After watching the Toronto Maple Leafs’ last game before the All-Star break, the daunting 5-2 loss to the Boston Bruins. It’s easy for the narrative to be written that this is, yet again, the same old Maple Leafs. For the real fans and the media members who can appreciate how good this team truly is, they know it’s just a few touch-ups before they’re right up there with the best if they’re not up there already.
After the loss to Boston, the competitiveness in myself went immediately to break down the tape of that game. Something I often do, but this time meant so much more. There’s no question the Boston Bruins are the best team in hockey right now, but how can the Leafs become better? I’ve looked deeply and perhaps found one of my favorite trade deadline options that can help.
After watching the two sides swing back and forth in what was a pretty even contest until the Bruins opened it up. It’s easy to notice the size down the Bruins’ middle and the authority in how they play. A name I think can bring that aspect to the Maple Leafs is Arizona Coyotes center Nick Bjugstad. Nick is currently on an expiring contract worth $900,000 for Arizona. Bjugstad has eleven goals and ten assists for twenty-one points this season through fifty games.
Now I’ll be the first to admit Nick Bjugstad’s numbers aren’t exactly eye-catching, but they aren’t bad for a veteran center playing on a rebuilding Coyotes team. The reason I like the fit between the Maple Leafs and Bjugstad for many different reasons, to start off, not only does this give the Leafs size at the center position. The 6’6″ veteran center is also right-handed, giving the Maple Leafs a right-handed center option for face-offs. We know how important face-offs are to the Maple Leafs’ puck possession style system, adding a tool for a deeper advantage on face-offs could be significant.
The next reason I would love this acquisition is because of what Bjugstad can do offensively. Over the course of 590 career games, Bjugstad has 121 goals and 137 assists for 258 points. Bjugstad’s long reach and mobility make for a unique blend of traits that this team lacks and fits into Sheldon Keefe’s system. Bjugstad has the ability to create space and has strong puck possession ability. Using his size for an advantage in the offensive zone could be a nice change of pace in the Maple Leafs’ offense.
The third reason I would be on board with adding Bjugstad is his versatility. Now one thing about Bjugstad is that he has dealt with injuries over his career, a reason I think he’s been so undervalued over his career. However, Bjugstad has the ability to step up into the second-line center role better than Kerfoot does and has experience playing on the wing. The former first-round pick has a strong ability with the puck and brings a rare grit aspect this lineup lacks at certain times. This season the 30-year-old has 104 hits on the season for Arizona.
If you wanted to look into the analytics behind Bjugstad, there’s a lot of hit or miss. The biggest concern in my eyes is his shooting percentage being above his career average per moneypuck.com. Although per JFresh, the veteran center has an eighty-two percent even strength defense percentage. Bjugstad’s play has been good for the Coyotes so far this year, especially on the penalty kill. Bjugstad would not only bring the versatility of Kerfoot at even strength, but also the penalty-killing ability. I appreciate what Kerfoot can bring and his style, but there’s no question Bjugstad would be a nice fit.
It would be nice to get Bjugstad for a plethora of reasons, to say the least. The veteran center on a $900,000 cap hit is very affordable and shouldn’t cost much in a trade. However, with the team being linked to bigger fish in the trade deadline pool, Kyle may look at a deeper addition instead of a more conservative one.
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