Brad Treliving emphasizes creative approach as the Maple Leafs stay active in the trade market

Photo credit:Steven Ellis/Daily Faceoff
Shane Seney
1 month ago
The Toronto Maple Leafs acquired a familiar face from the Anaheim Ducks as right-handed defenseman Ilya Lyubushkin will make his return to the blue and white. What should this trade tell Leafs fans? Brad Treliving is far from finished.
The Maple Leafs blue line has been battered and bruised all season long and after Mark Giordano went down, Treliving had no choice but to add a blueliner. Head coach Sheldon Keefe was publicly getting frustrated with the lack of options available for his right side and even admitted Mitch Marner almost started the Coyotes game on the blue line. Marner can handle himself, there’s no doubt about that, but that’s some kind of desperate having to push your first-line right-winger back to play defense.
Lyubushkin will help. He’s a simple man with a simple game and the Leafs could use his talents when it comes to finishing checks, blocking shots and killing penalties. Flashy? Nope, but he doesn’t need to be. Lyubushkin’s the type of player who will go through a wall for his team and eat a puck in the face if he needs to. He’s nails tough and the only concern really should be that he has some troubles moving the puck, but if he can get himself in the right positions and paired with a consistent partner, having some solid chemistry will certainly help his cause.
Lyubushkin hasn’t scored this season but his 138 blocked shots now lead the Maple Leafs. His 112 hits rank him third on the Leafs blueline behind Simon Benoit and Jake McCabe. Our own Jon Steitzer went into a deeper dive into Lyubushkin’s numbers this season and made an interesting point about him not necessarily being the ideal partner for Morgan Rielly.
Treliving pulled off some handy work getting the 6-foot-2 Russian defenseman out of California. With 75% retention between the Ducks and Hurricanes, Lyubushkin will only cost the Leafs $$687,500 instead of $2.5 million against the cap. Low risk, high reward and considering what we’ve seen out of Benoit this season, anything can happen for a defenseman put in the right situation.

Treliving Continues to Work the Phones

Ensuring that Lyubushkin’s cap hit would be minimal for the rest of this season before he heads to free agency was a very slick move by the Maple Leafs GM. It’s allowed for the Leafs to continue to troll the waters and full expectation is the fact Treliving has one, maybe two moves left in him before 3pm est, March 8.
Treliving’s interest lies in adding another defenseman for at least this season, but ideally someone with term. Meanwhile the Maple Leafs bottom-six is far from a finished product and has their own complications with Calle Jarnkrok chomping at the bit to get back into the lineup from injury.
Nick Robertson and Matthew Knies are the only two forwards the Leafs have who are waivers exempt, but Knies isn’t going down. Robertson is a prime candidate to spend a couple of weeks in the AHL to allow for the dust to settle, but he’s also a prime trade candidate who could be swapped for a defenseman with term. Yes, likely more to the package if Treliving wants to move the needle, however, this would be a much riskier move from the Leafs GM as Robertson is only 22 years old, he’ll be a cheap cap hit for the next few seasons and he’s shown he can score in bunches. However, if Tyler Bertuzzi ends up sticking around town long-term after all and Knies isn’t going anywhere, and Easton Cowan is on the way, where does Robertson even fit in? Ideally he’s among the top six because of his offensive instincts and world-class shot and also the fact he’s 5-foot-9 and not a proto-type third-line winger.
Besides Robertson, Martin Jones is someone who could be squeezed out of Toronto before the deadline thanks to what looks like a healthy duo in Woll and Samsonov. The 2024 first-round pick is also in play and so too is AHLer Ryan Tverberg, according to Leafs Morning Take host Nick Alberga. Tverberg is a 22-year-old former seventh-round pick who is turning heads with the Marlies thanks to his above-average hockey IQ, offensive instincts and production so far this season. The former UConn product has 28 points in 35 games in the minors.
The Leafs sit with $1.44 million in projected deadline cap space, and let’s say Jones and Robertson end up getting moved, that figure creeps closer to $3 million. David Kampf could also be a player being offered on the trade market as Pontus Holmberg has shown enough this season to warrant being the fourth-line centre short and long-term. Kampf signed a Treliving-offered deal last summer for four season as $2.4 million AAV and also owns a 10-team no-trade clause so the Leafs GM will have to find his reverse Uno card to get out of that mess.

What does the next week hold for the Leafs?

I’m expecting Treliving to try and work some more salary retention magic and acquire two more players before the deadline. A veteran forward who can play centre and the wing, and a defenseman who has at least another season left on his contract, but let’s be honest, Treliving would probably jump on the chance to upgrade his d-core, even if it’s another pending free agent. The contract extension can come after the fact.
Matt Dumba continues to be someone who should be circled as a potential target as the Leafs were very interested last summer and with Arizona’s openness to wheel and deal, perhaps Treliving and Bill Armstrong can work out a trade. Dumba’s game is similar to Lyubushkin’s however the Coyotes defenseman has much more of a ceiling when it comes to offensive outputs. Dumba’s hit 50-points in the past, Lyubushkin might not end this season with 50 shots on net.
If the ’24 first-rounder is in play, someone like Will Borgen or Adam Larsson out of Seattle would be a absolute dream. Treliving’s been known to be in the know when it comes to just about every available trade candidate, so while there’s been plenty of d-men the Maple Leafs have already been linked to this season, expect the unexpected as Treliving isn’t shy to make a bold transaction. It’s part of his pedigree that Brendan Shanahan liked and one of the biggest reasons he was hired in the first place.
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