Let’s be honest: Toronto’s trade deadline was underwhelming

Photo Credit: Tom Szczerbowski/USA TODAY SPORTS

The trade deadline is over. It has been for hours, actually; the buzzer sounded at 3:00 PM and while we saw some fireworks after, things chugged along without a significant blockbuster. The Leafs? They made a handful of moves over the past two weeks that we’ll include in the big picture, but just one today, leaving a grand total that isn’t particularly much.

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Player Yrs Rm AAV Player Yrs Rm AAV
Sergey Kalinin 1 800,000 Viktor Loov 1 692,500
Brian Boyle 1 2,000,000 Byron Froese 1 575,000
Steve Olesky 1 575,000 Frank Corrado 1 600,000
Eric Fehr 2 2,000,000 Colin Smith AHL Loan
Mike Sislo AHL Loan 2nd Round Pick TBD  
Pierre-Luc Leblond AHL Loan      
4th Round Pick PIT      

I’ve spoken separately about the Kalinin/Loov trade and the Boyle trade in prior posts, and they’re both fine for what they are. Toronto got a depth centre in case of injury and for the Marlies in the former trade, and in Boyle, they got the type of player that Mike Babcock dreams of on the fourth line. They make sense in a vacuum.

Moving Frank Corrado makes sense in a vacuum as well. While I think he’s a quality, NHL-calibre player that’s been overlooked by the staff, the reality is that after two years, he wasn’t going to get an opportunity here. It was in the team’s best interest to make this his last season here, and while they could have done that by moving him at the draft or not qualifying him if nobody bit, they decided to use him as the other way asset in a cap dump deal.

Using cap space to replenish assets makes sense too. Toronto has a tonne of it next year and can play around as they wish, especially if they don’t swing for the fences in free agency like I and some others believe that they could and perhaps should if short term deals are involved. Olesky fills a spot on the Marlies’ depth chart that Corrado will have left open for right-handed defencemen for the rest of the year. Fehr can probably be a really good AHLer if the Leafs decide to use him in that way for now, or maybe they call him up, shelter him, and make him look ready to contribute with the big boys again; possibly leaving him to be the Las Vegas expansion bait for his former GM, George McPhee.

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Even the AHL swap that happened today made sense. Colin Smith went from NHL prospect to “we’ll keep an eye” at the AHL level to a disappointing second season to date in the organization, and while Mike Sislo is also having an off year, he’s a right-handed shot on the powerplay who can replace the departed Froese, and I have a hard time believing that a guy with three consecutive twenty-goal seasons under his belt is going to keep shooting at 5% forever.

But then bring it all together. Start with the Marlies: If Sislo is in to be a close-enough Froese, why did Froese leave? If Olesky is a close-enough Corrado, why not hold onto Corrado for a year? If the Leafs weren’t going to get much back for taking on $2 million in cap space this year, why bother?

Oh, and if there wasn’t going to be an upgrade in another position to go with it, why give up an asset for Boyle? Maybe the Leafs though they had more coming, but the end result was they didn’t.

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Some wanted Toronto to be buyers. Their buying consisted of a fourth line centre and an AHL rental to replace the guy that had to be sent back in the first trade. Some wanted them to be sellers. They kept all their vets and they sold cap space and a player who they crashed any potential value for.

The likely end result of this? The Marlies get a bit worse while upgrading two competitors, which, say what you want about the AHL mattering, isn’t great when you want your own kids to get winning experience. They’ve filled the voids with players years older than them. The Leafs plug a hole that could have probably been plugged internally at the cost of a decent draft pick but don’t address much else. They freed up $17 million in theoretical cap space through LTIR, managed to use it to get to the ceiling, but still barely did anything with it.

There’s a lot of ways Toronto could have gone here. They could have bought and taken a chance on a group of inexperienced kids being able to surprise. They could’ve sold their UFA veterans (the Smith’s Polak’s, Hunwick’s etc) and taken the opposite type of risk, in letting the core fight their own first battle as a group and not as a blend of children and parents. They could’ve stood pat entirely and said “hey, we want to see this ride out”.

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Instead, they upgrade in a minor (though still useful position) by a bit, downgrade a draft pick, scramble a bunch of balance sheets, and hope that their minor league arrangement is still as good as they were a few weeks ago. Maybe it’s a product of the environment; teams weren’t super active today and trades seemed to be lopsided one way or another throughout the weekend. But while you can see pieces of logic in each move individually, the big picture looks like a bunch of moves to show that they were capable of making moves, moves that make the team older, more expensive, less effective on the net (save for Boyle), and a little less intimidating on the draft floor.

I hope I’m wrong. I hope everybody they bring in bounces back (particularly Eric Fehr, who I really hoped would turn into something in Washington), I hope they help the Leafs get their heads screwed back in just in time to take on an Atlantic Division that made a bunch of moves but didn’t get much better, and I hope this all makes perfect sense in the end. But if this was all they were going to do, one way or another, it feels like they would’ve been just as well off to do nothing. When you think of it that way, that’s a little disappointing.

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