Maple Leafs: Was Not Making a Major Move a Mistake?

After the Toronto Maple Leafs’ loss to the Carolina Hurricanes on Saturday, many in Leafs Nation were expecting a move to come, particularly in regards to defenseman Tyson Barrie. At that moment it seemed that general manager Kyle Dubas would be forced to make a move for his team, who are barely hanging on to a playoff spot. With the Atlantic Division and the Eastern Conference being as tight of a race as it is, it seemed to be the most logical move.

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With all the rumours and interest surrounding Barrie, it seemed like his days as a Maple Leaf could be over. However, the trade deadline came and went without any takers. All Dubas could do was re-acquire Calle Rosen as a depth move. Could this be a mistake?

Not Moving Barrie Could be Costly

It was widely speculated that Dubas wanted a defenseman with term and was going to make a move for Barrie if it didn’t hinder the team. Well, the deadline passed and Barrie is still a Maple Leaf. There was quite a bit of interest and many teams inquired about the defender, but the deadline came and went. Could that be costly, considering now that Jake Muzzin is out for four weeks with a broken finger a day after inking his new four-year deal?  

Tyson Barrie Toronto Maple Leafs
Could it have been a mistake to not trade Toronto Maple Leafs defensemen Tyson Barrie? (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

Perhaps. The Maple Leafs have been horrible on defense this year, especially as of late. However, there were no takers for Barrie. Considering what the Maple Leafs were looking for, it was difficult to make a “hockey trade” and find a steady defenseman who can provide positional play in their own end. And with some of the defenseman that went earlier this week, it’s clear that Dubas wasn’t willing to pay the asking price for rentals.

On the other side, no one could see into the future that Muzzin would break his finger. It’s a horrible coincidence considering the amount of the injuries the Maple Leafs have sustained all year, but it shouldn’t serve as an excuse for their inconsistent play. Whether Muzzin broke his finger or not, defense continues to remain their Achilles’ Heel.

It would’ve been nice to get an improvement in return as well as an asset with Barrie being an unrestricted free agent. But in reality, nothing was going to come of it this close to the deadline. A deal could’ve been done a month or two ago to stop the bleeding and get an asset now and for the future, but Dubas wouldn’t trade an asset if he didn’t feel he was getting anything of value in return.

It’s not that Dubas didn’t want to make a move, it’s just that the best offer didn’t present itself. After the way he stormed out of the box after their 6-3 loss to the Hurricanes, you think he didn’t want to make a move? I’d be pretty mad myself. It’s difficult to find a taker and make a big deal that close to the trade deadline.

In about a month or so the Maple Leafs could have a healthy and rejuvenated roster with Rielly and Ceci back in the fold. While Ceci has been a disappointment and may not be brought back, no one would be willing to take on his salary based on his performance and the return definitely would not be of value. Plus, no one would pay for an injured player.

Rielly, on the other hand, could be the spark they need, for the team and for himself as he hasn’t been the Norris-caliber player that he was last season. However, it was a good move to re-acquire Rosen in the event that something should happen to bolster their depth when Rielly and Ceci do return, as well as Muzzin. 

Toronto Maple Leafs Morgan Rielly
Toronto Maple Leafs defenseman Morgan Rielly could provide the boost the team needs on defence when he returns from injury. (Timothy T. Ludwig-USA TODAY Sports)

Biggest Moves Could Come in Offseason

In order to make a trade that Dubas was looking for, it had to be under the right circumstances. Clearly, it wasn’t going to work so close to the deadline. For Dubas to acquire that defenseman he desperately wanted, he possibly will have to make a big move in the off-season. 

Even with Barrie becoming an unrestricted free agent, Dubas would have to sacrifice an asset upfront in order to get a player like Josh Manson, Jonas Brodin or Matt Dumba. 

Josh Manson Anaheim Ducks
Kyle Dubas could look like to acquire a defenseman like Josh Manson of the Anaheim Ducks in the offseason. (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

By the summer, Dubas would have more time to assess his situation, get more information on the players and look at the cap situation. There are many factors for him to look at. While he did mention that all those factors during his post-trade deadline press conference, he has more time to think things over instead of just making a move for the sake of making one. 

By then, all the UFA defensemen that were viewed as rentals will be available to sign. The options are endless for Dubas to improve the defense.

Staying the Course

Despite the losses and precious points being lost, it seems unfathomable that Dubas wouldn’t make a move to try and improve the team’s defense. It seemed like the Carolina game would’ve been the final straw.

In his press conference after the trade deadline, this comment stood out the most in Kristen Shilton’s recap based on the reception of his team’s losses.

“I think the criticisms that are levied are largely fair. But it’s a chance to show what your best self is. We show it in flashes, and we’ve been capable of it in really difficult games as we’ve shown in various difficult games during the year. But it’s getting to that point now, when there’s a large amount of doubt around the team – largely earned – that we can do something special as a group and really earn some of the experiences and the lessons that we want in the end, and that’s what we’re excited about now for sure.”

Toronto Maple Leafs general manager Kyle Dubas
Toronto Maple Leafs general manager Kyle Dubas (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Christopher Katsarov)

It takes a lot for a team to overcome adversity. It did take a while for Alex Ovechkin to finally achieve hockey glory by winning the Stanley Cup after multiple playoff failures and disappointment. That’s not to compare the Maple Leafs to the Washington Capitals, but adversity is a fickle thing. No matter how hard Ovechkin tried it took a while to build a team around him and to solidify their core.

I guess you can say that the Maple Leafs have that group already set up, now it’s time for everyone to come together and overcome the obstacles. It’s tough to be optimistic; everyone is mad and rightfully so. As disappointing and embarrassing the last week has been, at some point everything can work out. The team needs to get into the mentality that they’re capable of playing and beating the best as their bounce-back win against the Pittsburgh Penguins suggests. But why this lack of effort is happening is the biggest question.

“The truthful answer is we don’t know. That might draw some criticism to say I don’t know but I’m not going to bull**** and tell you I have some magical solution,” Dubas said according to Shilton. “I think we have to go through this and we have to find our way to be our best on a daily basis. We show signs of what we can be. I think it’s not really what people want to hear, but it’s the truth that we have to keep at this every day.” 

In addition to Dubas’ comments, captain John Tavares spoke after their 4-3 win over the Tampa Bay Lightning acknowledging Muzzin’s absence.

John Tavares has a point. The team can’t hang their head. This is the time to play desperate hockey and now they have a chance to overcome even more adversity. Their recent play had nothing to do with Dubas. He made the moves in order to build the best roster possible. Unfortunately for Barrie, it just hasn’t worked out. 

It’s time for everyone to dig deep. After all, Dubas isn’t playing the game. The recent loses are on the players. While it would’ve been nice to see Dubas stop the bleeding, the best option is for the players to come together and stop it themselves.

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