Heading into the trade deadline, the Toronto Maple Leafs have shown that they mean business by dominating the North Division. That was the green light for general manager Kyle Dubas to go ahead and add to his team with Stanley Cup aspirations.
With minimal cap space at his disposal, Dubas made it seem like a cakewalk to manage the Maple Leafs financial situation, making three major moves before the deadline. A top-six forward has always been his goal, but he ended up acquiring more depth to make this team the most competitive it has ever been.
The fact that Dubas didn’t subtract any major roster pieces to keep his group in tact is a major win, all while staying true to his vision is impressive. For that he deserves high praise for the moves that he made. Let’s recap his deadline acquisitions and their significance.
Dubas Gets Top-Six Forward
To Maple Leafs: Nick Foligno, Stefan Noesen
To Columbus Blue Jackets: 2021 first-round pick, 2022 fourth-round pick
To San Jose Sharks: 2021 fourth-round pick
Dubas sought to make a major move at the deadline in order to go into full on “win now” mode. He did just that by acquiring Foligno. He brings a strong two-way presence to the team and could very well be the top-six winger they need. The recent play of Alex Galchenyuk changed Dubas’ mind to go out and add a scoring winger.
Dubas didn’t give up any major assets to acquire the 33-year-old and is only taking on 25% of his contract. The price seemed perfect for the acquisition coming over in return. Many may point to the fact that they gave up a first rounder for a player who only has 16 points is an overpayment compared to other names on the market. While that may be true, Dubas knew what he wanted and paying a first-round pick makes the most sense.
The team already has an abundance of prospects stockpiled over the last three drafts and four have the potential to make an immediate impact for the future. Giving up a first-round pick that could be in the 25-31 range in an uncertain draft won’t jeopardize the team in the long run.
Dubas didn’t have to give up a roster player or even a top prospect in the process as he has mentioned before. They have a strong prospect pool and are in a position to succeed where they can give up that pick to win now. Losing Rasmus Sandin, Nick Robertson or Rodion Amirov in this deal would be more of an overpayment than that pick.
This move makes them a serious contender as the Maple Leafs acquire someone that has the leadership and intangibles that this team has lacked in the postseason. Foligno brings the grit and physical play that overpowered them as the Blue Jackets excelled in that area in the qualifying round. He was tough to play against and that’s exactly why the Maple Leafs brought him in.
He has the speed to keep up with a quick roster and his defensive play is definitely going to benefit them greatly. The team needed a top-six player with strong two-way play, not another goal scorer as the Maple Leafs top-five players are producing just nicely. Foligno has tremendous value and giving up two picks is well worth the price as he makes them better in more ways than one. He’s definitely ready to be a part of this team.
Goaltending is Addressed
To Maple Leafs: David Rittich
To Calgary Flames: 2022 third-round pick, 50% retained salary on Rittich’s contrac
This move caught everyone off guard, even myself. The Maple Leafs have been reported to be in the market to acquire some assistance in the crease as a result of the recent injury to Frederik Andersen. There was even some concern with current starter Jack Campbell as his health came into question.
While Campbell has been red hot with a 1.98 goals against average and .930 save percentage, not to mention his record-breaking start with 11 straight wins to start a season, you can never have enough depth at the goaltending position. Bringing Rittich in gives the team the assurance they need if the worst-case scenario happens that Andersen can’t return for the regular season or playoffs. Even in the event if something happens to Campbell, having Rittich as the third string or backup goaltender helps them out in that situation.
This move was to avoid a situation that happened to the Colorado Avalanche in the playoffs last season. With both Philipp Grubauer and Pavel Francouz out, Michael Hutchinson was the next in line. While he played well and had a 2-1 record, it wasn’t enough to push them through to the Western Finals. Hutchinson has had a better season, but there are times where his play has been concerning with weak goals and puck location.
Even though Rittich has battled his own consistency issues as he was 4-7-1 with a 2.90 GAA and .904 SV% with the Flames, he would serve as a valuable replacement over Hutchinson. If everyone is healthy, the Maple Leafs have a strong tandem in Campbell and Andersen. However, if Andersen’s season is in jeopardy, they addressed their goaltending issues by bringing another strong player and have a reliable duo in Campbell and Rittich. The same situation applies to Campbell as an Andersen and Rittich combination is also a possibility.
Landing A Shut Down Centreman
To Maple Leafs: Riley Nash
To Blue Jackets: conditional 2022 seventh-round pick
There was a lot of cap gymnastics that went into this deal but this might be Dubas’ underrated move. It may not seem like much to add a fourth line centre, but players like Nash will go a long way for a lengthy playoff drive.
While he won’t see any game time for the regular season, he should be ready for when the playoffs start.
Nash will be a complimentary piece in a supporting role for the Maple Leafs bottom six. If there’s a situation where they need someone to shutdown an opponent or close out a game, Nash is going to be on the ice. Nash’s possession numbers don’t jump off the page, given his role plus the Blue Jackets have struggled. He does own a career Corsi For percentage of 50.4 with his best results coming from his time with the Boston Bruins (51.7) and Carolina Hurricanes (51.5).
When you have an offensively gifted team like the Maple Leafs, you need to have someone reliable in your own zone. Though the hope is that he can also bring an aggressive punch when on the offense and be thorn in the opposition’s side like he was when the Maple Leafs faced the Bruins in the 2017-18 playoffs.
He has the speed and ability to get in on the forecheck to make an impact in the offensive zone. That tenacious style could only help the Maple Leafs as Nash is 2-0 against the Maple Leafs in the playoffs. Here’s to hoping he can provide a winning mentality with this team.
Hutton Brings Good Value and Depth
To Maple Leafs: Ben Hutton
To Anaheim Ducks: 2022 fifth-round pick
Similar to the Rittich acquisition, bringing in Hutton is to shore up the defense should there be an injury. After Jake Muzzin was injured in the playoffs last season, the Maple Leafs weren’t capable of inserting someone into the lineup. Their depth was weak.
Hutton is a very serviceable option as he has great size, mobility and the ability to move the puck quickly. Giving up a fifth-round pick for someone who ranked fifth on the Ducks in 18:31 time on ice per game and third in short-handed time on ice per game with 2:34 is a great move.
He served as a top-four defenseman on a Ducks team that’s well out of a playoff spot. He won’t be heavily relied on like he was there alleviating some pressure off him. His analytic numbers at five-on-five aren’t that great this season, but he did have a strong 55.80 CF% with the Los Angeles Kings in 2019-20 in that same role. Having that kind of possession stats and registering 16 points in 65 games on a team that ranked 28th in the league, shows that there is value in him.
It’s most likely he can interchange with Travis Dermott on the third pairing. In the event that someone does get injured he can jump in, provide a presence on the penalty kill and generate offense.
Barabanov to Sharks
The Maple Leafs made a minor move, trading Alexander Barabanov to the Sharks for Antti Suomela. It was a move that really wouldn’t have any major significance to the roster. Suomela will provide size and centre depth as he could benefit from being on the taxi squad. Hopefully, Barabanov gets a better chance in the NHL after recording one assist in 13 games.
The recurring theme with Dubas at this deadline is that you can never have enough depth in the playoffs. The fact that he only had to give up draft picks in order to make substantial additions to his roster is a major win. In recent years, the Maple Leafs have struggled to get out of the first round of the playoffs. The moves that Dubas made should help them get over their playoff woes and make their mark as a legitimate contender.