At this time last week, those who have the inside track on the Toronto Maple Leafs were convinced the team was ready to trade a defenceman. There is a reason NHL insiders like Elliotte Friedman and Chris Johnston have such great reputations. So, when both analysts talked about Toronto shopping a defenseman, there’s no doubt there was truth behind it.
Johnston was convinced something was happening last Friday morning. “We had what might have been a false alarm, about two hours ago, my phone was blowing up – thinking something was cooking that imminently,” said Johnston on his self-title podcast, “it’s been pretty loud the last 24 to 36 hours.” So, what happened? While we did not get a hold of the fly on the wall in the general manager’s office, there’s enough information to piece together a few theories.
Theory #1: Mrazek Injury Saves Money
Petr Mrazek last played on October 30 before tweaking his groin in practice a few days later. He had already missed games earlier in the season with the same injury. Now, the backup goalie who makes $3.8 million a season is on the injured reserve list for a month. That means the Leafs are accruing cap space.
Johnston thought the team would make a trade to accomplish that cap accruing. “I would think if this happened, it would be short-term. Just trying to get by… But it might help them accrue some cap space as they get closer to the trade deadline.”
Theory #2: Maple Leafs’ Defensemen Injured
Travis Dermott left the game against the Vegas Golden Knights on November 2. He took a shot off the skate and went for an x-ray. He didn’t practise the next day but did return to action a few days later. T.J. Brodie got slammed into the board during the game against the Boston Bruins on November 6. He played the rest of the game, but he didn’t skate the next day. He has since returned to action as well. Those are two recent examples. One that hurts a little more was Jake Muzzin’s fluke injury during Game 6 of the playoff series against the Montreal Canadiens last May.
My point is at any time, any player on the ice is vulnerable to an injury. It could be a game; it could be a month, or it could be far worse. The Maple Leafs do not have depth anywhere on the team. Perhaps there were sober second thoughts. The front office staff realized one extra blueliner is not an issue, but intelligent insurance.
Theory #3: Maple Leafs were Testing the Market
Buy low and sell high is the most basic market strategy there is on Wall Street. So, when defensemen signed extremely lucrative deals in the offseason, Kyle Dubas took an expandable piece of his roster to the auction. Obviously, no team offered his reserve price.
Justin Holl was scapegoated for the disastrous play of the team during a horrible stretch at the end of October. He didn’t play well and took four games of healthy scratches. It was quite a fall as he’d become one of the most reliable defensemen on the team last season and solidified the top four group. His shutdown pairing with Muzzin made his $2 million a season contract a steal of a deal. Still, his dreadful play earned him a liability, and no one was buying.
Toronto is now playing Holl and sitting Dermott, the two players discussed in the trade rumours. As I’d argued a week ago, keeping the depth is far more important than saving a few dollars at this point in the season. The Maple Leafs have a healthy internal competition and the luxury of an extra defenceman ready to go for the bumps and bruises that happen every season.
Kevin Armstrong is an award-winning journalist with more than two decades of experience. He’s been rink side for World Juniors, Memorial Cups, Calder Cups and Stanley Cups. Like many Canadian kids, his earliest memories include hockey. Kevin has spent countless hours in arenas throughout the country watching all levels of the game.