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The Honour Roll: Final grades for the whole trade season

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Photo credit:© Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sports
Jon Steitzer
11 months ago
It’s final over. The trade season and all the rumours and speculation finished until the 10 minutes after the Leafs (hopefully long) playoff run is over. Exhale. It’s time to talk about hockey.
Before we get all the way back to the business of watching games, we need to grade the work of Kyle Dubas. It seems like there are two sets of grades that need to happen, the ones now based entirely on the optics of the transaction, and the ones that will come later with the benefit of hindsight of whether or not everyone did what they were supposed to do. We’ll see if we remember to do that. For now, here are the final thoughts on the Leafs trade deadline.

Colin Hunter: A-

Taken as a whole, Kyle Dubas’ “trade deadline” – being the moves he made from Ryan O’Reilly / Noel Acciari onwards – was great.
While you can analyze each trade individually, the current roster as a unit feels much stronger. While in my ideal world the team would have added one more scoring forward, the forward group overall has become much more versatile, and the bottom six seems to now have an identity – which it has lacked this season. Defensively, depth has certainly been addressed, and the McCabe acquisition was a homerun in my eyes. Who can hate the return of Luke Schenn either?
As mentioned, adding another depth scorer would have been preferable, and I do not love the Sandin trade. However, the team looks as strong and as balanced as I’ve seen in my lifetime. Hard to be upset with that.

Bennett Jull: A

Kyle Dubas made this team remarkably better over the last two weeks. He addressed pretty much every need the Leafs had, and this group is poised to finally win a series (or multiple).
He brought in a top six option in Ryan O’Reilly. The bottom six was strengthened with Sam Lafferty and Noel Acciari. Dubas managed to bring in a top four dman that will make a mere $2M per year for two seasons beyond this one. Toughness was addressed with the acquisition of Luke Schenn. Dubas also turned Rasmus Sandin into a 1st round pick and Gustafsson.
Depth was addressed with every addition, and each new player will strengthen the locker room. My only critique is not trading away the expiring Justin Holl. I don’t think 9 NHL blueliners is necessary, and Holl at the very worst could have fetched a 4th round pick.
I’m glad he stood pat in net, and I love each new addition. Go Leafs go, and well done Mr. Dubas!

Steven Ellis: A-

They did exactly what they needed to. To me, the biggest issues year after year was the lack of depth. We saw that especially against Columbus in 2020 where Morgan Rielly was forced to play long shifts late because they didn’t have suitable replacements. Now, they’ve got one of the deeper bluelines and a reinforced offensive group. I’m not sure there was a single goalie that would have moved the needle. If Woll ends up being needed, I’m confident there. This is the most confident I’ve been in this group, and I’m usually extra critical.

Nick Richard: A

For me, this was a nearly perfect deadline for Kyle Dubas and the Leafs. They could have likely used another scoring option up front but they addressed several holes on their roster, both now and moving forward, while significantly altering the make-up of their roster in a way they believe will be more conducive to postseason success.
They diversified and lengthened out their lineup, both up front as well as on the blue line, and I believe that nabbing Jake McCabe at a $2 million cap hit for the next two seasons will end up being a huge get for this team. “Competitiveness” is a word we’ve heard thrown around a lot by Leafs brass lately and I think the additions they made will have a residual effect on the entire team in that regard.
Beyond the additions, I believe the time was right to cash out on Rasmus Sandin. I know I’m in the minority in that regard, especially after the Leafs didn’t use the return for further upgrades to this season’s roster, but I think it was shrewd asset management to recoup some valuable draft capital for a player who was no longer in the team’s plans.
Adding one more scoring threat would make it an easy A+ but by the time Friday rolled around, there were no obvious targets that would have made it worth parting with that first-round pick and a roster piece like Holl or Kerfoot.
Bottom line, I think this team is a lot better than it was a few weeks ago and they should be capable of finally finding some degree of playoff success.

Michael Mazzei: A-

Collectively, Kyle Dubas did everything you could ask of him to try and improve the team.
O’Reilly has been as advertised in the middle six and should be heavily relied upon down the stretch either alongside Tavares or centering the third line. Acciari has been a godsend on the fourth line and done wonders for making them tougher to play against. Getting McCabe at 50% retained over the next two seasons is huge because his play is similar to Muzzin’s while also being active in the play. Lafferty’s speed and forechecking should make him a versatile option in the bottom six. Gustafsson provides offensive insurance on the back end and should be effective on the power play once he’s accustomed to the system. Schenn’s sandpaper playstyle is something the Leafs desperately needed on their blueline and his willingness to lay the body should make them tougher to play against.
The Leafs were smart to not go after a goalie as well as trading Sandin while his value was still high. It may suck to see him and Engvall go, but the options they have brought in like Gustafsson and Lafferty helps fill the void at a lower price. And with Murray set to return, it was a necessary decision while also swapping in different elements.
My one gripe is that the Leafs did not try and acquire one more forward at the deadline. While I understand that the cap space was tight and salary would have to be moved, seeing them lose out on guys Bertuzzi definitely stings. The lack of an additional forward being acquired at the deadline indicates they are trusting Knies to be the final piece of the puzzle. It would definitely be exciting to see him join the roster because of the strong season he is having in college, but remains to be seen how effective he will be at the NHL level right now. I hope it works out for him but we should not hold our breath.
Overall, there is a lot to like with what the Leafs did in the lead up to the deadline. Dubas has done everything he can to give his team a chance to win, now it’s up to the players to deliver.

Nick Barden: A

I think Dubas did a lot of good with what he had. Acquiring players like O’Reilly and Acciari early before pouncing on McCabe, Lafferty, Schenn, and Gustafsson was the right move. Also, in the process, he was able to acquire a first-round pick again, which was a plus.
I would’ve liked to see him add an extra forward, for depth purposes. However, it’s not the worst thing in the world when you have Pontus Holmberg, Wayne Simmonds, Bobby McMann, Alex Steeves, and potentially Matthew Knies waiting in the ranks.
All in all, I believe this trade deadline, with it being much different than others, was a huge success. We’ll have to wait and see if the A turns into an A+ in April.

Jon Steitzer: A

As much as I want to drop a hot take about the Leafs trade deadline and be unnecessarily cruel in order to add some spice to this roundtable, the reality is Kyle Dubas did incredibly well. Going into the trade deadline, if I told you the Leafs would be drafting the first round of 2023, had cap space to sign Matthew Knies, and added both Ryan O’Reilly and Jake McCabe, I would be dipped in blue tar and covered in white feathers for being too much of a homer.
The reality is that losing Rasmus Sandin and Pierre Engvall might not sit well with everyone, especially when the trade of Gustafsson, Schenn, Acciari, and Lafferty is more about a change in bottom of the roster identity rather than upgrading. Still, and I know I’m in the minority on this one, I’d rather have a late 2023 1st round pick than continue down the Rasmus Sandin development path. Resetting with a 1st is nice (if Dubas keeps it) and I get the sense that Topi Niemela will make the departure of Sandin not an issue that anyone will dwell on.
The only criticisms of Dubas I have are that by acting early he had to deal with the expectations that there was more to come and moving towards a more physical bottom of the roster could limit some of the skill advantages they had with Sandin and Engvall.
It also hurts that we never got a proper farewell with Leafs Legend Dryden Hunt.
Alas, it was pretty great work and work deserving of a contract extension for Dubas.
Let us know your thoughts in the comments.

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