It’s Officially Winning Time for the Leafs

At last’s year trade deadline, Kyle Dubas decided to stay pretty quiet. The Leafs were fighting for the final playoff spot in the Atlantic with the Panthers, but Dubas still didn’t feel the need to add to his hockey club. He had a couple of reasons, but the most significant being that he didn’t think that his team had shown enough of what they were capable of. The Saturday before the trade deadline was the David Ayers game, and in the week leading up to that, the Leafs had lost two of three. They didn’t deserve help. Why would Dubas spend future assets to help a team that wasn’t even a lock to make the playoffs, let alone do any damage in them? To be fair to the Leafs, they responded, immediately going on a three-game winning streak after the deadline, and they looked like they were going to make the playoffs before the stoppage.

Nonetheless, Dubas was proved right. The team didn’t need help; they just needed a kick in the ass. However, this year is much different. The Leafs have been one of the best teams in the league for practically the entire season. Add to that the only reason they don’t lead the league in points is that they had a seven-game slump where Fredrik Anderson’s save percentage was sub 875% over the seven games, and it looks even better. According to Natural Stat Trick, The Leafs are third in the league at five on five in goals-for percentage and expected goals-for percentage. They are second in high danger chances and first in scoring chances. 

Furthermore, the team is actually decent defensively for once! They rank in the top half in almost every defensive statistic you could think of. They have shown Kyle Dubas that this year, they deserve all the help they can get.

There weren’t that many big names available this year, so Dubas had to do what he could. His first move was to go and get some defensive help up front, and that move was for Nick Foligno. Candidly, I wasn’t in love with this move. I know what Foligno brings, and I know he can be an effective player, but this has been one of his career’s worst years. 

Toggle the arrows to change the charts. Pictures courtesy of Evolving-Hockey

The price also scares me. Yes, all signs point to that pick being a late first-rounder, and yes, this draft is kind of a crapshoot. But the Leafs are a team that will need as many cheap players to fill in and be impactful on their team with the current cap situation. I don’t mind trading the first-rounder. I just would’ve liked to see it moved for someone with more than 7 goals and 16 points. It’s about the opportunity cost for me, and that’s why I only grade this move a C+ for Dubas, not that he cares what I think. 

This doesn’t mean that Foligno won’t be a great Leaf and that the boys in the room won’t love him. He’s an upgrade over Simmonds and Thornton and will most definitely help the bottom six with the physicality he brings. The Leafs do need a checking line that can help defend other team’s top lines come playoff time, and Foligno is a perfect fit for that. In the end, as long as he helps us win a cup, who the hell cares what the draft pick was. 

The second deal was one I liked a lot by Dubas. I was pretty skeptical that Andersen would come back at anytime this year before the trade; now I’d be shocked to see him play for the Leafs again. So, Dubas kind of needed to get another goalie. We saw how having Michael Hutchinson as your backup in the playoffs worked out last year for the Avalanche, and it wasn’t pretty. The Leafs third-rounder will probably be closer to an early fourth anyway, so the price isn’t much. Rittich is what he is, a backup goalie. The difference between Rittich and most backup goalies is that Rittich’s ceiling is way higher than most backups, but his floor is really, really low. If he can give Campbell a break every other game leading up to the playoffs and just play okay, this will be a big win for Dubas. He’s a UFA at the end of the year anyway. I give this trade a B+.

The final trade that Dubas made was a depth deal, picking up Ben Hutton for a late pick. Hutton hasn’t been great this year, but he was one of the league’s best depth defensemen last year.

I like his game. I think he’s a decent skater and can move the puck pretty well. Maybe he’ll be better playing with more skilled players than he had in Anaheim, but that’s if he even gets into the lineup. If you found a way to get mad at this trade, you need to go outside a bit more often. Another solid move by Dubas. The grade is a B.

The playoffs start in just over a month, and the Leafs are geared up for the stretch run and a long postseason. Now it’s up to them to do the thing that we’ve all wanted them to do for five and a half decades now. There has certainly not been a team better built to do so in my lifetime, and I think Dubas deserves more credit than he’s getting for doing the building. The Leafs have a clear advantage; they don’t have to face any of the league’s top nine teams until at the semi-finals, at the earliest. That doesn’t mean they can just look past the first two years, and they still need to lock up the top spot in the division. But if they can make it to the Final Four relatively unscathed, they should be as confident as any that they can win it all. It’s time to embody Reggie Miller and start winning when it matters.

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