By Stan Smith and The Old Prof
In this edition of Toronto Maple Leafs’ Quick Hits, Stan Smith and I will discuss the possibilities of the team’s top six units as the remainder of the regular season unfolds.
Related: Maple Leafs Quick Hits: Both Giordano & McMann Showing Value
Quick Hit One: Has Pontus Holmberg Earned Top-Six Time?
Pontus Holmberg is a young Swedish center. He was drafted by the Toronto Maple Leafs in the 2018 NHL Entry Draft (6th round, 156th overall). Holmberg signed a two-year entry-level contract with an AAV of $827,500 in June 2021. He first came to attention after a successful season in the Swedish Hockey League (SHL). There he scored 11 goals and added 30 assists in 46 games. He then joined the Toronto Marlies in the AHL and performed well, scoring two goals and two assists in six games.
This season, he jumped to the big club and has looked versatile and reliable. He’s been playing on the bottom six units and has provided some secondary scoring in limited minutes. The nice thing about Holmberg is that, as his Maple Leafs’ head coach Sheldon Keefe noted, he seldom makes errors.
Another positive is that he’s a cheap option for the Maple Leafs who – like many other NHL clubs – face salary-cap issues. He has, in limited ice time, shown the potential to be a top-six player. He has good hockey IQ, seems to have the ability to play under pressure, and seems also to have a solid track record of making his teammates better.
If, at the trade deadline, the Maple Leafs can’t or choose not to swing a major deal with another club for a bona fide top-six forward, should Holmberg be given a chance to prove himself during the remainder of the regular season? Sooner or later, the organization has to put its faith in its own prospects.
Related: What Maple Leafs Fans Should Know About a Timo Meier Trade
The Cost to Acquire Meier
Although the website Bladeofsteel.com is not connected to the San Jose Sharks directly, it did speculate about what the asking price for Timo Meier might be. Specifically, it speculated that, if the Maple Leafs wanted to pry Meier from the Sharks, there were three options. First, it would take a first-round draft pick and one Grade “A” prospect. Second, it would take a first-round pick and two Grade “B” prospects. Finally, it would take a first-round pick and a young roster player.
The Maple Leafs have the first-round pick. However, what would San Jose consider to be a top prospect? Would that be Matthews Knies? We think he would be considered the Maple Leafs’ top prospect. However, he is still only a late second-round pick, 57th overall. We don’t see the Maple Leafs having another prospect that would qualify as a top prospect.
As for the two “B” prospects, the Maple Leafs have an abundance of them in their system. They might be able to come up with two that San Jose would be happy with. The only young roster players the Maple Leafs have are Rasmus Sandin and Timothy Liljegren. Although Holmberg has now played 33 games this season, I don’t know if he would be considered a regular roster player.
Our contention is that any talk about bringing Meier to the Maple Leafs has less to do with the trade than it does with what happens next. Because his salary for next season would be so high – his qualifying offer would have to be $10 million – logic suggests bringing him onto the Maple Leafs’ roster would be exceedingly costly.
We are not buying any of the noise or speculation that he’s even remotely going to be part of a trade-deadline acquisition by Toronto. At least, not as a rental.
Related: MAPLE LEAFS’ QUICK HITS: YOUNG PROSPECTS, HOLL & JARNKROK