Kyle Dubas showed restraint while making the Leafs better at the trade deadline. Time will tell if he did enough
This might have been the most stressful trade deadline since Kyle Dubas joined the Toronto Maple Leafs.
While there’s always an expectant feeling hovering over a hectic weekend of action, with plenty of balls being juggled simultaneously, the front office was navigating a tricky set of circumstances over the past 72 hours.
They had to protect enough salary cap space to be able to activate Jake Muzzin from long-term injured reserve on the other side of the deadline, first and foremost. That consideration needed to be calculated into every potential move. They’d also made the internal decision not to surrender a first-round pick for any player on an expiring contract, something division rivals Florida (Ben Chiarot/Claude Giroux) and Boston (Hampus Lindholm) both wound up doing with big swings that might later be regretted.
That effectively took Toronto out of the running on goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury, who was sent from Chicago to Minnesota for a conditional first.
Choosing to acquire Fleury would have carried other ramifications for the Leafs — namely making the addition of defenceman Mark Giordano impossible without sending more roster players out the door to balance the books.
Dubas instead elected to keep his team intact, save for Travis Dermott who was given a fresh start in Vancouver, while using his small sliver of cap space to address a big need by bringing in Giordano and depth forward Colin Blackwell.
It required him to show faith in the goaltending trio of Jack Campbell, Erik Källgren and Petr Mrazek.
One of those men will be starting a playoff game in seven weeks or less.
The risk inherent with that decision was underlined by the fact Mrazek passed through the waiver wire unclaimed. The Leafs felt there was a 30 or 40 per cent chance he’d be taken, but his underperformance and $3.8-million annual contract kept rivals away.
That wasn’t the case for 32-year-old journeyman Harri Sateri, who was signed as insurance following a gold-medal performance for Finland at the Beijing Olympics. He’d hoped to be part of a playoff run in Toronto but wound up being claimed by the Arizona Coyotes instead.
There were actually multiple claims processed on Sateri, per sources, including one from the Ottawa Senators.
“It didn’t work out. Much like a lot of the players we put on waivers,” Dubas told reporters Monday. “I think we lead the league here by I think double since 2018 in the fall. We’ve had 11 guys claimed, which I think is double.
“It’s a good advertisement for agents: If you want your players to come to a place where they’re going to get lots of attention and get claimed [sign in Toronto]. It’s probably a feather in our cap, but it hurts at moments like this.”
What stands out most about the Leafs approach to the last few weeks is how much of the future they protected. This had been billed as a so-called “Last Dance” season for the core and for Dubas, but the front office operated with subsequent seasons in mind.
Not only did they hang on to their first-round pick in this summer’s draft, but they also chose not to make prospects Matthew Knies, Nick Abruzzese, Topi Niemela and Nick Robertson available in trades.
It would seem to be a nod to the fact their window of contention extends at least two years beyond this one — the same length of time Hart Trophy front-runner Auston Matthews remains under contract to the club.
Those future Leafs teams will benefit from having cost-controlled players join the roster on entry-level contracts, arguably more than this one would have stood to gain from any deadline add that came at the expense of a top-tier prospect.
The fact Knies was part of the package Chicago wanted for Fleury and forward Brandon Hagel — plus two first-round picks and Mrazek — made it an easy decision for Dubas to pivot in another direction and make the Giordano deal with Seattle.