There are a lot of people talking about how this trade deadline was a failure by Kyle Dubas.
I see things a little differently.
The Leafs approached this deadline with the need for three major things, aside from depth:
- A top 4 defenseman
- A top 6 forward to help John Tavares and William Nylander
- A starting goaltender, or as close as they could get to it
Ultimately they added a top 4 defenseman, a depth forward and a depth defender.
That doesn’t seem like much when you consider the list of needs they had, but it was always going to be impossible for Kyle Dubas to plug all the major holes on this roster. The only goaltender on the market that was close to being a starter was the aging Marc-Andre Fleury, who went to Minnesota for a 2nd round pick that could turn into a 1st. After trading for Mark Giordano and Colin Blackwell, the Leafs didn’t even have a 2nd round pick to deal until 2024.
Meanwhile, the best top 6 forward on the market, Claude Giroux, went for a blue chip prospect, a 1st round pick and a 3rd round pick, which is a solid price to pay for a Leafs organization that chose just 3 players in last year’s draft and are set to select just 3 more in this year’s draft.
In fact, the rest of the top 6 forwards that moved also went for prices that included 2nd round picks and decent prospects. Prices the Leafs just couldn’t afford to pay due to previous years of trading assets for immediate help.
Which brings us to the true failure.
The Leafs aren’t set up to win right now.
They don’t have the required depth at forward, the necessary top end pieces on the blueline, or the right players manning the crease to expect a legitimate run at the Stanley Cup. Meanwhile, the real problem is that they don’t see it. The team is pushing when they should be rearranging the assets that they have.
Simply put, for a fanbase to be angry that the GM didn’t add a player to play on the 2nd line, to help John Tavares and William Nylander, two players that make a combined $17,962,366, or 22.6% of the teams entire salary cap, to be better, is an entirely ridiculous way to look at things. The GM failed by leaving those two players on the roster, because players that make that much are supposed to make those around them better. At one point Tavares and Nylander worked together, but right now they can’t even figure out how to play with each other, nevermind somebody else.
Not even Claude Giroux could have fixed the 2nd line. Nobody can; nobody should have to. That’s the failure.
The continued need for a legitimate top 4 defender to play the right side, while knowing full well that Justin Holl isn’t the answer is also the failure. Adding Ilya Lyubushkin and hoping that he can be paired with Morgan Rielly and, magically, be a top 4 defender is a continuation of that failure.
Taking an enviable goaltending situation and doing whatever the hell this has been over the past few years is a failure.
This deadline? Not a bad bit of business.
This roster, as the sum of it’s parts (which shouldn’t be an indictment of the individual parts on their own)? That’s the failure.
So, with the fact that the Leafs have
- 1 top 6 forward line that seems to work
- 1 checking line that seems to work
- 2 other forward lines that are just kinda there
- a goaltending situation that is terrible at the moment
- a defensive core with just 3 legitimate top 4 defenders….. maybe
what can we hope for?
Well, there is hope, as there always seems to be in Leafs Nation.
First, we have to hope that Jack Campbell and Jake Muzzin come back at 100% and hungry. They need to be the versions of themselves that we have all come to know and love. In Campbell’s case especially, that’s massive. If he can’t return to form then the Leafs could be looking at a 1st round sweeping.
We have to hope that Ilya Lyubushkin pulls off a Hainsey-with-the-Penguins type of performance once the playoffs start. At the moment I would only consider Rielly, Giordano and Brodie to be top 4 defenders on this team, with Muzzin being highly suspect based on his play to this point of the season. My gut tells me they will want to see if Giordano and Brodie can rekindle their old chemistry, which could leave Rielly with Lyubushkin and Muzzin with one of Holl or Sandin. If that’s the case then we need the Russian Bear to play well above his paygrade. We also have to hope that the defensive group becomes something greater than the sum of it’s parts, because, on paper, they don’t stack up well against the groups in Tampa Bay or Florida in my opinion.
We have to hope that Tavares and Nylander figure it all out and can elevate whoever ends up as their full time running mate to top 6 status.
We have to hope that the Matthews line continues it’s high level of play into the playoffs.
We have to hope that some type of line crystallizes among the bottom 6 forwards. Jason Spezza, Alex Kerfoot, Colin Blackwell, Nick Robertson, Wayne Simmonds, Ondrej Kase and possibly even Matthew Knies are all candidates to form a depth scoring line. One will end up in the top 6, but the rest are all viable candidates. If they can find a trio within that group that finds chemistry together then it helps the team’s chances at winning a round or two a lot.
Lastly, we have to hope that Sheldon Keefe pulls his head out of his keister. He’s been outcoached in every series he has been behind the bench for since he took over for Mike Babcock. That needs to end.
That sounds like a lot to ask for, because it is, but there is hope.
“A failure is not a loss.
It’s a gain.
– Michael Barate