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Maple Leafs could target rental prior to Trade Deadline, GM says

Toronto willing to part with prospects 'to make it work'

by Dave McCarthy / Independent Correspondent

TORONTO -- The Toronto Maple Leafs are looking to be active prior to the NHL Trade Deadline and could target pending unrestricted free agents, general manager Kyle Dubas said Tuesday.

"It's a rare time where probably a rental is a better fit, but that said, if it's something we feel can improve our team long term, we'll find a way to make it work," Dubas said.

Last season, the Maple Leafs acquired goalie Jack Campbell, who had one season remaining on his contract at the time of the trade, and in 2019, defenseman Jake Muzzin was acquired when he had two seasons remaining. But with the NHL salary cap expected to remain at $81.5 million next season, Dubas said adding salary beyond this season could impact Toronto's plans, with forward Zach Hyman and goalie Frederik Andersen each able to become an unrestricted free agent on July 28.

"Knowing that the cap is going to stay the same, usually you'd put a premium on getting a player that has future years, but it's a little bit more complex this year knowing the cap is very likely going to be at $81.5 million," Dubas said. "Anything that is taken from next year's allotment, it impacts a number of things."

The trade deadline is April 12 with the regular season scheduled to end less than a month later on May 10.

With a mandatory 14-day quarantine period in effect for players crossing the United States-Canada border, Dubas said the Maple Leafs would like to make a trade sooner than later. Unless they make a trade within the Scotia North Division, the player acquired would be subject to quarantine.

"The player is going to come in and sit for 14 days in their hotel, we're going to be in a tougher spot to get the most out of it that we can," Dubas said. "To only be with the team for about six games and 10 days (prior to the Stanley Cup Playoffs after quarantining), it certainly provides incentives to make the moves earlier but it takes two to make that happen though."

Dubas said the Maple Leafs would be willing to trade a top-tier prospect to improve this season. That could include forward Rodion Amirov (No. 15, 2020 NHL Draft); forward Nicholas Robertson (No. 53, 2019 NHL Draft); defenseman Rasmus Sandin: (No. 29, 2018 NHL Draft); and defenseman Timothy Liljegren (No. 17, 2017 NHL Draft).

After trading forwards Andreas Johnsson (New Jersey Devils) and Kasperi Kapanen (Pittsburgh Penguins) during the offseason for salary cap space, Dubas said the majority of discussions recently have been about upgrading at forward. 

Toronto's top priority could be a left wing for the top-six group, likely on a line with John Tavares and William Nylander.

"I don't go in transfixed on any one area in particular," Dubas said. "Defense and goaltending on our team are a little bit more stable, but in the summer, we had to move out some forwards who were good for us in order to add on the back end and thus we feel like that's an area where we may want to look at a little bit more. I'm precluding anything at this point, but I'd say most of the conversations are focused on forwards right now."

The Maple Leafs (19-9-2), who are in first place in the North Division, host the Calgary Flames on Friday (7 p.m. ET; SNO, SNW, ESPN+, NHL.TV). They have advanced to the postseason in each of the past four seasons but haven't won a playoff round.

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