The Toronto Maple Leafs' stunning five-game series loss to the Florida Panthers may have serious consequences for various members of the organization both in the front office and on the ice. After seven straight seasons of postseason appearances and six first-round exits and one second-round exit, something's got to give.
GM Kyle Dubas said he wouldn't take any move off the table to help put the Maple Leafs into a position to better win a Stanley Cup should he return in that role. That opens the door for us to get really creative with ways to tinker with the roster this offseason. The Leafs are tight to the cap and it's hard to make changes without flexibility on the ledger. To make things easier, trading a high-priced player who can net a huge return would go a long way.
Enter Mitch Marner.
At 26 years old, Marner is in his absolute prime. He's put up 196 points in the past two seasons, including 65 goals. He's averaged more than a point per game for the past five seasons and he's a finalist for the Selke Trophy as the league's best defensive forward this season. He's a great player and, ideally, one that should help the Leafs get to where they want to go. But Toronto does not have an ideal situation and they've got astronomical expectations. Marner's $10.903 million cap hit really puts a pinch on what they can do to make their roster deeper.
We're picking out five teams that would make a great fit for Marner. Salary flexibility is, of course, necessary but so is the proliferation of prospects and outstanding young NHL-level talent. Any trade involving a player of Marner's ability is going to be painful, but the key to making a trade like this even is that it's painful on both sides to give and get what they desire.
New Jersey Devils
The Maple Leafs and New Jersey Devils shared playoff disappointment this season, but with the catch that the Devils were just getting back into the postseason mix this year compared to the Leafs' abundance of experience there. The Devils have a good thing bubbling, but they too have an interesting offseason ahead.
New Jersey has a pair of restricted free agents due for substantial raises in Jesper Bratt and Timo Meier. The Devils traded for Meier during the season and Bratt has become an outstanding two-way scoring forward the past two seasons having put up 73 points in two straight campaigns. Meier scored 40 goals between New Jersey and San Jose, and he's scored 30 or more three times in his career. His $3 million cap hit will certainly go way up and Bratt's $5.45 million cap hit should get a boost as well.
Marner having a fixed price and being locked up for two more years offers certainty in the face of uncertainty for what it will cost to keep Meier and Bratt among other RFAs they'll have to consider bringing back. Bratt doesn't see himself leaving New Jersey and Meier's been a Devil for a couple of months. Let's connect those dots to make a deal.
Meier scores goals like mad and plays a physical game, something the Leafs' goal scorers don't exactly do. Marner's talents alongside Jack Hughes and Nico Hischier would give them an even more devastating offensive attack. We're just throwing darts at the wall here and being silly about it, but this would be a fun way to shuffle things around.