The National Hockey League's trade deadline has already come and gone and that usually means at least a short moratorium when it comes to the NHL rumor mill, but that isn't going to be the case for the Toronto Maple Leafs this season it appears.
Perhaps it's due to the fact that the Leafs were relatively quiet at the NHL trade deadline, with the notable exception of acquiring former Montreal Canadiens center Tomas Plekanec, or perhaps it's due to the market that the Maple Leafs play in, but the perhaps the two biggest rumors of this NHL season involving the Leafs are only now coming to the surface.
In a recent mailbag for the Toronto Star, Maple Leafs beat reporter Kevin McGran was asked about how the Maple Leafs could potentially shore up their defense come the offseason. Instead of focusing on the defensive part of the question however McGran went off on a tangent about two current Maple Leaf forwards and the two men he views as potential replacements for those players.
McGran believes that the Maple Leafs will lose two of their core players during the offseason, those players are forwards James van Riemsdyk and Tyler Bozak, although it sounds like the decision to split ways will be largely initiated by the Maple Leafs organization. McGran believes that the L:eafs made a decision to keep both players at the deadline as in-house type of rentals, players who can make them make a deeper run in the postseason but players who don't fit with the organizations long-term plans moving forward.
In the case of van Riemsdyk McGran simply believes that despite the fact that he has a god-given talent to find the back of the opposing net, his lack of elite skills in other aspects of the game prevent him from being the kind of player that head coach Mike Babcock prefers to have in his line up. In the case of Bozak McGran believes that with the desperate need for centers all around the NHL there will be at least one team willing to overpay for him, and considering how many big contracts the Leafs are expected to dish out for players like Auston Matthews, there likely won't be room for the to compete in free-agency on Bozak's salary.
So who could be potential replacements for either man? Well McGran shocked us by dropping two huge names, one of which, as far as we know, is now being connected to the Maple Leafs for the very first time.
The first, and least shocking, of the two names belongs to San Jose Sharks veteran center Joe Thornton, a player that the Leafs are believed to have made an attempt at acquiring during the offseason. While the Leafs would eventually go on to ink Patrick Marleau to a three-year contract, there was talk that the Leafs tried to bring the two former Sharks teammates in as a package type of deal.
According to McGran Mike Babcock is a huge fan of Thornton's play, and if they had interest in bringing him in before it would come as very little surprise to see them make another attempt a year later, especially if they can talk Thornton into taking a discount to play on a young and highly competitive squad.
The second name however was a stunner. McGran believes that the Leafs could seriously be a contender for Russian superstar Ilya Kovalchuk who is expected to make a return to the NHL come next season, once the rights to his contract, currently held by the New Jersey Devils organization, have expired. This is the first we've heard of Kovalchuk being linked to the Leafs, previously the only rumor we had heard in this regard was that the Los Angeles Kings were believed to be a serious contender for Kovalchuk come this summer.
One final interesting little detail here, after all the original question posed to McGran was about defense. McGran believes that the Leafs have been seriously linked to Kontinental Hockey League defenseman Igor Ozhiganov, although it's unclear if that is in any way connected to the rumor involving Kovalchuk.