Maple Leafs choosing Ryan Reaves over Sam Lafferty is looking like a laughable mistake

Photo credit:© Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports
Alex Hobson
2 months ago
Brad Treliving’s first offseason as Toronto Maple Leafs GM was a polarizing one, to say the least. While the Day 1 signings of Ryan Reaves and John Klingberg left people more puzzled than optimistic, he seemed to win back the fanbase by inking both Tyler Bertuzzi and Max Domi to one-year deals on Day 2. 
As expected, the Day 2 signings have fared much better than the ones from Day 1. Domi has found a new rhythm to his game since his switch to third-line centre, and Bertuzzi’s defensive numbers have been strong despite the lack of scoresheet production. And honestly, the Leafs committing $5.4 million to Reaves and Klingberg would be much easier to stomach if they didn’t have to sacrifice a much more effective player in the process. 
Sam Lafferty didn’t make a ton of noise during his time as a Leaf, but he also never got a proper chance with the team. Originally acquired from the Chicago Blackhawks at the 2022-23 trade deadline along with defenceman Jake McCabe, the Pennsylvania native was thrown into a rogue blender from the moment he put on a Leafs jersey. He was shuffled between the third and fourth lines, even rotating out as a healthy scratch from time to time, and finished the 2022-23 regular season with six points in 19 games. In the middle of all of this, he had a child – right before the playoffs started.
The summer that followed was full of speculation about his job for next season, with his name inevitably coming up as a potential waivers candidate so that the Leafs could be cap compliant come the start of the season. And, while he never actually met the waiver wire, he was shipped off to the Vancouver Canucks for a fifth-round pick before the season began.
But, it didn’t have to be this way. 
I’ll be the first to admit that I tried to justify the Reaves signing when it happened. Sure, his role is one that’s growing more extinct by the day in today’s NHL, but there was a notion that maybe his locker room presence had value that the average fan/journalist doesn’t understand the same way a teammate would. Hell, Minnesota Wild GM Bill Guerin did a radio hit and talked about how his personality was nearly the sole reason he acquired him last year. 
Reaves’ personality and locker room presence must be on an entirely different level of elite, because the on-ice product has been the exact opposite. He has one goal in 17 games on the season so far, and hasn’t done any favours for his linemates in David Kampf and Noah Gregor. Of course, he wasn’t signed for offence – he was signed for his “snot”, as Treliving brought up on more than one occasion. But there hasn’t been much of that either. He dropped the gloves twice in the first two games of the season, but since then it’s been nothing but radio silence. Sure, he has 36 hits in 17 games, but he’s fourth on the team in that department.
In particular, the November 2 game against Boston was a perfect opportunity for Reaves to earn his money. It was a game against a divisional rival, and one of the league’s biggest pests in Brad Marchand took Timothy Liljegren out, effectively injuring him and keeping him out of the lineup to date. He could have sent a message that game, both to his own team and to the Bruins, but he didn’t. 
Meanwhile, Lafferty has seven goals and 13 points in 26 games for his new team so far. He’s been getting looks skating alongside Elias Pettersson, and before you shrug that off, he was briefly skating alongside John Tavares before he was traded during preseason as well. Sure, his career stats don’t reflect those of a top-six player, but his speed is clearly something that’s valued on the teams he plays for. 
The Leafs don’t need somebody for the top-six. They need somebody who can ensure that they have four playable lines at all times. They’ve gotten that in small doses, usually when Bobby McMann steps into the lineup for Reaves, but it’s hard to overlook that they could have had this option every night had they elected to keep Lafferty from the get-go instead of signing Reaves at all. Imagine him on the fourth line with Gregor and Kampf? You’ve got speed, defensive ability, and physicality all in one (Lafferty has two fewer hits than Reaves as of now).
Instead, they’ve got a fourth line winger who only brings one of those elements. We saw Wayne Simmonds’ role slowly diminish since Toronto originally signed him in 2020-21, and the logic I came up with to justify it was that Reaves’ role was more of an enforcer rather than a power forward like Simmonds was. That, and his body wasn’t as broken down. 
I’m sure Reaves is a great presence for that locker room and I’m sure his teammates love him. Nobody wants to be the subject of an article like this one, and it’s not one I enjoyed writing either. But, for each game that passes where the Leafs are forced to sit Reaves, while the Canucks are reaping the rewards of Toronto’s cap mismanagement and their hot start to the season alike. 
Brad, I know what you were trying to do, but it didn’t work.

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