The Toronto Maple Leafs lost an entertaining game to the St. Louis Blues last night, then went and made a trade after the game.
The move solves the Toronto Maple Leafs Nick Ritchie problem by sending him to the Arizona Coyotes in exchange for Ilya Lyubushkin and Ryan Dzingle.
This moves allows the Leafs to get deeper, and to get rid of the Nick Ritchie contract that carried a $2.5 cap hit into next season.
The Leafs themselves practice the Studs and Duds philosophy of salary cap management that recognizes that the differences between non-star players are so minor to be practically non-existent that you should never pay them much more than the league minimum, and therefore the Nick Ritchie signing was always a mistake, as I said the day it happened.
So for the cost of either a 2023 3rd or a 2025 2nd, the Leafs get out of a bad contract, while adding some depth to the roster, and a player with potential. (info from capfriendly.com).
Toronto Maple Leafs and Ryan Dzingle
Dzingle is 29, and he used to be a one-dimensional top six forward who couldn’t defend but could score. Now he’s a one-dimensional 4th line forward who can’t score but defends well.
He makes $1.1 million and would be in competition for a roster spot with Brett Seney should the Leafs need that much depth. I expect he will be waived and sent to the AHL, unlikely to ever play a game for the Leafs.
The Leafs and Ilya Lyubushkin
Lyubushkin is 27, undrafted, and came from the KHL before he played for Arizona. He is an elite defender with zero offense. But, will that elite defense transfer into the top-four of a contending team? Was it built up while playing easy minutes on a bad team?
Who knows? Comparing hockey players on the same team can be difficult, so going from the worst team to the best team, while changing roles, partners, strategy etc. can present some challenges in the evaluation processes.
For instance, while I’m excited that the Leafs found a cheap, physical, right-shooting defender who is apparently elite at defending, it might not be the case that this automatically makes him an improvement/ replacement for Justin Holl.
He me be, like Travis Dermott, capable of putting up elite defensive numbers on a 3rd pairing, but maybe he can’t handle tough minutes on a competing team. Maybe he’s too slow to pair with Muzzin, or maybe he can’t handle the puck well enough to play a top-four role on a team like the Toronto Maple Leafs.
But, then again, a 90% defense ranking is damn impressive. Good players on bad teams usually post terrible numbers. The Leafs need a physical defender, and if he can move the puck at all, he’ll fit in nicely.
Ultimately, I find it highly unlikely that the Leafs just traded one low draft pick, and solved all their cap problems, and got themselves a top four defensive rock, who completely changes the dynamic of their team. That is just a too good to be true scenario.
What I think they got was a depth defenseman who might earn a regular role and who has enough upside to potentially make this a homerun down the road.
As far as grading the trade, I give it an A+ for roster management, as any time it turns out that there is at least the potential of your 2nd or 3rd round draft pick turns into a top 4 NHL defenseman on a contending team, you have made a good pick. And that’s beside getting out of Ritchie’s deal next year.
But as much as it’s good business, it’s not the kind of trade that’s not likely going to make a huge difference to the Leafs on-ice results. Justin Holl and Ilya Lyubushkin probably aren’t much different from each other – neither is likely to become a star player.
So, though it’s a great trade from an asset management perspective, in terms of how much it will help the team, I’d rate it a C, giving the trade an overall rating of: B
Even if neither of these players works out, it’s impressive that they were able to get any value from Nick Ritchie, let alone get out of his contract.