Over the past two weeks, the Toronto Maple Leafs’ general manager Kyle Dubas has made two trades. Both these trades have been lauded in many circles as helping his team in the short term as they seek postseason success. As Toronto fans know, playoff success has eluded the team.
In summary, the team has brought in three forwards and a defenseman. Two of the forwards are Ryan O’Reilly and Noel Acciari from the St. Louis Blues. Yesterday, Dubas brought in another forward – Sam Lafferty – from the Chicago Blackhawks. Also in the trade with the Blackhawks, the team brought in defenseman Jake McCabe.
Are the Deals All Done Now?
One question that remains is whether the Maple Lears are finished dealing. Will the team need to make additional moves to stay under the salary cap? Or, will the team choose not to activate Matt Murray from the long-term injury reserve (LTIR)? As always for this organization (and they are not alone here), managing the salary cap has been a delicate balancing act. It remains to be seen how the Maple Leafs will navigate this issue.
It isn’t as if the organization isn’t aware of the issues. They deal with it every day. It’s also a constant source of questions for the team’s leadership. Toward that end, general manager Kyle Dubas held a press conference to address the issues. Although I won’t speak about what he said per se, because most Maple Leafs’ fans have heard it, I will share three random thoughts about his conversation with the media.
Random Thought One: The Trade Addresses Areas of Need
The Maple Leafs have been looking to bolster their blue line for some time. I agree that the addition of Jake McCabe is a step in that direction. McCabe is a physical defenseman who many refer to as Jake Muzzin’s “lite.” He can play a shutdown role as well as bring some much-needed grit to the team’s defence.
It’s also worth noting that the Maple Leafs have been seeking more versatility up front. That’s where Sam Lafferty fits. Lafferty’s a forward who can play center or wing. He also brings some size and physicality to the team’s bottom-six forwards. [As a note, all three forwards brought into the team are natural centers. Hmmm? Does that mean that the Maple Leafs will be saying farewell to Alex Kerfoot?]
The Maple Leafs’ decision to pursue McCabe and Lafferty shows their focus on addressing team weaknesses and improving overall team depth. With the NHL trade deadline approaching in less than a week, it will be interesting to see if they make any further moves to strengthen their roster for a deep playoff run.
Random Thought Two: It Seems that Alex Kerfoot Will Be Leaving – Sooner or Later
With good reason, Kyle Dubas sees Sam Lafferty as a valuable addition to the Maple Leafs’ forward group. As noted, he’s a versatile player who can play both center and wing. He also has enough speed to keep up with the Maple Leafs’ offensive philosophy. However, Lafferty’s physicality is a key addition to the lineup. It’s one area the team could improve.
Toward that end, Dubas highlighted Lafferty’s ability to forecheck hard and play with a level of tenacity that the team’s been lacking. In some ways, Lafferty might share similarities with Alex Kerfoot in his versatility. However, Dubas believes Lafferty brings something unique to the team. With Lafferty, Dubas is getting his team ready for the regular season stretch and the playoffs.
Another factor that played a role in this trade was the contract costs. Lafferty is a cheaper option than Kerfoot, and that makes a ton of difference. It certainly seems as if the Maple Leafs are looking to move Kerfoot or to allow him to walk after the season’s over.
The move makes me question Kerfoot’s lifespan with the Maple Leafs. Lafferty has term on his contract, and Dubas’ move hints that he has an eye toward improving the team’s depth and addressing areas of weakness, for a lower cost. To me, it just seems logical that the organization might trade its “Swiss Army Knife” in Kerfoot.
Random Thought Three: This Trade Has Been in the Works
Dubas made it clear that this Blackhawks trade had been in the works for some time. He noted that it wasn’t a reactionary move. He noted that he was not responding to moves made by other NHL teams.
Although it would be silly to admit his moves were reactionary, even if they were, I have to believe (from how I’ve seen Dubas work in the past) that he’s had a clear plan in mind about how he wanted to address the team’s roster needs. This trade works actively towards that goal. It’s also like him to make these trades well in advance of the trade deadline.
Dubas specifically mentioned the Boston Bruins’ trade for Dmitry Orlov and Garnet Hathaway. So it was clear he had that trade on his mind. Still, was it a factor in the Maple Leafs’ decision to trade for McCabe and Lafferty? Perhaps, but it’s still possible that the Maple Leafs saw this move as an opportunity to stay competitive. They might have made the trade as a way to improve their chances of making a deep playoff run – even if the Bruins had not made the trade.
The Maple Leafs Roster Is Improved, But Still, Moves Will Likely Be Made
Overall, it’s clear that Dubas has actively worked to improve the Maple Leafs’ roster. His latest trade is only one step in that process. As the trade deadline fast approaches, it will be interesting to see what other moves the organization will make.
Some will likely be to address their on-ice needs and put themselves in the best possible position for a successful playoff run. However, the salary-cap issues suggest that there might be only a financial roster move – the team likely needs to dump salary.