Another off-season is upon us in Leaf land and unfortunately the same feelings of disappointment and frustration with this team’s playoff performances are still prevalent. As time has gone on I have tried to keep a level head about where I think the direction of the team should go, and in that time they have traded a player that I thought brought some unique elements to the team in Kasperi Kapanen.
The way the trade leaked out definitely didn’t help the situation. Initially, Elliotte Friedman tweeted simply “Kasperi Kapanen is being traded to PIT”. Then there was this unfamiliar period of time where there was no breaking news about what the return will be or any other trade details. During this time, I felt for sure Dubas was trying to get his former goalie from the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds in Matt Murray… which led to speculation about Andersen’s future with the team (which I have also been an advocate for him staying by the way). Then David Pagnotta sent a false, ill advised tweet about Jack Johnson being part of the return and that is when the panic started to settle in. After a minor panic attack, finally the news broke about the exact trade details and all the panic turned into happily being surprised.
Now let’s not pretend the Leafs didn’t give up a solid third-line player in Kapanen who also played significant roles on special teams, but ultimately the Leafs received the 15th overall pick (in what is being called “the deepest draft since the 2015 and 2003 drafts”), a 20-year old LW/C prospect who multiple scouts categorize as a versatile middle-six forward who can play multiple situations, and most importantly cap flexibility for a couple AHL players and someone who was never going to play in their top-six.
Now once all the trade analysis was done by the main stream media companies, it was very clear that the Leafs clearly won this trade. However, the pessimist in me thought back to last off-season when similar opinions were shared about the Nazem Kadri trade and the honest truth is… we won’t know who won this trade for at least another 2 years once the pieces the Leafs got back can come to fruition, just as Tyson Barrie’s unrealistic expectations failed to come to fruition. Although, I do appreciate that Dubas seems to have learned from last July’s mistake when trading from their position of strength, which is forward for a position of weakness on defence. I know hindsight is 20/20 but the Tyson Barrie trade seems like it was just to check a box off the media’s wish list of someone who’s name fits the “Top-4 Right Hand Defenceman” mould. Well obviously we all know that Tyson is not that and frankly never could be that in Toronto especially when he needed to be sheltered on a third pair against one of the lowest scoring teams in Columbus.
What I think Dubas has learned is that a team that will be spending half of their salary cap on 4 forwards needs complementary players that can play up and down your lineup and will bring a different element to the bottom six that maybe your top six doesn’t have. Preferably these players will bring to the team more value than they’re being paid and when you add up all these elements, to me it all points to one word: FLEXIBILITY.
In Kapanen, they did have a player who brought speed and a unique edge with physicality to the bottom six… but he doesn’t allow your team to be flexibile in a flat-cap era because he is not able to play with either of Matthews or Tavares. Therefore, by trading him Dubas is saying “we can’t be paying someone a middle tier salary if their ceiling is exactly that, stuck in the middle of the lineup”.
So with all this being said the Leafs can continue to prioritize moving forward with some flexibility, and a Grade-A trade chip to help improve the roster if they feel the right piece is available. If I am Dubas, my priorities should be:
- Find an ACTUAL partner for Morgan Rielly
- Determine what you are doing in the net, specifically with Freddy Andersen
- Add players with some size and physicality that can drive play with bottom six minutes
The first one is pretty self-explanatory, enough with the experiments, enough with the reclamation projects and enough of these defencemen in the twilight of their careers. Get your best offensive defenceman a partner that can do the things he struggles at and give this team an unquestionable #1 defensive pairing. The Leafs now have a first round pick again with some cap space, if there was any time to capitalize on some teams lack of cash flow to try and pry an acceptable partner for Rielly… now is the time.
Secondly, it seems like all signs point to Frederik Andersen no longer being part of the Toronto Maple Leafs plans. This topic is very tough for me because anyone who follows me on Twitter or has read past blogs know that I think Freddy deserves a shot playing behind an average to slightly above average defensive team at the very least before his career in Toronto is done. However, I am also aware that there is an abundance of goalies entering UFA this off-season and consequently possibly even more available through trade. Which leads me to my point that unless Dubas can get his hands on a goalie that they are 1000% confident can create a tandem with Jack Campbell to give this team top 10-12 goaltending for a combined salary less than Freddy Andersen… you most certainly DO NOT move Freddy.
Last but certainly not to be forgotten is giving this team a little bit of a different identity in the bottom six of the lineup. Look at what the Tampa Bay Lightning are doing right now, they have found the perfect blend of speed, size, physicality, and stick-to-itiveness all the while keeping their core trait of skill throughout the lineup. The Lightning found players that are something the Leafs have not had in awhile… versatile. Players like Palat, Killorn, Coleman, Goodrow, Gourde and Maroon are literally made for the Stanley Cup Playoffs. The playoffs are about flexibility and adapting to different styles of play, if the game is getting clogged up through the neutral zone and you have to play a dump-and-chase forecheck then work it off the cycle… you should have players that can do that. Ultimately, the Leafs can’t expect every game to favour their speed through the neutral zone and rush chances, YOU NEED PLAYERS THAT CAN PLAY DIFFERENT STYLES OF GAMES.
Although this is just what my priorities would be and there are probably many other opinions that have some validity to them as well, I am sure we can all agree that there are many more moves to come this off-season and that Dubas is willing to alter his vision to adapt to a winning playoff style of hockey.