Photo Credit: Ed Mulholland /USA TODAY SPORTS
The Toronto Maple Leafs have made their first trade of the the deadline crunch-pocket, sending Toronto Marlies defenceman Viktor Loov to the New Jersey Devils in exchange for centre Sergey Kalinin.
At first glance, the move seems a bit peculiar. After all, the 25-year-old Kalinin just cleared waivers earlier this week, meaning that Toronto gave up an asset for a player they could have had for free. But, once you read between the lines, it’s not hard to figure out what’s going on here.
Firstly, Toronto were already hovering close to the contract limit, at 49 players signed. A waiver claim right now leaves them in a hands-tied position of a player they’d like to claim in the future comes up, or if they were to trade a draft pick for a player. In that sense, giving up a contract they weren’t as worried about keeping makes sense.
Over the years, Loov has become that guy. While he’s been a fan favourite to those who watch the Marlies on a more frequent basis due to his surprising mobility for his size, and his love for throwing huge body checks, he’s fallen significantly on Toronto’s depth chart over the year. The 24-year-old seemed unlikely to make any significant progression in his development at this stage of his career (especially with Travis Dermott, Andrew Nielsen, and Rinat Valiev above him on the left side), and with restricted free agency looming in the next few months, there was a greater-than-zero chance that the team would refrain from tendering a qualifying offer to him in July.
With Alex Gudbranson, a player with a similar edge to his game, on loan from the Minnesota Wild, the Marlies were in a position of abundance and could afford to part ways now.
Kalinin’s waiver status also plays as an asset in this situation. If the Leafs were to claim him, they’d have to waive him again to get him down to the Marlies. Now, he can report straight to them, or come up for 10 games or a month before going down.
It’s worth noting that there is no exapnsion draft benefit here. While Kalinin has played enough games to line up with the “70/40” exposure part of mandator exposures, the KHL doesn’t count as a pro league; making this his second pro season, and therefore, making him exempt.
In the event that Kalinin does come up, I wouldn’t expect much. The ex-captain of Avangard Omsk has put up just 19 points in 121 NHL games, is just 41% at the faceoff dot over his career, and has been a negative Corsi-rel player in both seasons he’s played with the Devils. Kalinin is well known for his defensive responsibility and board play, but he’s struggled to make a name for himself with the Devils.
On the Marlies, he’ll be able to pull the skill level of his opponents back a bit and take better advantage of his skating ability, and, more importantly, give them another centre option. The team has flirted with using wingers down the middle throughout the season (Colin Greening is their top centre today, for example), so having another option, especially one who can free up pucks for their skilled players, is never a bad thing.
At the end of the day, I don’t think we’ll ever be talking about Kalinin as a staple of the big club, but he likely helps a surging Marlies roster get just a little bit better at no cap cost or roster spot cost. It’s not a “slam dunk” move by any means, but it’s likely a beneficial one moving forward.