Evaluating the Leafs trade deadline
Photo credit:Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports
By Jon Steitzer8 months ago
Trade Deadline season has come to a close. For better or worse this is the Leafs’ team we will be living and dying by come the playoffs. It’s worth remembering that this was very much billed as the last stand for this core, and Dubas wanted a final kick at the can with this group to show that they can make it beyond the first round.
In that sense, we probably shouldn’t be surprised that changes were kept to a minimum. It’s also interesting that really only Dermott found himself as a 2020-21 team member on the way out. Nick Ritchie departing and the attempted waiving of Petr Mrazek were attempts at undoing the worst aspects of the last offseason.
In a sense, we can already say that Ondrej Kase, Michael Bunting, and David Kampf have already taken huge steps to improve the Leafs. The addition of Ilya Lyubushkin also seemed like a positive. So here we are with Mark Giordano and Colin Blackwell in the fold. Neither addressed the goaltending question mark. Giordano is another left-side defender, and Blackwell might get his shot with Tavares and Nylander, but he’s not a bona fide top-six forward by any means. That begs the questions:
What did you think of the deadline? How improved are the Leafs?
Here’s what the TLN crew had to say:
When healthy, the Maple Leafs blue line is much improved. If Rielly is able to find chemistry and success with Lyubushkin or Liljegren, that frees up Brodie to be a problem solver elsewhere in the lineup. Because Giordano and Brodie have a lengthy history playing together that makes them an easy pairing. Giordano should help limit some scoring chances against the rush.Rielly Lyubushkin
Muzzin Sandin/Holl/LiljegrenBefore, Muzzin and Holl were carrying the load defensively playing a lot of minutes against top competition. But now, the Leafs should be able to spread the minutes around between their three pairs. Muzzin getting injured in the playoffs before meant Dermott or Marincin playing a top 4 role. So the Leafs definitely have more depth now than they did in recent years.Blackwell is underrated and has been on pace for 21 and 16 goals the last two years. He played with Panarin and Strome with the NYR. Gourde and Appleton in Seattle. His 7 hits/60 would be second behind Simmonds on the Leafs this year among forwards. An energy player Dubas said he’s been after for a while. Would have liked a more sure fire option in the top 6, though. Would also like to see Robertson get another look there.If Campbell comes back and plays well then Källgren as the backup is fine. He’s played well enough, but if Campbell can’t find his game, I’d be nervous. They’re a better team. They’ve been playing more physical the last while, too. Don’t know if it’ll be enough to compete with Florida or Tampa Bay, though.
The Leafs had two areas they needed to improve: goaltending, and a 2nd liner to play with John Tavares and William Nylander. They accomplished neither.I like Mark Giordano and Colin Blackwell, but ultimately, they failed to accomplish what they set out to do. We know that the Blackhawks negotiation for Fleury was a bit outlandish and that the goalie market beyond him was barren, so I can’t fault Dubas for not making a move for the sake of making a move. There’s every reason to believe that a rested Jack Campbell will get back to form. Until then, who knows.As for the second line, maybe the tenacious Colin Blackwell is exactly what they need there. Or maybe Kerfoot can get his magical scoring touch (aka massive shooting luck) going again. Either way, Dubas didn’t really go out and get a puzzle piece that solves that problem. If the Leafs have any hope of making it past the first round, something will have to materialize from Blackwell, Kerfoot, or some other depth piece, or Tavares and Nylander will have to drive the bus with Some Guy floating along doing his best.
When looking at the Maple Leafs’ trade deadline this year, I think they did a relatively good job, all things considered. As we all know by now, they acquired Ilya Lyubushkin well ahead of the deadline and then made a couple of moves on the afternoon before the deadline sending defenseman Travis Dermott to the Canucks for a draft pick, as well as shipping out three draft picks for defenseman Mark Giordano and forward Colin Blackwell from the Kraken.Just looking at those additions to this lineup, you can see Toronto improved in different areas, however, one thing that is still up in the air right now is their goaltending and with Jack Campbell still sidelined with a rib injury, they’re going to need Erik Kallgren and Petr Mrazek to try their best until Campbell comes back. Besides the goaltending, I like what Kyle Dubas and company did. Yes, you can say they could’ve done maybe a bit more, but for what they were able to do, I like it a lot.
