This season is the first time in a long time that the Toronto Maple Leafs are clearly buyers at the NHL Trade Deadline. For years Toronto has sold their assets at the deadline for picks and young players. This year could be different.

Toronto is 34-19-5 with 73 points after their big win against Tampa Bay Lightning on  Monday night. That’s good for third in the Atlantic Division. Toronto should make the playoffs as they hold a solid lead on the fourth place team in the Atlantic.

The only thing that’s not clear ahead of the February 26th trade deadline is whether or not Toronto will make a move. There seems to be a lot of speculation that Toronto could stand pat, which wouldn’t be the end of the world. The Maple Leafs should go big at this year’s deadline and pay up, within reason, for one of the big guys on the market.

Toronto Maple Leafs NHL Trade Deadline: Go Big

The only trade Toronto made at the NHL trade deadline last season was Brian Boyle for a second-round pick. Improving the centre position for their playoff run was a big step in the right direction, but ultimately trading for a fourth line centre does not send a huge message to the team. This season, considering how much the Maple Leafs have improved from just a year ago, making a big move and sending a message to the room could do wonders down the stretch.

The Needs Are Clear

Toronto’s top-two defensive pairings are average. Their bottom pairing is another story, however. Since Travis Dermott was recalled he’s played well in the fifth spot and he has shown potential. Dermott deserves his spot but it remains clear that Toronto needs someone else if they want to take that next step. Roman Polak and Connor Carrick are not the answer. Acquiring someone to play with Dermott, or acquiring someone to force Babcock to move one of the top four down to play with Dermott would make the Leafs just that much better.

Down the middle, Tyler Bozak is not the same player he used to be and Dominic Moore is an average to below average 4th line centre. Making a trade similar to last years trade for Brian Boyle is probably needed if Toronto wants to improve their centre depth. The centre move probably would not need to be big in terms of the name, but there are some players out there that could fit

The Market Has Plenty of Options

When it comes to defenseman, Mike Babcock prefers to play his right and left shot defenders together. With that assumption, Toronto would need a right-shooting defenseman. There are three names rumoured to be available at the NHL trade deadline that could help Toronto, and would be considered making a splash.

The three defenders are Mike Green, Tyson Barrie, and Chris Tanev. At age 32 and an unrestricted free agent at the end of the season, Green is likely a rental. Barrie and Tanev have two years left on their deals after this season, with reasonable cap hits ($5.5 million and $4.45 million, respectively).

Down the middle, it is slim pickings. Tomas Plekanec, Matt Cullen, Jean Gabriel-Pageau and Mark Letestu are names out there ahead of the NHL trade deadline that could be an improvement for Toronto. All four are potential replacements for Moore.

The Cupboard is Full

The Toronto Marlies are the best team in the AHL, the Maple Leafs currently have Josh Leivo, Connor Carrick and Nikita Soshnikov just sitting around most nights and they have an extra second round pick. All those things mean the Leafs have plenty of trade pieces to dangle in front of other teams before the deadline.

It is hard to remember a time where the Leafs were good enough to be buyers at the NHL trade deadline, and still, have the prospect and pick cupboard full of movable pieces. Obviously, it should not be a firesale, but the team has options if they choose to use them.

They’re So, So Close

There are only a small number of true contenders in the NHL. These teams include the Nashville Predators and Tampa Bay Lighting, among others. While the Leafs are not quite at that level yet, games like Monday night show that they are close. Toronto is only a piece or two away from jumping into that top tier, and this deadline is the right time to make the big move that puts them over the hump.

 

Main Photo: BUFFALO, NY – JUNE 25: Toronto Maple Leafs GM Lou Lamoriello attends the 2016 NHL Draft on June 25, 2016 in Buffalo, New York. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

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