Hello, Kyle Dubas! The Leafs’ general manager has made his first big move of the 2022/2023 season, giving up three draft picks and two depth pieces to acquire the 2019 Conn Smythe winner Ryan O’Reilly and bottom six piece Noel Acciari. I will break down what the Leafs are getting in O’Reilly and Accairi, but first, here are the full trade details.
At first glance, a 1st, 2nd and 3rd round pick may seem a lot to give up for a player (O’Reilly) who has just 19 points in 40 games this season. I’ll admit that I certainly would have preferred the Leafs trade for someone who is better at putting the puck in the back of the net and would slide right into the top six. However, there is a lot more to O’Reilly than his stats this season might say. The Blues have been a complete mess this season, limping their way to 11th in the Western Conference with a -22 goal differential. ROR also lost his most trusted linemate this season, David Perron, who signed with the Red Wings in the offseason. It has been a season of adjustments for him. O’Reilly also missed six weeks with a broken foot right in the middle of the season. Despite all of this, O’Reilly has still been a solid player for the Blues when he has been in the lineup.
At five on five this year, O’Reilly has been on for just 22 goals for and 37 against. However, that also does not tell the whole story, as Jordan Binnington’s save percentage while O’Reilly is on the ice is a paltry .878. Furthermore, ROR’s teammates have not finished the chances he set for them. Take a look at this chart.
When looking at O’Reilly’s expected goals share at five-on-five, you’ll see that it is pretty good for a team as bad as the Blues. O’Reilly has a 50.5% xGF share, ranking him fourth amongst all Blues players. His Regularized Adjusted Plus-Minus (RAPM) chart for the 22-23 season is also strong, indicating that he has the defensive capabilities to significantly help Toronto.
(Chart courtesy of Evolving-Hockey.com)
It should be made clear that the most significant reason the Leafs traded for O’Reilly was his reputation. With a player like O’Reilly, there is a tendency to focus heavily on his intangibles. While hockey analysts overdramatize the importance of unquantifiable things in many cases, with O’Reilly, there is evidence to back up his reputation. The most important aspect of that reputation to the Leafs is O’Reilly’s ability to perform in the playoffs. In 64 career playoff games, O’Reilly has 22 goals and 56 points, including scoring 7 times in just 12 games last year. The Leafs do not have many leaders, and O’Reilly also boosts them in that department. He plays in all situations, and you can undoubtedly trust him on the ice when you are protecting a lead.
O’Reilly certainly is not the player he was when he led the Blues to the Stanley Cup, but his game never relied on abilities that fall off with age. Instead, he is an intelligent player who scores goals by finding soft spots in the defence and having a deceivingly quick shot. His skating is not overpowering but strong, and he has no issues keeping up with faster players. The former Conn Smythe winner will fit in nicely on the Leafs’ second power-play unit, which has been struggling mightily. Make no mistake that O’Reilly can still aid this team offensively, and the Leafs desperately need more goals from their bottom six. I am dreaming about Matthew Knies coming over after his season is done and creating a deadly third line with O’Reilly.
An alternative option is to put O’Reilly on a line with John Tavares and move one of them to the wing. This would make the Leafs’ top six downright scary and allow Toronto to put O’Reilly with other highly skilled players, bringing the best out of everyone. I think ROR is probably more comfortable playing in the top six too. The question is, does Sheldon Keefe want a three-headed monster down the middle or an embarrassment of riches in his top six?
Noel Acciari is a decent add-on piece, although I would have liked Ivan Barbashev instead due to Barbashev’s above-average ability to put the puck in the net. Acciari scores at a pretty solid clip for a fourth-liner with 10 goals this year, but the most intriguing aspect about him is that he hits people a lot. 168 hits, to be exact, which led the Blues this season. The Leafs’ fourth line has lacked identity this season, and at the very least, Acciari will bring energy to a line that desperately needs it.
My final thoughts on this deal are that Kyle Dubas has shown faith in this group of players, and they have to repay him. He has sacrificed two years of draft capital (rightfully so) to make them deeper, more challenging to play against and built for the playoffs. The draft picks mean, to be honest, nothing to this current group of players that are in the Stanley Cup or bust window of their time together, and they shouldn’t mean anything to fans either. O’Reilly is the type of player fans have been screaming the Leafs need for ages, and Dubas went out and got him. This is not Nick Foligno 2.0 either; Foligno was simply a defensive forward who was well past his prime. O’Reilly is younger, better, and comes with much more to his game than Foligno ever had. Yes, if the team fails to win a round now, it would border on catastrophic for the organization, but that would have been the case anyways. Dubas did not subtract from the roster, did not give up a single prospect of value, and kept the finances tight enough to make another move if he wanted to. Worrying about the future is loser stuff. The Leafs increased their chances of winning the Stanley Cup yesterday. That is all that matters.
All stats courtesy of Moneypuck.com and Naturalstattrick.com