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A year ago many people were predicting the Toronto Maple Leafs would finish at the bottom of the NHL East table. Instead, they were a playoff team, and during those playoffs they looked like a team that is very close to being great. The Leafs have super-kids – Auston Matthews, William Nylander and Mitch Marner – And thanks mostly to them few teams can compete with them offensively.

The Summer of 2017 begins, and something unexpected happens: The Leafs sign point-producer free agent Patrick Marleau. Why would Leafs management give a 37 year-old scoring forward $6.25 million per season to play on a “developing” team? Maybe it’s because Leafs management realize there is a chance to win sooner than later.

The team to beat in the NHL East heading into the 2017/2018 season might be the Tampa Bay Lightning. Certainly, the Leafs will need to get through them at some point if both teams make the playoffs in 2018. How does the current Leafs roster measure up? Let’s look at the Core 12 players.

Maple Leafs – Forwards(7)
Matthews (C), Nazem Kadri (C), Tyler Bozak (C), Nylander (RW), Marner (RW), Marleau (LW) and James Van Riemsdyk (LW)
Defense (4)
Morgan Rielly (LD), Nikita Zaitsev (RD), Jake Gardiner (LD) and Ron Hainsey (LD)
Goal (1)
Frederik Andersen

Lightning – Forwards (7)
Steven Stamkos (C), Tyler Johnson (C), Alex Killorn (C), Ryan Callahan (RW), Nikita Kucherov (RW), Ondrej Palat (LW) and Chris Kunitz (LW)
Defense (4)
Victor Hedman (LD), Anton Stralman (RD), Dan Girardi (RD) and Jake Dotchin (RD)
Goal (1)
Andrei Vasilevskiy

The comparison of forwards is a wash in my opinion. While Stamkos, Johnson, Callahan, Kucherov and Palat might be a more proven and veteran group, it’s hard to argue with just how good Matthews, Nylander and Marner will become. Give a slight edge for this season to the Lightning, but time will show the Leafs have the better group, if they can keep everyone.

The difference on defense? The Leafs have no one who compares to Hedman. But that being said, the remainder of the Lightning group is more solid than spectacular. Comparing these two groups makes you realize the Leafs are a right-shooting defenseman away from being quality.

In goal? Hard to compare here. Andersen is the better goalie now, probably. Vasilevskiy is 22, and in NHL-terms for goalies, that’s like being a toddler. A very ficken’ good toddler.

Once you get past the Core 12 players on both teams, you start to realize the Leafs have a need to acquire a right-shooting, puck-moving defenseman, and have the ability to move a forward. What complicates matters is the two most-likely players to trade, Van Riemsdyk and Bozak, both have modified No-Trade Clauses. Both players have the ability to limit Leafs management’s options.

If you believe the Leafs are quite close to being a cup contender, then you also believe the team will do well this season, and you know there’s less urgent need to add more youth via the NHL Draft. The Leafs first round draft pick in 2017 or 2018 could be put into play in order to help acquire the right defenseman.

The name I am going to throw out there as a target is Tyson Barrie from the Colorado Avalanche, even though the Avs are starving for defensemen right now. Sooner or later this summer Matt Duchene will be moved. There’s a high likelihood Duchene will be moved for a defenseman. Because the Avs are more-or-less at the beginning of a rebuild (again), they would most value any high draft picks the Leafs are willing to send their way. The Avs will be just playing out the 2017/2018 season anyway, so they have time to figure out how to solve their defense.

Let’s construct a trade. Barrie is coming to Toronto. The Leafs have decent young wingers that have yet to be named in this blog – Kasperi Kapanen and Kerby Rychel stick out. If the Avs are rebuilding, would they value one of them?

The Leafs have a cap problem, and the problem looks even uglier when you consider the trade proposal we are building towards here. Most people know the Leafs need a defenseman and think either Bozak or Van Riemsdyk is the asset that will be moved. Both are pretty good in Toronto. I wouldn’t rush to trade either. Is there a way the Avs and Leafs can help each other with their agendas?

Joffrey Lupul.

Lupul, a player on the injury reserve list, and a player that played like he was injured even when he healthy. He is the contract the Leafs need to dump here. And how they do it is by overpaying the Avs in a trade.

Make the offer Joffrey Lupul, plus Kasperi Kapanen, plus a first round pick for Tyson Barrie. Maybe the Leafs even throw in mostly-useless defenseman Martin Marincin to “help” the Avs fill their roster.

You probably think I’m crazy, but this trade makes sense to me. Barrie is a scoring defenseman that could bring to Toronto what Justin Schultz brought to the Penguins, and look how that turned out. The Avs win because they gain very little cap hit from this and get two great prospects in Kapanen and the 2018 first round pick.
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