5 rental forwards Maple Leafs could target ahead of deadline

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Toronto Maple Leafs general manager Kyle Dubas outlined his trade deadline plans during a midseason press conference Tuesday, stating that his team is in the market for a forward - preferably a rental.

It's important to remember the Maple Leafs have limited cap flexibility - CapFriendly projects them to have just $130,527 of space at the deadline. More can always be created by moving a player off the active roster or through complicated cap gymnastics, but it's clear they're up against it.

Toronto will probably require the other team to retain salary in a trade - likely the maximum 50% - or the Leafs will have to move out money. Forward Alexander Kerfoot and his $3.5-million cap hit would be the most sensible odd man out in such a scenario.

Additionally, any player coming from an American team to Toronto must quarantine for 14 days before joining the club. The Leafs have just two games this week and two next week, so Dubas could be looking to strike as soon as possible even though the deadline isn't until April 12.

Below, we explore five rentals Toronto could consider.

Note: All stats are as of Tuesday

Nick Foligno, Blue Jackets

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Age: 33
Position: LW/RW/C
Cap hit: $5.5M

Foligno has a 10-team no-trade list

Foligno brings the exact type of postseason ruggedness that helped the Columbus Blue Jackets eliminate the Maple Leafs last season. The veteran isn't the most skilled player, but he's a ferocious competitor who'd add a ton of character and grit to the club's bottom nine.

Foligno ranked seventh in hits (212) among all forwards in 2019-20, and his 75 hits this season would lead the Maple Leafs by a significant margin. The Blue Jackets captain can also still chip in on the scoresheet as he's tallied five goals and 12 points through 30 games.

In addition, Foligno brings positional flexibility. Though he's primarily a winger, Foligno ranks third on the Blue Jackets in faceoff wins and is capable of logging minutes up the middle. He's also been a reliable penalty killer who'd give the Leafs' 22nd-ranked unit another option as they look to improve in that department.

Taylor Hall, Sabres

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Age: 29
Position: LW
Cap hit: $8M

Hall has a full no-movement clause

Hall's season has been a complete disaster. He's collected just two goals and 14 assists in 27 games for the last-place Sabres. Don't be fooled by his poor numbers, though - the speedy winger can still play.

The former Hart Trophy winner has been victimized by some poor puck luck, converting on just 2.8% of his shots after entering the season as a career 10.4% shooter. He still drives play at a high rate, posting a 55% Corsi For percentage and a 54.1% expected goals for percentage at five-on-five. His individual scoring chances are right in line with his career rates, too.

Landing Hall would require Buffalo to retain 50% of his salary and Kerfoot going the other way, but it could be worth it if Dubas is willing to go all-in. Hall is one of the few impact players available, and he can possibly be had below market value.

Mikael Granlund, Predators

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Age: 29
Position: RW/C
Cap hit: $3.75M

Granlund carries the highest upside on this list outside of Hall. The Finnish forward hasn't fit in Nashville and a change of scenery could be beneficial. Granlund is capable of playing both center and wing and would provide the Leafs with multiple different looks in their top six due to his ability as both a playmaker and scorer.

He's also proven to be reliable at both ends of the ice. Granlund ranked in the upper percentiles last season in valuable offensive and defensive metrics such as shot creation and zone exits, respectively.

The 29-year-old has averaged a career-high 2:19 of ice time on the penalty kill this season and his offensive bona fides would also make him a valuable addition on the power play.

Tanner Pearson, Canucks

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Age: 28
Position: LW
Cap hit: $3.75M

Pearson isn't the sexiest option on this list, but he could be the most sensible. We saw how the 14-day quarantine affected Pierre-Luc Dubois earlier this season, but any sort of post-isolation fatigue/rust wouldn't be a concern with Pearson since he plays in Canada.

He's registered just 11 points in 32 games but he's been a consistent offensive producer in his career, averaging 20 goals per season over the past four years. His underlying numbers aren't very strong - 48.5% expected goals for percentage - but he and primary linemate Bo Horvat generally draw tough assignments and start more shifts in the defensive zone.

Pearson would be versatile enough to play on any of Toronto's top three lines and likely wouldn't cost much if Vancouver sells. Plus, he has valuable playoff experience, winning a Stanley Cup with the Los Angeles Kings in 2014.

Kyle Palmieri, Devils

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Age: 30
Position: RW/LW
Cap hit: $4.65M

Palmieri has an eight-team no-trade list

It's been a difficult year for Palmieri and the Devils. The New York native was among several on the club who spent time in COVID-19 protocol this season, and he's struggled to find his rhythm amid a contract year. He has just four goals through 24 outings, but a career-worst 6.8% shooting percentage suggests he's had some tough luck.

Palmieri's larger body of work tells a different story from 2021. The 5-foot-11 winger averaged 26 goals per season over his previous five campaigns, and his elite shot would be a welcome addition to a loaded Leafs arsenal.

The veteran winger has never had the luxury of playing alongside talents as elite as Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner, or John Tavares, and his offensive ceiling while surrounded by those players is worth exploring.

(Analytics source: Natural Stat Trick, A3Z performance tool)

5 rental forwards Maple Leafs could target ahead of deadline
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