left wingers are terrific, to be honest. With a group that includes Jaden Schwartz, Alex Steen, and Patrick Maroon, their top 9 is set.
Their center position is also enviable (to MTL) with the likes of Brayden Schenn, Ryan O’Reilly, and former Toronto Maple Leafs #1 center, Tyler Bozak. There are only a handful of teams in the league that can boast that kind of depth, and the Leafs are one of them. I mean, the Leafs centers are better, but the Blues are still good. What I’m really trying to say here is remember that time John Tavares signed in Toronto? Good times, good times.
Anyway, their right side has perennial all-star Vladimir Tarasenko, newly inked David Perron, and a flurry of depth options such as Nikita Soshnikov, Dmitri Jaskin, and Chris Thorburn.
The question here is where does a player like Robbi Fabbri fit? He missed the entire 2017-18 season, and how that will affect his development and ability to grind through an 82 game season is anybody’s guess. For the time being, we could argue they’ll need a 2nd/3rd line RW, even if they do have players such as Klim Kostin and Jordan Kyrou on the way, they are unproven at this point and it never hurts to have options. Meanwhile, Fabbri may get eased back into the lineup, possibly even starting with 4th line minutes and moving up in case of injuries.
Moving on, the defense could use some help on the left side. Jay Bouwmeester has adopted the title of scapegoat, while Carl Gunnarsson had surgery in April that will see him out at least 6 months. That should bring the former Leaf to the end of September, so what kind of season he has after that without a summer of training is a big question mark. Vince Dunn acquitted himself well through a 75 game rookie season and he could see his minutes jump from the 17 and change per game he got last year. Lastly, Joel Edmundson is a good defensive option, has the size you’d want at 6’4” and is still just 25 years old, he isn’t about to contribute much offensively but he isn’t expected to.
As for the right side, Alex Pietrangelo is a legit top pair defender, while Parayko is a legit top 4 defender. Robert Bortuzzo is good for 15 minutes a night in a 3rd pair capacity and can help kill penalties. They also have former 1st rounder Jordan Schmaltz, who has never been able to cement a spot in the NHL but has terrific AHL numbers. From the outside looking in, if they did move Parayko, it would leave a sizeable hole on the right side for them with nobody there to fill it. However, it is possible to shift one of their left shots to the right to fill the gap that way, or simply sink or swim with Schmaltz to start the year and make moves if necessary.
So, in theory, their needs are right wingers and left shot defenders. Match made in heaven right? The Leafs are deep at RW on the main club and have good LD depth as well. If the Leafs are in fact unwilling to move either of William Nylander or Mitch Marner it restricts them but doesn’t take them out of the running completely. Connor Brown is a solid 3rd line option, and I’m sure any team would be happy to have him. Yet we’re talking about a top 4 RD with age and size on his side, and Brown (as big of a fan as I am) doesn’t exactly add as much scoring punch as you’d imagine they’d want. On top of this he’s a terrific penalty killer and seems to be a favorite of Mike Babcock, my guess is they’d actually be hesitant to move him. They also have Kasperi Kapanen, who is younger, faster, comes with more pedigree, and could easily demand more minutes than he has been getting on the Leafs. His way is blocked at the moment unless he plays the left side. While his numbers are low through 55 regular season and 13 playoff games in his career, it is generally accepted that he could do more with more minutes, and simply having the players ahead of him that he does isn’t helping him at the moment. He wouldn’t be enough to land Parayko on his own but he arguably has as much or more trade value than Brown based on his potential.
As for LD options, it’s a tough sell for Dubas if he thinks as I do. Morgan Rielly shouldn’t go anywhere. He’d be a solid partner for Parayko and still has more to give. As for Travis Dermott, the potential upside would keep me from moving him for all but a few defenders in the league. He looks like one of the smartest defenders on the team already, I’ll avoid a long spiel on him except to say the sky’s the limit for a guy like him in the “new” NHL. After that the Leafs have a couple of LD options that could take 3rd pair minutes immediately while bringing some future upside as well in Calle Rosen and Andreas Borgman, but would the Blues really be interested in players that could or couldn’t be top 4? Also, if this deal starts with Kapanen, the Blues may scoff at the idea of getting nothing but futures back. The only player this leaves is Jake Gardiner. A legit top 4 defender to add to their left side, and a possible partner for Alex Pietrangelo. He would definitely add some scoring punch, as that’s what he’s known for, and would greatly improve a PP that finished 2nd last in the NHL with a 15.4% success rate. The problem here is Jake is only signed for 1 more season, it’s risky to take on a player so close to unrestricted free agency, especially if you’re giving up a solid piece such as Parayko. But, again, if Kyle Dubas thinks the same as I do, Jake is the only piece they want to offer.
Time for a prediction. I predict nothing will happen, it’s the safest bet, I know, but I would think the Blues want to talk about players such as Nylander or Rielly, while Dubas would prefer up-and-coming players as well as picks. If I were Dubas I wouldn’t let that stop me from making a conditional offer though. Something along the lines of Jake Gardiner, Kasperi Kapanen, and a mid-round pick, while taking back Colton Parayko, a depth player such as Dmitri Jaskin, and salary dump Jay Bouwmeester (who could play 2nd/3rd pair, help on the PK, and bring the price down a little). The offer would come with conditions on the pick if Jake re-signs there or not. If he walks the Leafs owe more, possibly as high as a 2nd round pick, with other possible conditions if they trade Gardiner at the deadline. For those that would suggest this would be too much to give for Parayko, considering Jake is a legit top 4 defender as well, I would argue that the combination of age, contract and ability to play the PK as well as PP would make up for the additional cost to acquire. On top of this, if Jake has another 50pt season, then a big raise could be heading his way. At a time when you can foresee the coming cap crunch, it would be nice to have a guy locked into a reasonable contract for the next 4 years.
The trade would give the Blues more scoring depth up front, and more scoring punch from the blueline. Meanwhile, the Leafs would get a more balanced blueline, while the Blues would have a more balanced top pairing.
Would I do it from the Leafs perspective? You bet I would!! But from the Blues point of view? I’d have to say no, if Jake had more term on his contract then maybe things are different. I truly believe they would turn down an offer as is, but this practice didn’t really have anything to do with coming up with a reasonable offer for both teams. It had more to do with outlining what I believe the Leafs could offer. Of course, they could also consider moving on from some prospects to up the ante. Players such as Andreas Johnsson, Andreas Borgman, Dmytro Timashov, or Jeremy Bracco could all be of some interest, but the meat of the deal, I assume, would be players that could impact the roster immediately and have fewer question marks surrounding them. The catch is that the Leafs have little reason to move on from players without question marks, and appear to want to hang onto their star forwards until they absolutely can’t hang on any longer. Maybe 2 or 3 years from now you’ll see Nylander wearing different colors, but my suggestion is to settle in and get used to him in blue and white. Also, I’d suggest getting comfortable with the idea of Parayko staying in St. Louis, or at least not moving to Toronto any time soon.
Besides, I’m starting to hear rumblings about a 19-year-old defender that’s playing hockey in Toronto these days, and he sounds pretty good. Maybe he could help fix the problems on the blueline?
What are your thoughts Leaf Nation? What would you pay for a monster defender like Parayko? Feel free to tear this apart, it’s all par for the course and in good fun when you write about trade rumors isn’t it?