You add a hard-nosed defensive defenseman in Ilya Lyubushkin from the Coyotes that checked a ton of boxes for this Maple Leafs team and we’ve been seeing it first hand through the first handful of weeks he’s been with the team. He’s big, he’s physical, he’ll clear the front of the net with a couple of cross-checks or simply just hit you, and he simply provides more depth on the right side.For the case of adding Mark Giordano, it’s kind of similar, but he’s a left-shot defenseman. Giordano checks some of the boxes as well for this Toronto team, and for a team who still has an injured Jake Muzzin on LTIR as well as an injured Rasmus Sandin now, adding Giordano to this defense is a win in my eyes. He’s obviously not the same player as he once was, especially dating back to when he won the Norris Trophy, but his game has still been good enough to rely on him to play top-four minutes. His offensive game has taken a dip, but he’s still as sturdy as ever on the defensive side of the puck and will provide leadership, veteran presence, and he’s simply a player who is competitive and will do what it takes to win.As for Colin Blackwell, I think this is a low-key sneaky pickup from Kyle Dubas and I am very interested to see him slot into the lineup and play for Toronto. Obviously, he isn’t one of the more attractive names when you look at some of the wingers out there, but I like to think of him as a swiss army knife and someone who is like the energizer bunny. He’s someone who can play both sides on the wing, has some offensive game to him, is reliable defensively, and plays with so much energy when he’s out there. He is under six feet tall, and I know that might tick some people off, but he’s listed at 190 lbs and plays like someone who is taller than six feet and 200 lbs. He isn’t afraid to throw the body around and as I said, he plays with a ton of energy so that’ll be huge for a team like Toronto.After these additions from the Maple Leafs, I like to think they have improved and they will be big contributors for this team going forward and into the playoffs. The only thing that worries me right now is the goaltending, but here’s to hoping a healthy Jack Campbell will bounce back and find his game again when he returns from injury.
Looking back at the deadline as a whole, the Maple Leafs did a pretty good job. I wouldn’t say it was really good, but I also wouldn’t say it was really bad. Each of the moves made sense in my own mind.Kyle Dubas addressed everything he needed to, other than goaltending, which essentially cost a first-round pick. There wasn’t any way the Maple Leafs were going to acquire a goalie with that cost, so they decided to run with their netminders in-house. It’s not the worst thing in the world, especially if the two of Jack Campbell and Petr Mrazek peak at the right time.Getting Mark Giordano and Colin Blackwell were big adds for Toronto. Addressing the defence, while also adding a forward without giving up roster players or prospects was really well done. One thing I do believe, though, is that many people have forgotten about the Ilya Lyubushkin trade. It was long ago, which is understandable, but I think that was the best trade of the bunch.All in all, I think it was a good trade deadline for the Maple Leafs with the resources they had available to them.
Given the restrictions Kyle Dubas set for himself (not trading any top prospects or their first round pick on a pure rental) I think he did fine and the team is genuinely improved in one area- defence. Blackwell could potentially be the piece that reinvigorates the Tavares-Nylander line but I’m reserving judgment on that front until we see line rushes in practice on Tuesday. Källgren and Campbell as the pairing down the stretch could be good, great or abysmal, only time will tell. And it’s a shame they couldn’t unload the boat anchor that is Mrazek’s contract but such is life.
I think some Leafs fans were a bit miffed by the lack of action on actual deadline day, but if the Giordano/Blackwell trade had happened one day later they’d probably be pretty happy with what the Leafs came away with.Giordano appears to have a decent amount of game left in him at age 38, and Blackwell’s an exciting high-motor guy whose tenaciousness should prove useful in the playoffs.One area I would have liked to see the Leafs address is the LW spot on Tavares’ line, but perhaps Blackwell can slot in there as the resident digger and fill the Hyman role on that line.The Leafs tried to address their goaltending woes by waiving the struggling Petr Mrazek and signing Finnish netminder Harri Sateri after an impressive showing at the Olympics, but in typical Leafs fashion the worst possible outcome occurred: Mrazek cleared and Sateri was claimed off waivers by Arizona. Perhaps expecting anyone to take on Mrazek’s deal for the remainder of this year and the next two seasons without a sweetener attached was wishful thinking. I think many would have rejoiced to not have to Experience Mrazek Goaltending anymore, though. Sigh.Kyle Dubas did not make the biggest splash during the deadline, and all the other contending teams in the Atlantic division arguably improved more than the Leafs did, but it would have been short-sighted to match some of the deals that were made over the last few days. To come out of this weekend having addressed some of the team’s weaknesses without having overpaid is a good thing. We’ll see if enough tweaking was done to get the Leafs over the hump.
It’s important to remember that despite their playoff past, the Leafs are currently in a contending window, not a “win-now” window. Their core is still in their early-mid 20s and with prospects like Robertson, Knies, Niemela and more on the horizon, it was important for the Leafs to improve this season’s roster without overly mortgaging the future. I think they did this. They acquired a legit top LD, a potential top-four RD and a middle-six forward without giving up a first round pick or prospects. That’s impressive given the prices for other players around the league.
There’s still questions that were left unanswered but Toronto definitely has the pieces to address them. They aren’t expecting their players to play better than their capabilities but rather to meet them. Overall I’d give the management an A- on the deadline. They did some solid work and even got rid of their worst contract in Nick Ritchie.
Let us know what you think. Was this a reasonable deadline season? Should the Leafs have done more? Less? Tell us in the comments.
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