While the National Hockey League is the main focus of the upcoming trade deadline, and the Toronto Maple Leafs will no doubt have their organizational sights set on Stanley Cup contention, the Toronto Marlies are in the midst of their second historically great season in three years. Even with a crushing to defeat to Rochester yesterday, the team sits atop the American Hockey League with 79 points in 55 games, which is good for a 0.718 points percentage. That isn’t quite at the 0.750 level that the team managed to hit in 2015/16, and it’s unlikely that they’ll hit the 18-3 record they’ll need to surpass it, but while their older brothers chase the big prize, they are just as capable of going on a Calder Cup run of their own.

A little help would be nice, though, and they haven’t really got it in the past few weeks. Kasperi Kapanen and Travis Dermott, arguably their best forward and defenceman despite their relative youth, appear to have graduated full time to the Maple Leafs, only likely to return to the Marlies if the Leafs get bounced out of the playoffs early. Today, the Leafs sent Rinat Valiev, who was half the Marlies’ top defensive pair, and Kerby Rychel, who led the team in Games Played over the last two years and hovered the top in points, to the Montreal Canadiens in a (very good) trade for Tomas Plekanec. These four have been replaced with Andreas Borgman, who does a decent enough job fill Dermott’s void, and Kyle Baun, who might be a passable replacement for Rychel.

That doesn’t make up for the loss of Valiev and Kapanen, though, and Toronto is also waiting to see when top-line centre Miro Aaltonen (injured on Saturday), and top-right handed defenceman Justin Holl (injured on February 11th) will return to the lineup. The team is far from decimated; the lineup has excellent depth compared to most AHL teams, even still, but it would be nice to get back to unfair degrees of being stacked, especially with the playoffs approaching.

When the Marlies recovered from an early-season dip to once again take control of the North Division last year, they made two deadline-week moves to solidify their roster.

The first is arguably one of the most brilliant ones the organization has made in recent years, despite having little upside: they made an AHL trade that involved bubble prospect Colin Smith heading to the San Antonio Rampage in exchange for veteran Mike Sislo. The organization knew that they would have to replace Byron Froese’s AHL scoring touch after sending him to Tampa Bay / Syracuse in the NHL deadline move to acquire Brian Boyle, and looked to Sislo, a player suffering through a shooting percentage spell but with a previously-shown talent for poaching on the powerplay, to fill the void. The gamble paid off spectacularly for the Marlies: Sislo went from a 4.9% shooter in San Antonio to a 23.5% shooter in Toronto, powering them through the remainder of the regular season.

On the other hand, the deal that was supposed to be more substantial turned out to be far from it. In a bit of a surprising deal, the Buffalo Sabres loaned Cal O’Reilly, who was the Rochester Americans’ #1 centre, to the Marlies for the remainder of the season just after the deadline. Rochester was out of the playoff picture and it was a chance for O’Reilly to play in his hometown (and get some money off Buffalo’s books), and the Marlies were relatively empty down the middle. Unfortunately, that didn’t work out as well; O’Reilly picked up 14 assists in 26 regular season and playoff games, but only added one goal to that total.

So we know they’re willing to do it, but who can they add? What do the Marlies even need?

Stat Total Rank Stat Total Rank
5v5 Goals / Game 2.31 5th Powerplay Percentage 16.50% 17th
5v5 Goals Against / Game 1.62 4th Penalty Kill Percentage 89.50% 1st
5v5 Goal Difference / Game 0.69 3rd PP% + PK Percentage 106.00% 1st
Shots For / Game 30.04 13th Powerplays / Game 4.53 5th
Shots Against / Game 27.84 5th Penalty Kills / Game 3.8 2nd
Shots For Percentage 51.9 9th Penalty Difference / Game 0.73 1st
Shooting Percentage 10.07 7th Save Percentage 0.931 1st

If we’re being super honest about it.. probably not a heck of a lot? Save for shot volume and powerplay efficiency (of which we only have percentage available to us; shots on goal based on team strengths are unavailable in the AHL, as is time on ice for better, non-estimated rates than per-game), the Marlies are near the top of the league in just about everything else. Their defence is tight despite the length of time opponents spend trailing. Their goaltending duo of Garret Sparks and Calvin Pickard are dominant. Their penalty kill is great, and they don’t take a ton of penalties to put them there, to begin with.

