As of March 1 – two days before the NHL trade deadline – the Toronto Maple Leafs have brought in six new players and four draft picks to their fold, shipping out two others alongside six picks.
I don’t think they’re done.
Below are my thoughts on their moves over the past two days, and what I think comes next for the Leafs.
TRADE PARTNER: CHICAGO
In: Jake McCabe, Sam Lafferty, a 2024 conditional fifth-round pick, a 2025 conditional fifth-round pick
Out: 2025 conditional first rounder, 2026 second rounder, Joey Anderson, Pavel Gogolev
Quick take: While it’s impossible to know how these guys will play, it’s a tremendous deal for the Leafs. You get McCabe with two additional seasons (so three playoff runs), 50 per cent retained salary, making him a $2 million players who’s playing nearly 20 minutes a night and performing well this season. He brings an edge the Leafs lacked. Lafferty is cheap, has term, brings pace and edge. The fact that the Leafs brought back two picks with this package so they aren’t fully without any going forward is an under-discussed detail, too.
Their 2025 (top 10 protected) first and 2026 second weren’t going to help them for like five years. Huge win of a trade.
| READ MORE: SCOUT JASON BUKALA’S TRADE ANALYSIS |
TRADE PARTNER: WASHINGTON
In: Erik Gustafsson, 2023 first-rounder (via Boston)
Out: Rasmus Sandin
Quick take: Sandin was a few things to the Leafs — a guy who was going to be their seventh defenceman in the playoffs they didn’t fully trust, and a disgruntled player because of that distrust and because of contract issues at the start of the year. I didn’t see any way he’d fetch a first rounder, even a late one, so that’s a nice return for the Leafs. Gustafsson probably isn’t in Toronto’s top six to start the playoffs, but he’s on pace for 50 points, has a 60-point season in his past, and was playing some 22 minutes per game for the Capitals. He can play.
TRADE PARTNER: NY ISLANDERS
In: 2024 third round pick
Out: Pierre Engvall
Quick take: I get why the Leafs wanted to change their mix by shipping out Engvall: they’ve been after more “killer instinct” and those words ain’t Pierre. They wanted to move out salary to make room for Matt Murray’s return and for juggling in general. And, hey, having room for Matthew Knies to play – and the money to pay him – is nice too.
That said: crummy return. Engvall skates like the wind, shoots it hard, is strong, drives play, kills penalties, is in his third year of a 15-plus goal scoring pace, and is just 26 years old. This is presumably the best return that was out there, but other teams missed out by not offering something better to get him (say, a second-rounder).
TRADE PARTNER: VANCOUVER CANUCKS
In: Luke Schenn
Out: 2023 third round pick
One look at Tampa Bay’s forward group, with snarly competitors like the Nick Paul, Ross Colton, Anthony Cirelli, the fourth line of Maroon-Bellemare-Perry, Killorn, the newly acquired Tanner Jeannot, and on and on … you can see why the Leafs valued someone who’ll compete like hell. Maybe a third-rounder this year is on the high side for Schenn, but he was valued by numerous teams.
So, what’s next for the Leafs?
My gut says they’re not done, and that they’re going to bring in a goalie who makes them more comfortable than Murray. The man just can’t stay healthy, and you simply cannot go all, all, all-in like the Leafs have, watch Ilya Samsonov get injured, and hand this roster to Joseph Woll who’s played six NHL games total. Whether Murray is good or not isn’t even the question, you just can’t trust his availability.
Regarding the question of whether a current NHL back-up is even going to be better than Woll…have some respect for how hard the position is to play, let alone the human element. The pressure and scrutiny of this year’s Leafs playoffs is not exactly a learning environment, and after watching turnovers in big playoff moments fairly recently from inexperienced guys (see: Alex Galchenyuk, Travis Dermott), I can’t fathom leaving the goaltending position to a guy who’s played 17 professional games total this season.
So yes: I think they get another goalie.
As for their mix now, could it look something like this in the post-season? Here’s what I’d consider, with some thoughts on each position.
We’ve yet to see the Leafs go Matthews-Tavares-O’Reilly-Kampf down the gut as their four centres, and that’s a very realistic option come playoffs, given the Lightning have an excellent third line (Colton-Paul-Jeannot). I’ve started Knies on the fourth line as it keeps pressure lighter, and he has physical support. He’s also a big body who can skate, which makes that one heck of a fourth line.
Let us know in the comments what you’d like to see here. There are a ton of options, which you like to have in a post-season when things change every day.
As for organizing the D, phew, this is a challenge:
Rielly – Brodie
I list it with Liljegren in the lineup, but, last year the Leafs anticipated the first playoff game or two to be heavy and nasty and competitive to set the tone, which is why they dressed Wayne Simmonds and Kyle Clifford on their fourth line (that, um, didn’t go as planned). They also dressed Liljegren, then decided it was too much for him at the time, and he came out again. I think it could go the opposite for him this year, where you start Schenn to handle the initial banging and chirping and all that in the first round, but go to Liljegren as things calm down.
Honestly I find their pairs very hard to make. Rielly needs defensive stability in a partner, and nobody provides that like Brodie. McCabe isn’t Jake Muzzin, but Muzzin-Holl was very good for the Leafs once upon a time, and this could be a version of that. At the end of games I think you’re seeing a lot of Brodie, Giordano, McCabe, then maybe Holl and Liljegren.
Let us know below how you think the pairs work best.
In all, the Leafs still don’t feel done with this group. That’s nine defenders they likely won’t stick with and a goalie situation that seems untenable. They may have some wiggle room to add if they move something where they’ve got a surplus.
It’s been a week to remember for Leafs fans, and it ain’t over yet.