The Toronto Maple Leafs opened their offseason dealings early, completing a six-player trade with the Pittsburgh Penguins on Tuesday, and general manager Kyle Dubas said they plan to keep making moves to bolster the lineup for next season.
That includes a willingness to trade the first-round pick it acquired when sending forward Kasperi Kapanen to the Penguins.
“We’re open to keeping the pick (No. 15 in the 2020 NHL Draft), but the spot we are at with our team right now, we’re also open probably to moving it if the right deal came along for someone who could help us now,” Dubas said.
Toronto also acquired forwards Evan Rodrigues and Filip Hallander, and defenseman David Warsofsky for Kapanen, forward Pontus Aberg and defenseman Jesper Lindgren.
Kapanen has two seasons remaining on a three-year, $9.6 million contract ($3.2 million average annual value) he signed with the Maple Leafs on June 28, 2019. Toronto has Mitchell Marner and William Nylander as its top two right wings.
“I don’t think this is going to be it for us as we go along,” Dubas said. “We needed to gain greater (NHL salary cap) flexibility than what we had, and we’ve got our own business to take care of with (defenseman) Travis Dermott and (forward) Ilya Mikheyev as restricted free agents, and this will give us some space beyond them to address the other needs we feel that we have.”
The Maple Leafs were eliminated by the Columbus Blue Jackets in Game 5 of their Stanley Cup Qualifier series, falling short of the Stanley Cup Playoffs after losing in the first round the prior three seasons.
“Anywhere we can improve our roster over where it was is how we want to use the cap space,” Dubas said. “I’d love to be able to give a definitive answer on exactly how we are going to use it, but we wanted this flexibility so we could be flexible inside the marketplace for either free agents or trades.”
Morgan Rielly, Jake Muzzin and Justin Holl are the Maple Leafs defensemen who played regularly this season who are under contract next season. Dubas said Toronto also would consider acquiring forwards.
“If there is another Jake Muzzin, we would certainly be interested, to put it mildly,” Dubas said. “We’re still going through our process of evaluating. Once you get through the emotional disappointment, you can look back at the series against Columbus and the season at large as objectively as possible. Myself, [president Brendan] Shanahan and [coach Sheldon] Keefe will go through it and will continue to identify what we need up front and on the back end and look at the players available in trade or free agency and address it as best as possible.”
Dubas did not rule out more trades to clear salary cap space if there was an opportunity to acquire a player with a higher charge.
“If we wanted to become even more flexible or do some bigger things with different types of players depending on their salary level, we could continue to look to make moves like this,” Dubas said.
Dermott and Mikheyev will be the Maple Leafs’ highest priority restricted free agents (also forwards Frederik Gauthier and Denis Malgin), and Dubas said he does not anticipate either being difficult to sign in time for next season.
“I don’t [think] either situation is overly complex in terms of their contracts,” Dubas said. “Mikheyev has great character, a great work ethic and is very versatile for us as he can move up and down the lineup and plays well on the penalty kill. We’re excited about him and where he will be going with us. For Travis, he’s a young defenseman, and his development is not linear, he’s had some great moments for us. Both are very good players and are a big part of things here.”