Inside the NHL: How one Leafs trade can lead to another, making room for Jack Eichel and rating the Hart race
Kyle Dubas looks poised to be a player before the trade deadline.
The deal the Maple Leafs general manager swung Saturday night cleared an important $2.5 million (U.S.) off the books for next year and added a couple of depth pieces for the rest of this one, but it didn’t cost him any of the assets he’ll need to bring to the table on or before March 21.
Most notably he still has first- and second-round picks in the upcoming draft, plus defencemen Justin Holl and Travis Dermott, and all of the organization’s prospect capital.
Some collection of those items can still be sacrificed to add a second-pairing defenceman and, perhaps, another forward capable of playing top-six minutes.
Ilya Lyubushkin, acquired from the Arizona Coyotes in Saturday’s trade, profiles as a third-pairing defender. While he addresses an organizational need as a right shot and physical player, he doesn’t appear likely to slot in beside Jake Muzzin on the second pairing.
Ryan Dzingel gives the Leafs another NHL-calibre forward as the other piece in the Coyotes deal — assuming he clears waivers Monday and gets stashed in the American Hockey League at zero cap charge — but he’s not a candidate to see minutes on the second line with John Tavares and William Nylander.
So, the shopping continues with four weeks still to go before the deadline.
The real tidy business accomplished with Saturday’s trade was that it allowed the Leafs to get out from under Nick Ritchie’s contract — freeing more room to get business done this summer. The Leafs somehow managed to do that without retaining salary at the cost of just a 2023 third-round pick or 2025 second-rounder.
Consider it a pre-emptive solution to a future problem.
Dubas and his management team will need to get creative to address shorter-term needs with very little cap space currently at their disposal, but they’ve got both time and assets on their side.
That’s what made Saturday’s trade so interesting: It left the Leafs in position to make another one.
It certainly required some cap gymnastics to get Jack Eichel into the Vegas Golden Knights lineup last week.
But there seems to be a bit of a misconception about manoeuvring that saw Mark Stone trade spots with Eichel on long-term injured reserve because of a back issue.
First, let’s start with what this situation is not: It isn’t an example of cap circumvention.
The Golden Knights operated under the rules set out in the collective agreement. More than half the league is using LTIR at the moment and many of them are effectively spending above the cap ceiling as a result.
Stone missed games four separate times this season because of his back troubles and is arguably the Knights’ best player. There’s no reason to doubt the fact he’s injured. Vegas would rather have him playing.
Where you might start asking questions is with the timing here. There was no clear path for the Knights to activate Eichel and his $10-million cap hit when they traded for him on Nov. 4. Placing Stone on LTIR allowed them to add Eichel to the roster without subtracting any meaningful pieces in salary-dumping trades.