If the Maple Leafs are able to land Rick Nash, he would create a bit of history the first time he pulls on a Toronto sweater.
No player has worn No. 61 for the Leafs. No player has worn No. 91 either, but that doesn’t mean Steven Stamkos soon will be playing in front of reserved crowds at the Air Canada Centre.
The talk is that a deal to bring Nash to Toronto would start with rookie defenceman Jake Gardiner and a first-round pick. Ouch. One of hot prospects Nazem Kadri or Joe Colborne also might be included, while general manager Brian Burke might have to part with a veteran such as Clarke MacArthur or Nikolai Kulemin as well.
Nash, a Brampton native, would look pretty sweet in a Leafs uniform. He’s not the centre that Burke covets, but a winger of his talent would be more than welcome.
The questions that should be asked: Would Nash be enough to put the Leafs over the top? Are the Leafs really only one star away from being a legitimate Stanley Cup contender?
The short answer for both queries is no. The goaltending of James Reimer and Jonas Gustavsson has bounced between great one night and spotty the next. Neither has taken the bull by the horns and said: “Give the ball to me. I can get this done and help carry the team on a long playoff run.”
Strong, consistent netminding is paramount for the Leafs, or any team for that matter, to go deep into the post-season. Nash does not provide that.
The young Leafs could use a forward, one whose most productive days might be behind him, but still can be a valuable contributor, but one who has been around the playoff block a few times. Nash, since breaking into the NHL with the Columbus Blue Jackets in 2002-03, has played in exactly four playoff games.
And though the Leafs’ defence corps is regarded as one that has depth, again, there isn’t an overly large quantity of playoff knowledge. John-Michael Liles leads Toronto defencemen with 36 career playoff games, while Mike Komisarek is next with 29. Captain Dion Phaneuf played in 25 playoff games with the Calgary Flames, but didn’t advance past the first round.
If a trade for Nash doesn’t pan out for the Leafs, several other options for Burke undoubtedly will present themselves. The Leafs had big-time interest in Carolina Hurricanes centre Tuomo Ruutu, but when he was forced out of action with an upper-body injury, one that will keep him out until after the Feb. 27 trade deadline, his name fell to the wayside.
Speculation abounds that Burke will do something, Nash or not. Here are some players who could be available, and whether they might interest the Leafs.
1. James van Riemsdyk, Flyers
Many observers think the Leafs will turn their attention back to the Philadelphia winger if a Nash deal is not consummated. The New Jersey native (he fits in already) won’t turn 23 until May, but he has played in 32 post-season games for Philly, scoring 10 goals. At 6-foot-3, 200 pounds, his size is something the Leafs could use. The whispers all point to defenceman Luke Schenn heading to Philadelphia to join little brother Brayden if the Leafs complete a deal for van Riemsdyk, but that could change with the Flyers acquiring defenceman Nicklas Grossman from the Dallas Stars on Thursday. The salaries would be close to a wash. Schenn is $3.6 million (U.S.) against the cap in each of the next four seasons; van Riemsdyk takes up $4.25 million of cap space in each of the next six seasons.
2. Jeff Carter, Blue Jackets
He’s the kind of big centre that the Leafs would dearly love, but that contract length is a bit ridiculous, isn’t it? The annual cap hit is not that bad — $5.275 million a season. Unfortunately, it does not expire for another 10 years, and Burke is loathe to tie himself to that kind of commitment. Carter has been mostly unhappy in Columbus (who wouldn’t be?) and the word is he never really was a ray of sunshine in Philadelphia. Injuries have taken their toll on Carter in Columbus, but when healthy, he is a goal machine.
3. Evgeni Nabokov, Islanders/Nikolai Khabibulin, Oilers
Both veteran goalies are on teams — the New York Islanders and the Edmonton Oilers, respectively — that will need a minor miracle to advance past the regular season. And both would provide the kind of depth and savvy that the Leafs need. Neither the Islanders nor the Oilers are interested in trading either of these two, but we’re still 10 days from the deadline. Plenty of time for minds to be changed. Ron Wilson and Nabokov go back to their days together in San Jose.
4. Ales Hemsky, Oilers
There has been speculation about Hemsky in a Leafs uniform, but it’s unclear why. He might be attractive only because he’s a pure rental player who is headed for free agency on July 1. Hemsky never has scored more than 23 goals in a season (hitting 20 goals just twice since entering the NHL in 2002) and has a mere four in 43 games this season. Really, not much to see here.
5. Ryan Getzlaf and Bobby Ryan, Ducks
If you were Anaheim general manager Bob Murray, would you really part with one of these two forwards? They’re franchise cornerstone material, and the Ducks would be crazy to move either of them. They were in serious rumours earlier this season, and both were linked to the Leafs, but the Ducks have been playing better recently. Trading one or the other now would be a mistake.
6. Ryan Malone, Lightning
The Leafs haven’t been tied to Malone in trade gossip forever, but it just seems like it. Tampa GM Steve Yzerman is ready to move some bodies, with defenceman Pavel Kubina at the top of that list, and Malone might not be far behind. He’s not the centre that the Leafs could use, but at 6-foot-4 and 219 pounds, he would be a good addition to a group of forwards that is not physical. The negative is the $4.5-million cap hit each of the next three years. Considering that, the Leafs perhaps would not have to give up much.
7. Dustin Penner, Kings
At 6-foot-4, 242 pounds, the winger has a history with Burke when both were employed by Anaheim. It hasn’t worked for Penner in Los Angeles, where he had just seven goals in 63 games in a Kings uniform and has been a recent healthy scratch. Perhaps, though, the team that gets him could squeeze a goal or two out of him before he hits the open market on July 1. In a short spurt, he could be of some use in Toronto.
8. Brenden Morrow, Stars
The rugged Dallas captain would help any playoff team, and there is the thought he will be on the market if the Stars fall completely out of the race by the deadline. The Leafs don’t have anyone like him, and though his production has fallen off in 2011-12, he would be a valuable commodity. The problem lies in his $4.1-million cap hit next season, a sum that could scare some teams away.
9. Mike Knuble, Capitals
Born in Toronto and raised in Michigan, the big winger has gone for a large drop in Washington under coach Dale Hunter, but GM George McPhee has said he won’t trade Knuble. Still, Knuble has been unhappy about being a healthy scratch and voiced his displeasure this week. The 39-year-old scored at least 24 goals in every season since the 2004-05 lockout, but has just three in 53 games in 2011-12. Knuble, bound to be a free agent on July 1, would be looked upon as a grandfather in the Leafs’ room, but that veteran presence would be a benefit.
10. Alex Ovechkin, Capitals
Is there a bigger name in the NHL in desperate need of a change of scenery? We know there’s zero chance of it happening. But could you imagine Ovechkin in a market such as Toronto? We’re sure Mike Komisarek would accept a nice watch so Ovechkin could wear No. 8.