Toronto Maple Leafs Trade Grades: “Let’s Ride!”

Well folks, this is it! If they are going to do the thing we so ever desire, this group of hockey players will be the ones to do it. The NHL Trade Deadline has passed and Kyle Dubas was as busy as he’s ever been since becoming the Toronto Maple Leafs General Manager. Let’s take a look at the players Dubas brought in over the last 96 hours leading up to the trade deadline and how each player can help the Leafs. All information regarding player statistics, salary cap, and contracts comes from either CapFriendly or Natural Stat Trick.

Riley Nash – Grade: A+

The party got started this past Friday night when Kyle Dubas traded a 2022 Conditional 7th Round Pick* (*The pick upgrades to a 6th round pick if Nash appears in 25% of Leafs 2020-21 playoff games) for Riley Nash and his $2.75M annual cap hit.

The most important thing to keep in mind here is that Riley Nash is currently out 4-6 weeks with a knee sprain and is eligible to be kept on LTIR until the remainder of the regular season. Conveniently enough, that recovery timeline aligns perfectly with the timeline of the salary cap being in effect. So essentially, the Leafs acquired a defensively sound, right-handed shot, bottom six centre who is a good penalty killer… without removing a single cent from their very limited cap room. Not to mention, he provides a wonderful insurance policy on a very raw Pierre Engvall who has just 4 games of playoff experience in the bubble last summer.

The priority of course, is to get Riley Nash healthy over this next month and a half. After that, hopefully get him into a few AHL games on a conditioning stint… and then have him ready to centre a shutdown line within the Leafs bottom six.

These are the types of moves I love as someone who is fascinated with the different mechanisms within the salary cap rules because, this trade also allowed the Leafs to increase their LTIR pool and essentially give them more flexibility to make future deals, which we now know they eventually did.

Nick Foligno and Stefan Noesen – Grade: A-

Speaking of future deals… about 48 hours later we get the big splash. Toronto sent Columbus a 2021 1st Round Pick and a 2022 4th Round Pick PLUS a 2021 4th Round Pick to San Jose for former Blue Jacket captain Nick Foligno at $1.375M AAV (25% of his original cap hit of $5.5M) and minor leaguer Stefan Noesen.

When this deal came across the wire, the first statement that popped into my head was “Screw the acquisition cost, just win baby!”. I’ll be the first to admit that I think it is expensive to pay a first round pick for a player with such very little history of scoring production… but if there was any year to deal a first round pick, it should be this year. The 2021 NHL draft is going to be an absolute mess given that a large portion of the draft class has played little to no games. Players that will get drafted in the first round could very well be fourth round talents and vice-versa, since there isn’t a larger enough sample size for the scouts to evaluate from. This will be the last time I bring up the acquisition cost of Nick Foligno because the fact of the matter is, he brings a lot to the table for this team and I am willing to take that first round bet with the hopes of a long playoff run and maybe a silver trophy as the payoff.

Moving on to the actual hockey aspect of the deal, let us recall Kyle Dubas’ post deadline press conference where he talked about Sheldon and himself discussing the need for a player who is of high character, defensively responsible, can play on any of the top three lines, and can play the game any way you want to play it. They acquired these qualities and then some by adding a player like Nick Foligno.

The best way to appreciate what Foligno can bring to this team is to flashback to August 2020 in the bubble, and think about how much you hated Nick Foligno. If you were someone like me, you would have had some expletive words to describe him. Now, that player is playing FOR your team… he can finally make fans of opponents feel the way we felt and how Tampa Bay fans felt the year prior to last. He is the son of former Leaf, Mike Foligno, he will be wearing #71 for this team, and he will hopefully be a useful piece of the puzzle as this version of the Leafs pursue the ultimate goal.

David Rittich – Grade: A

On the eve of the NHL Trade Deadline, the Leafs made another move of significance bringing in David Rittich at 50% of his original $2.75M annual cap hit from Calgary for a 2022 3rd Round Pick.

