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It’s report card day after the Leafs gave us a lot of trades to grade

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Jon Steitzer
9 months ago
Here we are with another round of grade that trade. Everyone loves these posts, that’s why every site seems to do them. You can’t get enough. We can’t get enough. Well… I guess we could kinda get enough because, with the volume of trades the Leafs had yesterday, most of the TLN contributors were huddled in balls on the floor, rocking back and forth going “no more, no more.” It’s in that spirit that I’m largely taking over the grading myself today. I got some help with the Sandin deal, but I’m flying solo on the smaller ones. I promise to be nice to Luke Schenn, but we’ll save him for last.

Sandin to Washington for Gustafsson and Boston’s 2023 1st round pick: A

The second you say “first round pick” to me, I instantly like the trade. My brain still operates in a pre-2016 world where the idea of the Leafs accumulating 1st round picks is the goal of the season. Couple that with all the love letters written about this draft class and it’s nice to see Toronto back in the game.
Erik Gustafsson is no slouch either. Those aren’t sheltered 3rd pairing minutes that he’s been playing either, that’s a 20 minute a night defenseman that is doing well and is about to be slid into a role that is far more manageable for him. I’d argue the Leafs got the best asset with the pick, and the best defenseman in the deal with Gustafsson, and the Capitals are largely just banking on Sandin being more usable for them immediately and on par with what they’d get with a late first round pick.
In theory, everyone got what they wanted out of this deal, but from my perspective this is a big win for Toronto as it gives them a lot of flexibility for future moves and they’ve cashed out at the right time on a defenseman who’s path to the top four is blocked.
From Michael Mazzei:
B+
I felt that it was the right time to move on from Rasmus Sandin, as much as it will suck to see him go. His development has hit a bit of a snag over the past two seasons and has not done enough to prove he can be a legitimate option on the top four long-term. The contract dispute over the summer should have been indication that his time in Toronto would not last long, and it turned out he would not survive the season. He should get a chance to prove himself in Washington so hopefully it works out for him.
The return the Leafs got back is quite interesting. Erik Gustafsson is having a great season and is right in the prime of his career. His cap hit is a lot cheaper than Sandin’s and will be a UFA at seasons end, so it’s hard to tell if he will remain with the team past this season. Getting a first round pick as well is the real value in this trade because it gives the Leafs another asset to use leading up to the deadline.
The reason this trade does not get an A just yet is because the Leafs still have too many defencemen on their main roster. They may have saved themselves $600K in cap space with this move, but there is still a log jam that will need to be sorted out.
This grade will change once it becomes clear what Kyle Dubas does with the two assets received from Sandin. Still, it was the right decision to move on from the 2018 first round pick.
From Bennett Jull:
A-
After acquiring McCabe, the writing was almost on the wall. Although McCabe can play either side, Rielly + McCabe + Giordano makes for a pretty crowded left side next season.
Getting back Gustafsson is a real coup. He immediately becomes the Leafs leader in points from the blue line, and can more than adequately quarterback PP2. His usage will be interesting should he be here beyond March 3rd. Despite his awesome production this year, there’s no guarantee he will play regularly for Toronto.
The 1st round pick is very valuable even if it was originally from Boston. Does Dubas parlay it into another forward? Perhaps he keeps it and uses it. Regardless, Dubas traded Sandin at probably the best possible time, and the Leafs roster didn’t get worse. They still have 9!? NHL defencemen on their roster, suggesting Dubas isn’t done. Sandin is a player I like, but gaining assets for someone that probably wasn’t going to factor into the playoffs is a shrewd move.
From Nick Alberga:
B
While I was/am a big Sandin fan, I don’t mind the idea of maxing out on a player. In terms of value, I think Kyle Dubas did pretty well, especially when you consider how much Sandin had fallen down the depth chart in recent months. Whether it was now or in the offseason, I do think the writing was somewhat on the wall for him in Toronto. As for the Gustafsson pick-up, I think it adds depth, something they’ll undoubtedly need come playoff time. I know his defensive numbers have been decent this season, but I view Gustafsson as more of a plug and play type guy this team. Sometimes he’ll be in, sometimes he’ll be out. On top of that, I’d love to see how he looks running PP1 for a few games. Also, I still think the first round pick could be in-play between now and Friday to upgrade the roster elsewhere. We’ll see, but all-in-all, I thought it was another shrewd piece of business for Kyle Dubas and company.
From Colin Hunter:
C+
I have mixed feelings about this trade. Sandin for years has been a player that I, and other Leafs fans looked highly upon, and envisioned being a part of the team for a long time. Moving on from him now, at just 22, stings. He has crushed his minutes (albeit limited ones) since joining the team, and seems to have potential to be a great player in this league for a long time. To turn that into 2 assets that don’t particularly improve the team now or in the long run is disappointing, regardless of whether “fair value” was gotten.
On the other hand, I understand why this trade had to happen. The Leafs and Sandin clearly haven’t seen eye-to-eye for a while now, and with the addition of Jake McCabe, Sandin wasn’t likely to see a significant step up in his minutes this season or next. To capitalize on his value around the league now makes sense I suppose.
Overall, I’m not crazy over this trade. Gustafsson has had a great year, but I’m not convinced that he’s better than Sandin currently. One thing that may improve how I feel about this trade is whether they move Boston’s 1st rounder for an upgrade to the forward group. But until then, I’ll remain slightly grumpy about the move.
Lesson learned here, today’s trades were far more divisive than the McCabe and O’Reilly acquisitions.

