Last year, the Toronto Marlies were carried to a third consecutive division title by point-per game seasons from TJ Brennan and Spencer Abbott. Eventually, the Leafs organization decided to part ways with Brennan and re-sign Abbott.
Fast forward to nearly a year later, and they’ve been traded straight up for each other.
What The Leafs Lose
Realistically, the Toronto Maple Leafs lose nothing from this trade. If Spencer Abbott didn’t get a serious look at the National Hockey League with his performance last year, he wasn’t going to get one at 26 years old in the midst of his worst AHL season to date.
The Blackhawks, on the other hand, have a lot to gain from this. Abbott is as pure of a skilled playmaker as they come, and when he has a decent triggerman, he’s able to produce. With Brennan, Abbott picked up 59 assists in 75 regular season playoff games last year, and added 21 goals.
Chicago, of course, are looking to replace Patrick Kane, but only for twelve weeks. There isn’t a good market for pending UFA right wingers, particularly ones with Kane’s style and skill set. Abbott has a somewhat similar style and build, though he isn’t as fast of a skater. But they’re not looking to find someone who will replace Kane; they’re looking for a plug to drop into their lineup for a bit more offensive punch. With a contract that’s near the league minimum, this still gives the Blackhawks room to keep shopping, and the ability to waive him if he doesn’t transition to the NHL.
It’s a low risk, medium-to-high reward proposition for a team that’s always looking to gain a competitive advantage.
What The Leafs Gain
The Leafs, in their NHL incarnation, also don’t gain anything from this trade. They’re past the point of trying to improve, and Brennan would probably be at least mediocre in the NHL, giving them no incentive to play him for tank reasons.
As such, he’s going to the Marlies, and he’s exactly what the doctor ordered for that club.
Toronto has been adding a lot of depth along the wing throughout the season. William Nylander has come in from Sweden, and Brendan Leipsic just came in from the Cody Franson trade. Matt Frattin didn’t crack the NHL roster but has been good with the Marlies, and Connor Brown has been a pleasant surprise. There’s more guys to talk about, but the point is, Toronto is in a good position along the forward boards.
On the other hand, their defensive corps can’t score. It’s just the reality of the situation; Brendan Mikkelson is a 0.3 point/game defenceman and he looks like Erik Karlsson compared to his teammates. Brennan, on the other hand, is an Elite AHLer, and boy, can he ever put up points from the point. Last year, Brennan scored 25 goals and 72 points in 76 regular season games, and was point-per-game through fourteen playoff appearances. He took over 10% of Toronto’s shots (an Ovechkin or Kessel-esque share) and was the backbone of their powerplay unit.
If the Marlies stand any chance of making it into the playoffs, they need to start getting some offensive support from their defensive corps. With 23 games to go in the season, it’ll be difficult, but not entirely unrealistic for them to catch up. With that considered, I don’t think there was a better acquisition to make that happen than Brennan. He’s arguably the AHL’s best offensive defenceman, and he’s familiar with most of the team.
WIth playoffs, comes more playing time for the prospects. Playing time is a valuable commodity, which makes this small-looking trade a valuable one. Let’s see how it plays out.
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