The upcoming offseason for the Leafs will be a tough one as, with limited cap space, the Leafs have three restricted free agents to sign to contracts in Mitch Marner, Kasperi Kapanen, and Andreas Johnsson. With a cap hit for the upcoming NHL season at $83 million, the Leafs only have $8 790 301 left to form their roster but should have another $5.3 million freed up when Nathan Horton's salary gets moved to the long-term injured reserve list.

With those three players in demand for big paydays, especially Marner who's apparently demanding a salary that pays him an AAV of $11 million a season after tallying 94 points last year, the Leafs are going to need to get creative to keep those three guys in Toronto. Here are three trades the Leafs can do to free up cap space.

Zaitsev gets a fresh start

Devils get: Nikita Zaitsev and a 2020 fourth round pick

Leafs get: 2019 fourth-round pick, 2020 seventh round pick, and 2021 fifth round pick

Leafs save: $4.5 million

After putting together a strong rookie season in 2016-2017 where he tallied 36 points (four goals and 32 assists), he was rewarded with a seven-year, $31.5 million contract by former Leafs GM Lou Lamoriello.

That contract turned out to be ill-fated as he's only tallied 27 points in the past two seasons. After meeting with current Leafs GM Kyle Dubas, both Zaitsev and Dubas agreed that it's time for Zaitsev to get a fresh start with a new team.

A good team for Zaitsev to get a fresh start with is the Devils. The Devils have two defensemen who will become free agents after next season and they currently only have four defensemen under contract heading into the upcoming season, along with three defensemen who are in need of contracts as RFA's.

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The Devils also have the majority of their roster becoming free agents within the next three years as they only have one player under contract in the 2022-23 season in 24-year-old defenceman Damon Severson. If the Devils were to acquire Zaitsev, he would give the team another player who has a contract that exceeds three years as he is under contract until the 2023-24 season and he would be the player on the Devils with the longest term on his contract.

With the Devils having over $30 million available in cap space, the Devils will be able to take on Zaitsev's annual cap hit of $4.5 million while being able to sign their pending RFA's as well as future RFA's. They would also net a pick in return while giving up a worse pick in the same year.

By doing this trade, the Leafs would be able to rid themselves of Zaitsev's horrible contract while freeing themselves of $4.5 million each year for the next five years.

In return, the Leafs would net themselves three draft picks in order to build on their deep prospect pool. By getting this years' fourth-round pick, the Leafs would have three picks in the fourth round as they possess their fourth-round pick as well as the Blues fourth round pick. Getting the Devils seventh-round pick in the 2020 draft would give the Leafs five picks in seventh-round for the 2020 draft as they have their pick as well as the picks of the Sharks, Jets, Devils and potentially the Oilers as it's a conditional pick.

The fifth-round pick for the 2021 draft would give the Leafs an extra pick but the main thing the Leafs get out of this deal is freeing up $4.5 million of cap space while not having to cover a single dollar of Zaitsev's contract.

Marleau heads to the desert

Coyotes get: Patrick Marleau, $1.25 million and 2020 seventh round pick (Leafs)

Leafs get: Brad Richardson ($1.25 million cap hit)

Leafs save: $3.75 million

Like Zaitsev, after meeting with GM Kyle Dubas, Marleau and the Leafs decided it's time to part ways. The veteran forward has moved his family back to California where he hopes to be traded to a team on the west coast and the Leafs are expected to grant Marleau his wish.

The Coyotes are apparently one of the teams that have shown interest in Marleau and he would be a beneficial addition on a young Coyotes team. The Coyotes have struggled to put together a competitive team for the past few years but, finally, put together a decent team as they came very close to making the playoffs. The Coyotes would benefit from a veteran forward like Marleau (39 years old) who would help guide the young players through the season and would give the Coyotes a player with playoff experience. With Marleau being under contract for one more season at a cap hit of $6.25 million, the Coyotes would get some cap relief with the Leafs covering $1.25 million of Marleau's contract along with a seventh-round pick in the 2020 draft.

In return, the Leafs would get a veteran forward in Brad Richardson (34 years old) who can replace Marleau as the veteran forward on a relatively young Leafs team. Richardson comes at a cap hit of $1.25 million and is a free agent at the end of next season. Last season, Richardson got 27 points (19 goals and eight assists) in 66 games. Richardson is a similar player compared to Marleau but just a bit worse at a cheaper cost.

Brown goes to a different blue team

Blues get: Connor Brown, 2019 fourth round pick (Leafs) and 2020 seventh round pick (Jets)

Leafs get: Robert Bortuzzo ($1.375 million cap hit until 2021-22) and $650 thousand for the next three years

Leafs save: $1 325 500 million

It's no secret that the Leafs are in need of defencemen as they're thin on the blue line. With a stacked offense in Auston Matthews, John Tavares, Mitch Marner, and others, the Leafs have multiple forwards that they can trade for blueline help. Even though they have a stacked offense, most of their offensive weapons remain untouchable as the forwards the Leafs have are just that good. One offensive player the Leafs could dangle is Connor Brown who is expendable due to the Leafs abundance of forwards.

Despite the Blues having a strong offense, there's a huge drop-off from the strong forwards to the weaker forwards. The Blues have superstars in Tarasenko and O'Reilly but have nobodies in Robert Thomas and Mackenzie MacEachern. Acquiring Brown would give the Blues a huge upgrade over Thomas and MacEachern in which both of them at a young age, can be flipped to rebuilding teams for late future draft picks or packaged with more for a defenseman to replace Bortuzzo who the Leafs would be getting in return for Brown. The departure of Bortuzzo for the Blues would be missed but he can be replaced by Joel Edmundson who is a similar player at a younger age.

This trade would be beneficial for the Leafs who would be getting a defenseman that they badly need and Bortuzzo comes with three years left on his contract which is even better considering how thin the Leafs are defensively. Bortuzzo doesn't provide much offensively as he only has 52 points in 335 career games but has a career +/- rating of +25 and can provide the Leafs as a player with grit, something that Leafs sure need which was seen by how hard they were getting roughed around in the playoffs.

Conclusion

These three trades would benefit the Leafs in many ways. They would be able to rid themselves of Zaitsev who has been a liability since he signed that contract and would also be able to rid themselves of Marleau who has a cap hit of $6.25 million, a salary that he isn't worth. They would also be able to keep Nazem Kadri around who is someone that has been garnering interest on the trade market and he is someone the Leafs need as he is currently their "enforcer". These trades would also allow the Leafs to be able to keep Johnsson and Kapanen in which both have been garnering trade interest as well but they are both an integral part to the Leafs success. With these three trades, the cap space they have left, and the moving Horton's $5.3 million salary to the long-term injured reserve list, the Leafs would have $23 665 301 in cap space which gives them plenty of money to sign all of Marner, Kapanen and Johnson to deals that they deserve and possibly have a little bit of cap space to sign a free agent to a cheap deal.

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