Really, the most you can ask for if the Marlies were to have a “go for it” week is a volume creator or two, mostly for use on the powerplay. With that in mind, though, here are a few directions they could go:

Max McCormick (LW, Ottawa/Belleville): This one is a bit iffy, as McCormick is up with the big club right now. The 25-year-old currently had 3 points in 10 games with Ottawa, putting him at 7 in 37 NHL games. More useful to the Marlies, though, is his 27 points in 49 for the farm team in Belleville, which doesn’t seem like much, but is just one off of the team lead. The Senators might actually be wise to give him an extended look, as most of his AHL production this year comes at even strength and at Top-6 proficiency, but the fact that he is owed a full $600,000 if he is sent down next season may make him a Melnyk cost-cutting casualty.

Zac Dalpe (C, Cleveland/Columbus): The 28-year-old native of Paris, Ontario, once drafted in the second round by Carolina, played in his first two NHL games since November this week. With that said, he combined for just 11 minutes between them, meaning that he probably hasn’t won John Tortorella’s heart. He’s having a hell of a run with the bottom-feeding Cleveland Monsters, though, leading all AHL regulars with four shots on goal per game, and with point production (23 points in 28 games) that looks like an AHL first liner’s stat line. At 6’2, 194lbs, he might be a body capable of doing the same net-front work that Rychel was doing for the team on the powerplay, at maybe a more efficient rate. Dalpe, like McCormick, has one year left on his contract after this one.

Nick Lappin (RW, Binghamton/New Jersey): Like Sislo was, Lappin would be a player that Toronto would be very familiar with due to playoff matchups with the Devils organization. Lappin hasn’t had much luck cracking the big club in New Jersey, playing 49 games and scoring 8 points over the last two years, but he’s been money with Albany/Binghamton, scoring 40 goals and 76 points in 106 games in the AHL, including 18 goals and 14 assists in 44 games this year. Lappin, originally a New Jersey free agent signing from Brown University, has one year remaining on his contract, giving flexibility for a renewal at the end of the year. Even if the Leafs don’t want to trade for him, this may be a case where Lou Lamoriello’s clout with the Devils gets a loan done.

Jacob MacDonald (D, Binghamton/New Jersey): Or, if we want to throw away respect, here’s one where the Leafs can play a little dirty. Jacob MacDonald is a 25-year-old defenceman signed to an AHL contract. He went undrafted, was far from a scorer in his four years at Cornell University, and seemingly re-invented his game in the ECHL, scoring 37 points in 72 games with Elmira in 2015/16. Since then, he’s absolutely crushed it for the Devils farm club as a defenceman. The Leafs currently sit at 48 contracts; should they decide to, there is absolutely nothing preventing them from signing MacDonald, who at worst appears to be a middle-aged top-pairing AHL defenceman, to an NHL contract now, giving them the AHL’s top defenceman in Primary Powerplay Points per game.

TJ Brennan (D, Lehigh Valley/Philadelphia): There are three guarantees in life: death, taxes, and the assumption that TJ Brennan will inevitably play more hockey games for the Toronto Marlies. Brennan was brought into the organization as a free agent in 2013, and while he didn’t make the Leafs, he instantly became the nucleus of the 2013/14 Marlies’ offence, scoring 25 goals and 72 points from the blue line. The Leafs allowed him to walk away as a Group VI UFA after that, just eight months later, re-acquired him in a trade. Once again, he became a point-per-game player for the Marlies over the next two seasons and even got two cups of coffee with the Leafs, picking up two points in 13 games. Once again, he was allowed to find a new home, and has been his point-gathering self with the Lehigh Valley Phantoms. This one might be trickest to swing, as the Phantoms are doing well this year and might want to go on a run, but it would certainly add some fun to the chaos timeline; plus, Brennan would be a solid mentor for Toronto’s younger defencemen from an offensive side of things.

Naturally, there are several more options than this across the league: Generally speaking, I think that the Marlies group will be looking for high-salary, but high skill players on struggling AHL teams that are either on the last year of NHL contracts or on AHL deals. Players with lower-than-career-average shooting percentages will have likely gotten some video scouring, to see if there’s anything that can be done to get them out of their slumps. Plus, this doesn’t account for players who show up circumstantially from NHL-focused trades, nor does it account for the fact that, if the Leafs stand completely pat (very doubtful), the fact that they’ll have to send someone down once everyone is healthy.

But I’m interested to see how this turns out either way. While prospect development is still the main goal, the Leafs organization knows that a stretch run for the Marlies will work as both a good proving ground and a ton of additional experience and training time for their young players. Unless there is no efficient deal to be found, I would not be surprised at all if at least one Marlies-focused move of substance went down in the coming days.

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