Maple Leafs’ Trade Scenarios: Two Crucial Tipping Points

Given the way that Maple Leafs’ goalie Jack Campbell played last night against the Winnipeg Jets, it’s tough to believe that the team is or should be too worried about its goalie situation. But the team’s concern isn’t based on quality; it’s based on injuries. Frederik Andersen is out for at least the near future.

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When will Andersen return is a huge question that faces the organization’s choices as they run for the Stanley Cup this season. Furthermore, amazingly good play aside, there are rumblings that Campbell’s workload is being heavily managed for a reason, which is that he’s trying to both play and rehab his lower-body injury – whatever that vague injury might be.

Jack Campbell Toronto Maple Leafs
Jack Campbell, Toronto Maple Leafs (Photo by Andy Devlin/NHLI via Getty Images)

In this post, I want to consider the potential choices the Maple Leafs must make as they head into the April 12 trade deadline. Certainly, there’s been no shortage of rumors about upcoming trade scenarios. Curiously, Maple Leafs’ general manager Kyle Dubas fuelled some of these rumblings a couple of weeks ago himself when he shared that the team would be seeking forward help.

Specifically, what can we discern from what Dubas says about the trade deadline?

Dubas Spoke About the Trade Situation Last Night: What Did He Say?

An article published very early this morning reviewed an interview conversation between the Maple Leafs’ general manager Dubas and James Duthie on the TSN pre-game show. In that conversation, Dubas spoke about three of the organization’s high-end prospects — Rasmus Sandin, Nick Robertson, and Nick Abruzzese. He also answered the inevitable question about the likelihood that the organization would move a high-end prospect to improve the current roster before the trade deadline.

Toronto Maple Leafs prospect Rasmus Sandin
Toronto Maple Leafs prospect Rasmus Sandin (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graham Hughes)

In his answers, Dubas said all the right things such as (a) the organization is open to any possibility – the team would make any trade that benefitted the organization’s goals; (b) the team can only work with other teams as their mutual needs intersect; and, (c) the organization values its prospects and, if one is moved, the organization would be seeking significant return.

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Specifically, here’s the text of the conversation. After sharing this text, I’ll comment about what I think Dubas is saying and what logic tells me he’s outlining for possible trade moves for the team.

Duthie’s Question and Dubas’ Answer

Dubas was asked the question: “You have acknowledged the possibility of using one of the top prospects as a trade chip this year. We are (less than) 10 days away from the deadline. What are the chances that all of your top prospects are still around come the trade deadline?

Dubas responded that “It really depends on what our trading partners are looking for. It is no secret that we are going to be a team that is going to be looking to acquire players at the deadline. We will see where our needs are as it evolves in the next week or so prior to the deadline.

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

What I would say is that some teams are looking for draft picks, some teams are looking for prospects, and other teams are looking for roster players. We will remain as flexible as we can on all fronts to improve our team here and work with the teams that are looking to move out players and are in a different stage of their franchise evolution than we are.

I would say it is all on the table for us at this point. If we are going to move one of the higher-end guys, I would say it would need to be an extremely significant deal. We are not opposed to it. We will see how everything evolves as we get towards April 12th and we see how our team continues to evolve in terms of performance and in terms of health. That is going to be a huge factor as we head towards the deadline and try to improve our team.”

What is Dubas Actually Saying?

So, although much of what Dubas said was pretty standard stuff – things that all NHL general managers should say – as in “we will explore every opportunity,” what really did Dubas say in his answer? What does he hint about potential team trade moves?

I admit that I’m sometimes read between the lines, but here’s what I believe he’s saying.

Dubas’ Point One: The Maple Leafs will (for sure) be buyers.

Dubas is obviously looking to fill in the needs he feels he has on our team.

Point One Commentary

That begs the question: what are those areas of need? During his state-of-the-team discussion with media at the season’s halfway point, Dubas already noted that he was looking for forward help. Given the generally settled nature of the team’s depth, the only likely spot the team could be seeking help on would be in the spot Alex Galchenyuk is now occupying with John Tavares and William Nylander.

Alex Galchenyuk was the third overall pick of the Montreal Canadiens in the 2012 NHL Entry Draft
(Aaron Bell/CHL Images)

His second area is obviously at the goalie spot where, as I noted earlier, I think Dubas’ concern is less about quality and more about injury.

Dubas’ Point Two: The Needs are Fluctuating

Specifically, Dubas noted that “We will see how everything evolves as we get towards April 12th and we see how our team continues to evolve in terms of performance and in terms of health.” (my italics)

Point Two Commentary

Dubas notes that two things are evolving – performance and health. [The idea of evolving seems a key concept to me.]

When I consider that area of “performance,” what would be “evolving?” Again, the only area I can see in performance is the play of Galchenyuk on the second line. The rest of the team seems pretty taken for granted. Most players’ positions are a given.

Sure, there’s game-to-game movement with players such as Joe Thornton and Wayne Simmonds, but Galchenyuk is the one spot that’s in what I would call an “evolving” area.

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In this area, Galchenyuk’s play over the next nine days will be a key to the team’s trade-deadline decisions. Furthermore, because he’s only 27 years old, the Galchenyuk decision is important. If he indeed does retain his high-end talent, he seems to be both a short-term (this season) and a long-term solution for the team.

Specifically, if the organization decides Galchenyuk has proved he’s a valuable player, he’s a UFA after this season currently on a relatively cheap contract (at $1.05 million). I’d anticipate he could be signed on an inexpensive short-term contract next season.

My logic suggests Galchenyuk is the tipping point when Dubas notes “evolving performance.”

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When I consider the area of “health,” Dubas must be talking about the goalie situation. Andersen’s injury seems to be the one area that’s most up in the air; however, if there are things our eyes as fans cannot see, perhaps he’s also hinting about Campbell as well. Still, in the area of “evolving health,” Andersen’s status/prognosis seems the tipping point.

What Should Maple Leafs’ Fans Could Be Watching For?

Considering Dubas’ response to Duthie’s question, there are two key tipping points for the Maple Leafs’ trade-deadline decisions. One is how well Galchenyuk plays over the next few games. So, fans should watch for Galchenyuk to get plenty of ice time in all situations – on the second line, on the power play, and perhaps even penalty killing. The team needs to see what is has in this still-young player.

Related: Would Maple Leafs’ GM Kyle Dubas Trade a Top Prospect? YES!

Second, fans should monitor Andersen’s health reports. The last word was that he was out for “at least” three games. One game was last night, and there are two more on the road before the team returns home to play the Montreal Canadiens on Wednesday.

Should Andersen’s prognosis for an imminent return to play not be positive, Dubas might pull the trigger on a trade for a rental goalie. And, at this point, it gets interesting.

Could a high-end prospect be in play? Would Dubas seek to replace Andersen for next season as well? What about rumors that the Buffalo Sabres’ Linus Ullmark might be on the team’s radar? There’s a lot going on.

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