Maple Leafs Address Defense & Forward Depth With Giordano Trade

Within the past 48 hours, Toronto Maple Leafs fans anxiously refreshed Twitter as they watched rival teams load up on upgrades. The Tampa Bay Lightning traded a package, including two first round picks, to acquire Brandon Hagel from the Chicago Blackhawks. The Florida Panthers acquired Claude Giroux from Philadelphia, and Ben Chiarot from Montreal. The Boston Bruins acquired defenseman Hampus Lindholm from the Anaheim Ducks. Finally, on Sunday afternoon, the Maple Leafs finally made their big splash.

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With the rest of their Atlantic Division opponents making significant moves, the Maple Leafs acquired former Calgary Flames captain and 2018-19 Norris Trophy winner Mark Giordano and forward Colin Blackwell from the Seattle Kraken in exchange for a 2022 second round pick, a 2023 second round pick, and a 2024 third round pick. The Kraken also retained 50 percent of Giordano’s cap hit.

Mark Giordano, Seattle Kraken
Newest Toronto Maple Leaf Mark Giordano (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

General manager Kyle Dubas said from the get-go that he didn’t want to trade any of their first-round picks or top prospects for a rental, and he managed to avoid doing just that. With the addition of Giordano, the Maple Leafs shored up their back end and improved their forward depth in the same trade. Let’s take a deeper dive into what Giordano and Blackwell will bring to this roster.

Giordano Will Be Reunited With Former Teammate

As I said off the top, Giordano’s time in Seattle barely scratches the surface of his NHL career. After being passed over in the draft, he signed as an undrafted free agent in 2004 after receiving a last-minute invite to Flames’ training camp. He was planning to pursue a degree at York University at the time, and wound up receiving a contract after impressing the Flames’ coaching staff.

From there, Giordano didn’t look back. He played his first full 82-game season in 2009-10, and became Flames captain in 2013-14. Coincidentally, around this time is when current Maple Leaf and then-teammate T.J. Brodie became a full time member of the team. The two would pair up together early on, and the pairing would remain together until Brodie signed with the Maple Leafs ahead of the 2020-21 season.

We’ve seen how effectively Brodie has played alongside Morgan Rielly, but with Giordano joining the Maple Leafs, you have to imagine head coach Sheldon Keefe will reunite him with Brodie. Especially when you consider the success Rielly has had with Ilya Lyubushkin in recent games. The 38 year-old Giordano’s offense has clearly taken a dip, with only 23 points in 55 games, but he’s still most certainly an upgrade to their top four.

Another underrated aspect of acquiring Giordano is that it will give the Maple Leafs a true second unit power-play quarterback. This likely won’t move the needle all that much, considering the first unit gets most of the spotlight anyways, but they could still use an upgrade in that area. As much as I like Rasmus Sandin and think he’s on the right path to becoming that guy, he only has 16 points in 51 games and still has to round out some parts of his offensive game.

Blackwell Gives Maple Leafs Extra Forward Depth

It’s no secret that Dubas had interest in addressing multiple areas, and while Blackwell isn’t one of the shiny toys among forwards available for trade, he’s a very effective bottom-six player, and will help the Maple Leafs in a couple of ways. The Massachusetts native was drafted by the San Jose Sharks in 2011, and bounced between a couple of organizations before finally carving out his first full NHL role with the New York Rangers in 2020-21.

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After a successful breakout season that saw Blackwell register 22 points in 47 games, he was selected by the Kraken as part of their expansion draft. He’s carried his success into the 2021-22 season, with 17 points in 39 games to date, prior to the trade. He’s also on a very affordable contract with an average annual value (AAV) of $725,000, and he’s an unrestricted free agent (UFA) at the end of the year.

Where exactly Blackwell is going to fit into their current lineup, I have no idea. But not because they don’t have the space for him. Rather, he’s versatile enough that there are multiple roles you could slide him into. He plays centre and right wing, so he could join the Maple Leafs’ checking third line alongside David Kampf, he could be their fourth line centre, or he could even take some reps on the second line. Obviously you would prefer to have him in the bottom six, but his energy makes him an effective placeholder at the very least.

Standing at 5-foot-9 and 190 pounds, his size will likely make some fans roll their eyes, but make no mistake, he’s far from a soft player. He’s third among Kraken forwards in hits with 57, and he describes himself as a swiss army knife “energy bug” type of forward, which could be huge for the team if Ondrej Kase ends up missing some time with his upper body injury.

Maple Leafs Getting Best Possible Value Was a Priority

Dubas had his work cut out for him at this trade deadline, and I truly don’t envy his job. On one hand, you want to upgrade your team as much as possible, especially while you’re watching your competition do just that. But on the other hand, you want to avoid trading valuable assets only to fizzle out in the first round again, just like they did last season with the Foligno trade.

That trade went south in just about every way possible. Between Foligno’s injury issues, the Maple Leafs losing their first-round pick, and losing in Round 1 to the Canadiens, there simply isn’t anything else that could have made that deal worse than it ended up being. So, with that came some skepticism about trading a first round pick at the deadline, especially for a rental.

But with the Maple Leafs managing to acquire these two pieces for no more than a pair of second round picks and a third-round pick, the wound will hurt much less in the team’s worst-case scenario. As great of players as Hagel and Lindholm are, moving a first round pick and/or a top prospect was not something the Maple Leafs should have ever considered, especially for a rental like Lindholm.

Maple Leafs Remaining Deadline Plans Unknown

With one full day left before the deadline, it’s unknown what Dubas plans to do from here on out. The top-4 defenseman was their priority, but there are still a couple of areas that could use improvement. A bonafide top six winger with term would be a heavy ask, but one that would benefit the Maple Leafs in the long run. And of course, there will always be the discourse surrounding the goaltending situation.

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I wouldn’t expect the Maple Leafs to make any more trades before 2 PM today, as that’s when they’ll know the status of the players they waived in Petr Mrazek, Kyle Clifford, and newly-signed goaltender Harri Sateri. Where these players end up could play a part in how much cap space the Maple Leafs have to work with for any other trades, but regardless of whether or not they make any further moves, the acquisitions of Giordano and Blackwell are a great start.