Toronto Maple Leafs general manager Kyle Dubas has made yet another massive trade to improve his team. At 1:25 pm EST, he announced that he had acquired Sam Lafferty, Jake McCabe, and two fifth-round draft picks in 2024 and 2025 from the Chicago Blackhawks for Joey Anderson and Pavel Gogolev, a first in 2025 that’s top-10 protected, and a second in 2025. He somehow managed to pull off another trade without giving up an integral part of his hockey club, showing the NHL that he and his team are going all-in this season.
After the trade was announced Dubas met with the media to talk about the deal and the direction of the team heading into the March 3 trade deadline. He discussed why the move was made, and how it helps the team, as well as their top prospect Matthew Knies. There is still one issue that he never really discussed in depth; cap space. To activate Matt Murray from the long-term injured reserve (LTIR), Toronto will require the available space. As a result, they will need to make a subsequent move so they aren’t over the cap when he rejoins the team.
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McCabe & Lafferty was Long Awaited
The Maple Leafs’ decision to make this deal seems to have been motivated by their need for more physicality on the blue line and versatility up front. However, it appears that Dubas has been eyeing McCabe for quite some time. He made light of the fact that both he and his management group spoke with him and his camp back in 2021 when he was a free agent. He also noted that he likes how “physical he is and his competitiveness in the neutral zone”, which is something that the team’s blue line has lacked this season. Before this trade, Rasmus Sandin was statistically the most physical defenseman they had, now it’s McCabe.
Related: 2023 NHL Trade Deadline Tracker
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He also talked about the other newest member of the Maple Leafs; Lafferty. He mentioned his versatility and the speed he will bring to the lineup, saying “for me, the speed is the number one thing that he brings. But also the versatility, able to play center, able to play wing.” Reading that, Leafs Nation would probably assume that he is just like Alex Kerfoot, but he does bring other aspects. He also brings a hard forecheck, which should fit well with Zach Aston Reese and Noel Acciari, as well as a level of tenacity that Kerfoot lacks. Therefore, he is a better, cheaper option for the Maple Leafs to go with.
Lastly, Dubas talked about the trade discussions with the Blackhawks, and how it was in the works for some time. But it didn’t get across the finish line until today. He also brought up that it was in motion before the Boston Bruins acquired Dmitry Orlov and Garnet Hathaway. He then went on to say that it was essentially done last night and it wasn’t a reaction move to the Tampa Bay Lightning acquiring Tanner Jeannot.
Matt Murray is Expected to Return to the Lineup
Dubas was asked about Murray being activated off of LTIR, to which he responded with, “We are tracking towards that, that’s the hope.” This is an indication that the Maple Leafs are going to be using Ilya Samsonov and Murray as their tandem for the playoffs. There had been some thought that the club may not activate him due to his injury, which would allow them to use his cap hit of $4.687 million, to address other areas to improve the team.
The Maple Leafs have $2.77 million in cap space and are currently sitting at a full roster of 23 players. To activate Murray off of LTIR, they would need to move money out. Some names that are on the watch list are, Kerfoot, Justin Holl, and Pierre Engvall, who make $7.75 million combined. This trade would likely be to a non-playoff team who will eat the cap hit, and in return, Toronto could receive a pick or another depth player. However, Dubas did say that there could be a situation like last season when Sandin was injured and stayed out until the end of the season, allowing the team to use his cap space rather than trading a player away. Murray is eligible to be removed from LTIR as of March. 1, 2023, against the Edmonton Oilers.
Maple Leafs Aren’t Done Dealing
When talking about cap space and Murray being taken off of LTIR, Dubas said, “we kinda know where everything is at, and see what happens in the subsequent couple games.” Is that a hint that the Maple Leafs have a trade in the works to move a player out? Well, he was asked if the team was done trading, to which he smiled and responded, “I think we’ll still be busy and active, and try to find if there’s any way we can continue to improve.” After that, he discussed the concern of making too many changes and how they could affect the club, but he also made note of how positively the team has reacted to the Ryan O’Reilly and Acciari trade.
In the last couple of playoff series for the Leafs, it has been a lack of scoring, defence, and physicality that has cost the team. These are three of the four main components of playing the game. The trades Dubas has made thus far shore up a few areas that were lacking. However, he could part with a few other players like the ones previously mentioned (Holl, Kerfoot, Engvall), and potentially bring back some draft capital and a few cheaper depth players. Doing this would help with their salary cap, ensuring there is no need for cap manipulation.
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The key takeaway from Dubas’ media availability is that he is trying his hardest to help his team win. He recognizes the effort they have put forth this season and wants to reward them. Similar to how the Bruins have done with their big trade with the Washington Capitals. After the March 3 NHL Trade Deadline, the pressure shifts to the players to try and win the Stanley Cup. But if they fall short, as recent history has shown us in Leafs Nation, the blame should fall on the players, not Dubas.