The Toronto Maple Leafs and first round playoff exits go together like peanut butter and jelly. One of the biggest hockey markets, who hasn’t seen the second round of the playoffs since 2004, suffered yet another loss in game seven, the fifth straight year the Leafs got booted in a win-or-go-home playoff game.
This was year six of the current Maple Leaf core of Matthews, Nylander, Marner and Reilly, and all six years had the same result- a first round playoff exit. It begs the question as to whether or not the Leafs will finally look to make changes to the current team?
Currently, their top four forwards in Matthews, Marner, Tavares and Nylander, as well as their top three defensemen Muzzin, Reilly and Brodie and goalie Petr Mrazek are being paid 72.6% of their total cap. All of which are signed for at least the next two years, and Morgan Reilly’s new contract, a $7.5 average annual value, is a jump from his current $5 million cap hit, meaning just shy of 75% of the team’s available funds will go to eight players.
It’ll be hard for the Leafs to make any real changes this offseason with their backs against the wall financially. That means it may be time to part with one of their younger, expensive players in order to try and salvage the ship elsewhere.
Mitch Marner, who turned 25 on May 5, has 138 goals and 455 points in 427 games, 97 of those points coming during the 2021-22 campaign. He carries a $10.9 million cap hit for three more seasons.
So how does one even go about acquiring one of the brightest young stars in the league today? Simple- you offer the Leafs fixes in their positions of weakness. The Leafs as a whole were much more well rounded this season than they have been in the past, but can still use some help throughout their ranks.
Any trade would have to start with one of the Flyers’ top two defenseman in Ivan Provorov or Travis Sanheim. The battle for the number one role in Philly swung heavily in Sanheim’s favor during the 2021-22 season, but both play different roles on the team. Provorov is still tasked with the harder defensive minutes while Sanheim has finally emerged as a real offensive defenseman option.
It could come down to contract length. Provorov has three years left at $6.7 million, while Sanheim has one year left at $4.6 million. There’s a good chance Sanheim will get paid next offseason, and even if it only amounts to close to Provorov’s cap, the security of a three years far outweighs the risk of one. They probably won’t want to trade Marner just to lose the crown jewel of the return after one year.
As for a forward to replace Marner, The Flyers have two options, Travis Konecny or Joel Farabee. Chances are, the Leafs would want Farabee, the younger player with a higher ceiling than Konecny. Farabee, still juts 22 years old, has seemingly been on the brink of a breakout for two seasons now, but between injuries and just a lack of talent have prevented him from reaching his stride yet.
Someone like Morgan Frost, a hometown Toronto kid, may be a good fit for the Leafs as well. Frost has failed to live up to his lofty expectations from his draft year, but on a team featuring Auston Matthews and John Tavares, they can probably utilize his offensive skills better than a spot in the Flyers’ bottom six would. His trade value isn’t much on his own, but as a throw-in as part of a bigger deal like this, it could be enough to swing the deal in the Flyers’ favor.
Both Provorov and Farabee come with respectable cap hits, at $6.7 and $5 million respectively. Frost, who is coming off his entry-level deal, won’t demand more and $1 million aav on his next contract.
Does Provorov, Farabee and Frost move the needle? Probably. Is it enough? Who knows. It’s where the Flyers’ abundance of young, cheap and up-and-coming players come in. Would a goalie prospect like Sam Ersson entice them? Maybe some of the various skaters like Egor Zamula, Wade Allison or Noah Cates could raise an eyebrow. Whatever the ask is, the Flyers should seriously consider making the deal.
Marner brings the kind of offensive creativity and explosive speed the Flyers desperately lack. It’s a trade that obviously isn’t going to be pretty for the Flyers, but at the end of the day, addresses a huge area of need, which simply comes down to a lack of star power. Even if Marner doesn’t directly replicate his 90-plus point pace without Matthews, he possesses more raw skill than any of the current players on the roster.
Does Toronto hit the panic button this summer? It may be too early to tell, but if they do, there’s no reason the Flyers shouldn’t be swarming for some of their talent. Mitch Marner is still young enough to lead the charge in Philly and is more than talented enough to carry the next generation of players. For a team desperate for an immediate turnaround like the Flyers, there are few better options than Marner, whatever the cost may be.
By: Dan Esche (@DanTheFlyeraFan)
photo credit: nhl.com