Toronto Maple Leafs are striking the balance.
To the critically-thinking Toronto Maple Leafs fan, two things should become abundantly clear when considering GM Kyle Dubas’ moves this offseason: 1) The Leafs are firmly in a “win now” mode, and 2) The Leafs are wisely set up for both for the immediate and distant futures.
While it may seem like a broad and no-brainer of a topic, because of course Dubas wants to win now and prep for the future, it’s not something that’s ever been done by a GM in this league, successfully at least. I’d argue that NHL teams by and large fall under one of three categories: Complete Rebuild, The Cautiously Hopeful, The Win Now Team. Until now, playoff-calibre teams never mix qualities between a Cautious Hopeful or a Win Now, you’re either all-in, or you’re not in, but Dubas is trying his hand on being both at once.
“But that’s not true!” The naysayers may exclaim in frustration “They’re in salary cap hell!” “You’ll never win with that defense!” “Dufas couldn’t negotiate his way out of a paper bag, all the contracts he’s signed suck!”
To anyone stuck in this mindset, I truly feel sorry for you, and I implore you to take your hate-blinders for Dubas off, just for a couple of minutes and think logically about what I’m presenting here: Dubas isn’t simply looking for a single season, or a short-term window of success, he’s hoping to leverage this unique position into building hockey’s next dynasty.
I’m not saying they will achieve this, or that Dubas is perfect by any means, I just think he gets way too much flak for being willing to try stuff that no other GM has done before.
Toronto Maple Leafs: Plans for a Dynasty
Looking at his immediate moves, signing veteran and journeymen like Joe Thornton and Jimmy Vesey to single-year, low-cost contracts is exactly the type of move any GM seeking depth for long playoff runs would make.
As I mentioned when I wrote about the Joey Anderson signing, even the Michael Hutchinson re-signing is a signal that Dubas is simultaneously setting up the team for a favorable expansion draft result next offseason, as well as a deep playoff run in the season ahead. Not that you ever hope that Hutch ever needs to play another game for the Leafs in the NHL, but who would you feel better about taking over the net if the top three guys go down: Hutchinson or a rookie who’s barely begun his pro career?
The Toronto Maple Leafs are not going to lose an important player to the Seattle expansion. As it stands right now, they can cover their entire core roster in one fell swoop, and will likely only have to risk players like Pierre Engvall or Justin Hol. Since the team will still retain some negotiating rights until about a week after the Expansion Draft, any player on an expiring contract like Zach Hyman, Frederik Andersen, Aaron Dell, or Wayne Simmonds will still be able to return, given the price is right.
In the quest to improve the team’s depth, Dubas has sacrificed absolutely nothing from their future assets, and in fact, gained several valuable assets from his salary cap compliance trade moves (namely Rodion Amirov, Filip Hallander and Joey Anderson). That’s tidy business no matter which way you cut it.
This new method of developing a championship team means that prospects won’t be rushed into the NHL or AHL before they’re ready. Add in Dubas’ stated desire to utilize a three-tier development system (like baseball), and we could see several of these prospects get the opportunity to adjust to hockey at the professional level, or at least get used to playing on North American ice, with the Newfoundland Growlers (which seems to be the plan, based on the rapidly emptying Growlers roster.)
The star players like Matthews, Nylander and Marner will drive the train through this current window of success. Players like Vesey and Bogosian and even project signings like Mikko Lehtonen will fill in the margins and help contribute to the overall team’s success. As prospects develop into stars, or even just cost-controlled depth players, they take the spots of the current stars and depth guys.
The end result is a Toronto Maple Leafs that has not just a window of success, but an era of success.