One of the Maple Leafs bigger offseason acquisitions is now desert bound. As GM Dubas has traded Nick Ritchie & a conditional pick (third round pick in 2023 or second pick in 2025) to the Arizona Coyotes for forward Ryan Dzingel and Ilya Lyubushkin.
Nick Ritchie since arriving to the Maple Leafs struggled to find his place. Coach Keefe tried to coach up Ritchie, and when that didn’t work he was given opportunities in the Maple Leafs bottom six and he still didn’t fit there either. Too many missed opportunities, too many unfortunate penalties and a lack of offence spelt the end of the road for Ritchie in the Blue and White.
It no longer became a situation of what the Maple Leafs could with Ritchie to quickly becoming how the team could get out of his contract. This trade does that, as the Maple Leafs acquire two pending UFA’s in this trade. For a player with a contract few thought could be moved, that’s some tidy work in a flat cap environment.
What do the Maple Leafs get in return, the big piece is Ilya Lyubushkin. Nicknamed the Russian Bear (6″2, 201 lbs), what Lyubushkin lacks in scoring, he brings in grit, sandpaper and mobility. He fills an immediate need for a hard-nosed defensemen who isn’t affraid to take out bodies. While making opposing think twice if they want to take residence in front of the Maple Leafs net.
Some of his underlying numbers aren’t the best, but how much of that has to do with playing on a team that is more interested in finishing last than it is at winning hockey games. Lyubushkin would pair well with Sandin on the bottom two pairing. Dzingel, is more of a depth pick up which will more likely be used in a subsequent trade or can open the door to move one of the other forwards for additional depth on defense.
The Maple Leafs now also have eight defensemen, have to think this is an additional sign that the Maple Leafs are looking to move on from Travis Dermott and Justin Holl as starting jobs on defense are starting to be spoken for with the addition of Lyubushkin, and with Sandin and Liljegren making their own cases for consideration as regulars in the lineup.
This isn’t it for the Maple Leafs, further needs are still prevalent, but with this trade today at least one hole on defense has been filled. With another little over a month to the NHL deadline, I would expect a trade or two as the GM Dubas looks to bolster the roster ahead of the playoffs.
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