Over the last 3 weeks, it seemed more and more likely that the health of Frederik Andersen was not progressing as well as the organization had hoped. To me this deal signifies a gesture of gratitude to the Leafs goaltender, an assurance to Freddy that he doesn’t need to rush back to play until he is 100% healthy. This is worth mentioning because there have been multiple reports that during his last stretch of games where he was single handedly losing this team games… he was not even close to 100% and was simply toughing it out so that his goalie partner Jack Campbell could have his time to get healthy enough to get back in the net. I don’t typically agree with playing with significant injuries, especially when you play such an important position and the injury is affecting your performance. However, I gained some respect for Freddy after hearing this because even though he wasn’t getting the results… it shows he is willing to battle for his teammates and that will go a long way in that dressing room.

With regards to David Rittich, his surface stats don’t really give off that good of an impression as he sports a .911, .907 and .904 save percentage from the 2018-19 season until this current season… good for 41st among goaltenders with 1,500 minutes of playing time. However, when you just look at 5 on 5 situations over that same time period and same playing time threshold, his save percentage of 0.921 ranks 33rd among goalies.

At the end of the day, I love this deal because the Leafs got a goalie who checks all the boxes of necessity for this team going down the stretch, all for the affordable price of a pick outside of the top sixty four overall:

  1. Can be relied upon to play a string of games in order to further rest Jack Campbell when he needs it
  2. In the catastrophic event where both goalies can’t possibly go one night, you know that “Big Save Dave” has the ability to steal one for your team on any given night in the playoffs. (He seemed to do it against the Leafs every time he started against them)
  3. Last and certainly not least, *fingers crossed* his place on the roster virtually guarantees that Michael Hutchinson will never have to play a playoff game for the Leafs on what they hope to be a long run.

Ben Hutton – Grade: B-

As the day went on, I kept wondering if the Leafs were going to finally go get some depth on defence. I wrote in my last blog that it was a necessity for the Leafs to go an add at least one or two more defencemen. It was no secret that I wanted Jamie Oleksiak, he offered so much as a player… especially with his versatility and in the likely event one of your top six (or even worse a top four) defencemen were to go down, Jamie could step in on ANY pair and give us solid minutes.

Instead, Dubas went out and sent a 2022 5th Round Pick to Anaheim for Ben Hutton. The key reason for my low grade here is I just don’t think this move was enough to solidify the back end. It tells me that Dubas is perfectly comfortable with Rasmus Sandin and/or Timothy Liljegren stepping into the NHL playoffs after having a combined experience of 1 NHL game amongst the two in over a calendar year.

Hutton brings some remarkable penalty kill talent but has failed to show he can step up with increased minutes if needed and that is something I was looking for them to add prior to the deadline.

Antti Suomela – Grade: B+

The last deal of the day for Toronto sent former KHL free-agent Alexander Barabanov to San Jose for centreman Antti Suomela.

This trade seemed to me like a cap move because Suomela is a minor-leaguer whose cap hit doesn’t attribute to the NHL salary cap, plus it also gave the Russian forward a chance for more playing time with a lesser team in San Jose. It shouldn’t be forgotten that a similar deal by Dubas was made a few weeks ago when they moved Mikko Lehtonen for Finnish goaltender Veini Vehvilainen. These types of deals should bode well for the Leafs as it keeps their reputation high amongst European Free Agents looking to come to North America, very simply… they will get every chance to become regular Maple Leafs but if it looks like it is not working out, the Leafs will move you to a team where you will get another chance to become an NHLer.

Overall Grade: A-

Overall, I think the message is as clear as it can get… not only do the fans believe in this team, not only do the players and coaches believe in this team, but now the man who built all of this is doubling down on this team. The belief in this team is evident from all perspectives and these deals signify that mentality. Hence my unofficial but official slogan of this quest for the silver thing is…”Let’s Ride!”.