MAKING SENSE OF THE MAPLE LEAFS MOVES
2023-02-28 · 2 min read · NHL/Hockey
Darren Yamashita-USA TODAY Sports | TSN
In keeping up with this season's ever-growing Eastern Conference arms race the Maple Leafs have made multiple moves recently, including three today. Toronto has picked up six new players while shipping out three in the last two weeks. Let's take a look at the deals and see if we can make sense of them.
First let's start with the other day's deal where the Leafs picked up Jake McCabe, Sam Lafferty and two conditional fifth-round picks from the Chicago Blackhawks, for Joey Anderson, Pavel Gogolev, a 2025 conditional first-round pick and a 2026 second-round pick. The Leafs blueline has been feeling the absence of Jake Muzzin whose shutdown minutes are hard to replace. Acquiring Jake McCabe goes a long way toward filling that void among Toronto’s blueliners. McCabe plays a hard game, willing to lay his body on the line. He’ll kill penalties and make smart decisions with the puck. Crucial to the value is that McCabe has two seasons remaining on a four-year, $16 million contract he signed with the Blackhawks on July 28, 2021. Chicago will also retain 50 percent of McCabe's salary, making his salary a very manageable 2 million per. Lafferty feels destined to play on the fourth line with Acciari, that’s a tough matchup for a lot of NHL teams. Lafferty’s speed and Acciari’s tenacity should match up well against the Leafs presumed first-round opponent the Tampa Bay Lightning. Once again, a key to adding Lafferty is his contract. With another year remaining on his deal at just $1.15 million, Dubas has roster flexibility. What’s hard to come to grips with is just how much Toronto has given up in draft capital with the recent moves. But this deal is easier to understand because both McCabe and Lafferty aren’t rentals.
Next, let's look at the Leafs moving Rasmus Sandin to the Washington Capitals for Erik Gustafsson and a first-round pick in the 2023 draft. Sandin has 20 points (four goals, 16 assists) in 52 games this season. The defenseman recently missed three games with a shoulder injury. The 22-year-old defenseman signed a two-year contract with the Maple Leafs on Sept. 22 and can become a restricted free agent after next season. Gustafsson has 38 points (seven goals, 31 assists) in 61 games this season. The 31-year-old defenseman signed a one-year contract with the Capitals on July 13 and can become an unrestricted free agent after the season. This deal feels like a trial for Gustafsson who is on a 1-year 800,000$ deal and a way to recoup some of the trade assets Toronto has lost recently.
Next in the trio of today's trades the Leafs shipped winger Pierre Engvall to the New York Islanders for a third-round pick in the 2024 NHL Draft on Tuesday. The 26-year-old forward signed a one-year $2.25 million contract with Toronto on July 17 and can be an unrestricted free agent at the end of this season. Engvall has 21 points (12 goals, nine assists) in 58 games this season. This deal feels like a cap maker, probably for Matt Murray to get some regular-season action to get him ready for playoff time. The third-rounder is also a solid asset for a bottom-six winger on an expiring contract. Toronto now seems like it could use a third liner so maybe more movies are on the horizon before Friday's trade deadline.
Lastly, the Leafs are seeing the return of right-handed defenceman Luke Schenn from the Vancouver Canucks. In exchange for Schenn the Canucks will receive a third-round pick in the 2023 NHL Draft. The 33-year-old defenseman is in the final season of a two-year contract he signed with the Canucks on July 28 and can become an unrestricted free agent after this season. He has 21 points (three goals, 18 assists) in 55 games this season, ironically his highest since he was a Leaf. Schenn was selected by the Maple Leafs as the No. 5 pick in the 2008 NHL Draft. Schenn is a solid stay-at-home defenceman, who provided a steady presence on the blue line for Tampa when they won back-to-back cups. The Human Eraser (great nickname) seems likely to slot alongside Morgan Rielly and play a similar role to the one he was playing beside Quinn Huges in Vancouver; a hardnosed, reliable, shutdown defenceman.
Overall these moves signal that the Leafs are officially all in this year no holds barred, which is unsurprising considering Keefe and Dubas likely need to get to the second round of the playoffs to keep their jobs. On top of this, there's a committed effort to get tougher and more physical, especially on the back end. This does not surprise me considering the quality of forecheck of teams the Leafs are likely to play starting with Tampa who bested them in a seven-game grind last year. The commitment to winning is nice to see and I won't be surprised if they make another move or two before the deadline.
By: Chase Howard