It was said almost immediately after the Toronto Maple Leafs acquired Ryan O’Reilly and Noel Acciari from the St. Louis Blues that Kyle Dubas wasn’t done as it pertained to bettering his roster in the hopes of a playoff run.
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In fact, it was almost guaranteed by some that the Maple Leafs would acquire a defenceman next to bolster their blue line. Now, a move made by the Boston Bruins to solidify theirs and Dubas and the Maple Leafs will have to respond and quickly before the March 3 NHL Trade Deadline.
Benn Waived, Two Others Assigned to AHL
With the assumption that something is coming, the Maple Leafs made a handful of moves on Saturday drawing even more attention from the conspiracy theorists around the hockey world. But as Dubas showed everyone with his acquisition of O’Reilly, he likes to keep his moves quiet and rarely can you get inside of his head.
Still, the moves created smoke where there is seemingly no fire just yet. In addition to placing Jordie Benn on waivers (which he cleared), the Maple Leafs will likely re-assign Joseph Woll and Joey Anderson to the AHL’s Toronto Marlies in preparation for the upcoming deadline — and the return of Matt Murray, which seems to be inching closer as well.
Those moves would leave the Maple Leafs with just over $2 million in cap space as well as two roster spots even with Murray’s return from long-term injured reserve. Even with just the $2 million in cap space, some much needed salary retention could land the Maple Leafs an interesting option on the back end — a gap in the lineup the team still should look at filling.
Related: Maple Leafs Need Depth Over Big Names at Trade Deadline
So assuming the Maple Leafs are looking to make another move, these moves could open the door to Dubas landing another important piece in the very near future.
Schenn, McCabe Among Maple Leafs’ Candidates
While I won’t speculate on who could be on their way out, the Maple Leafs do have areas in which they can free up even more cap space to land one of the bigger names on the market. Now, I’ve also discussed how the team doesn’t need to land the big name, but a capable name to push them over the hump in the playoffs.
Early on, the name that were swirling around the Maple Leafs was Jakob Chychrun. Now, the more realistic names on the market might be players like Luke Schenn, Radko Gudas and Jake McCabe.
Schenn fills the void that is left open by the absence of Jake Muzzin — who is out for the remainder of the year and playoffs. He’s big, physical and can be that fear factor, stay-at-home defenceman that the Maple Leafs so desperately need in the playoffs. On top of that, the Vancouver Canucks should be looking to get anything for the assets they have and can move prior to the deadline.
That said, Gudas and McCabe are also good candidates for Dubas to be looking at. The Florida Panthers are slowly falling out of the playoff picture and Gudas could be a good option for them to move on from if the Maple Leafs are truly looking for that tough, edgy blueliner.
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Finally, the top-tiered of the three, McCabe would be the ideal grab for the Maple Leafs’ general manager. He has term left on his contract and while the Maple Leafs would likely need the Blackhawks to retain some of the salary to make it work, he checks all the boxes for what the Maple Leafs need — physical, poised in his end and able to breakout of his zone. Not to mention, he’s willing to sacrifice his body to block shots. He’s the perfect candidate for a strong playoff run.
Either way, the Maple Leafs are gearing up for another big deadline move. While the deadline might still be four days away, don’t count on the Maple Leafs waiting until March 3 to make it happen.
Another Move on Defence is Imminent
With the Eastern Conference becoming heavy favourites to take home the Stanley Cup — with the recent Timo Meier move to New Jersey and the Tampa Bay Lightning picking up Tanner Jeannot — the Maple Leafs and Dubas are back on the clock to make a move and truly solidify their back end heading into the playoffs.
Related: Maple Leafs’ Acciari an Underrated Acquisition
Grit and toughness has to be a focus with their likely first-round opponent being the afore mentioned Lightning which really does shrink the list of possibilities for the Maple Leafs. But the focus shouldn’t just be on counteracting the trades made by possible postseason opponents.
The Maple Leafs have a much-needed hole to fill on the backend, left by Muzzin, and it’s one that is required for success come playoff time. While time is ticking on the NHL Trade Deadline and players are starting to find new homes much quicker with some of the bigger names falling off the trade board.
The time is now for the Maple Leafs to acquire that big, physical defenceman to replace their fallen comrade and Dubas needs to get it done before more moves are made around the league. After all, it’s only a matter of time before he cracks the headlines again with another deal.