Pierre Engvall to the Islanders for a 2024 3rd Round Pick: B-

The big thing with this deal is that the Leafs got a 3rd round pick, but most importantly cleared $2.25M and that was the critical task for them. I’ve said it before that Pierre Engvall should be worth more than a third round pick and I’ve also said that moving Kerfoot ahead of Engvall would make a lot more sense, but if Toronto found themselves in a situation where they had a willing taker for Engvall and none for Kerfoot, and they had the opportunity to pick up an asset for a player that Kyle Dubas viewed as on the outside looking in when it came to their bottom six playoff group.
I can admit I might have graded this trade harsher than others because I value the shot suppression element to Engvall’s game, I value how much better he makes David Kampf, and the Leafs are losing one of their better penalty killers.
Others will see Engvall as a big guy who doesn’t hit. Someone who has failed to provide the Leafs with the scoring that was hoped for, and someone who would have been too expensive to be sitting in the press box. I can appreciate those sentiments, but it’s still sad to see the giraffe go.

Luke Schenn returns to Toronto for a 2023 3rd Round Pick: C

Some day I’ll sit down and write the great Canadian novel about how it’s foolish to stay at home defensemen from struggling teams in hopes of improving your defense. Such is the root of my bias against Luke Schenn and why I don’t particularly approve of this deal that seemed to be about nostalgia, cup experience, and hits more than a strong year.
I’m not going to debate hits with anyone, in fact I do see the value in having a heavy hitter come playoff time. I’m just not sure the rest of Schenn’s game warrants him being the guy you bring in to do that.
To some extent I can see Schenn as the Leafs wanting to see if there was something to the Rielly-Polak, Rielly-Hainsey pairings of yesteryear and it’s a matter of finding the right fit for Rielly rather than bringing in the best defenseman. Maybe McCabe gets a look on the right side next to Rielly, maybe Schenn is the solution and a $850k cap hit and a 3rd round pick are a pretty low risk way of seeing what can help your 1D.
Outside of a potential Rielly partner gambit, it seems like Schenn is the 8D on the Leafs at the moment, and while there is the playoff brand hockey element to his game that people won’t ignore, it is hard for this deal to make too much sense until we see what other moves are coming as a result of it or how exactly the Leafs want to use Schenn. If Timothy Liljegren finds himself out of the lineup in favour of Schenn, I suspect there will be more vocal dissent about this move.
In the spirit of the nostalgia of this trade, here’s a classic Luke Schenn: Human Eraser highlight video from the long, long, ago:

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