Toronto Maple Leafs Capitulate to Hockey Traditionalism

Toronto Maple Leafs (Mandatory Credit: David Berding-USA TODAY Sports)
Toronto Maple Leafs (Mandatory Credit: David Berding-USA TODAY Sports) /

If you, like me, bought into what the Toronto Maple Leafs were selling for the last six years, then perhaps you also think they had a terrible trade deadline.

With several superstar players up for grabs, the Toronto Maple Leafs went old-school instead, and failed to live up to the courage of their convictions, reverting back to the kind of magical thinking that permeates the NHL and stops progress in its tracks.

In the NHL, there is a myth about playoff hockey and what it takes to win.  The Leafs went all-in on talent and skill at the beginning of the Kyle Dubas era, and they seemed to eschew fighters, stay-at-home defencemen, and grinders, while focusing on underlying numbers over results.

For years they ignored their critics: they never bailed on William Nylander, they put skill in the bottom six, and they built a blue-line with 100% puck-movers.

Then they got unlucky against Columbus, Montreal and Tampa, and instead of sticking with what the math said was working, they couldn’t help themselves from indulging in the 200 Hockey Men Approach when their backs were against the wall.

With his dream job on the line, I can’t really blame Kyle Dubas for folding, but I can’t say I’m not disappointed.

Toronto Maple Leafs Blow the 2023 Trade Deadline

In a vacuum, I don’t mind the O’Reilly or the McCabe trades, as they were so cheap as to be almost comical.  When I said that the Leafs should never pursue Ryan O’Reilly, I didn’t consider that they could get him for 75% of his salary, along with another decent player, for almost nothing.

Same goes for Jake McCabe.

And had they stopped there, I wouldn’t have minded.  I still think they should have traded for one of the three no-doubt superstars available (Meier, Karlsson, Chychrun) but getting two (potential) star players for basically nothing was impressive.

But what happened next was, and I say this as a huge Kyle Dubas fan – Idiotic.

Pierre Engvall scores more per minute and is a better defensive player than anyone the Leafs brought in.  He makes David Kampf look good.  He is among the best bottom six players alive and could easily play higher in the lineup.  He is vastly superior to Lafferty or Acciari.

Rasmus Sandin crushes bottom pairing minutes, and could therefore easily crush top pairing minutes.  The Leafs should not have given him away.  The only reason this is even slightly acceptable is because he probably wanted to be traded,  However, if they played him as their top pairing left-defensemen he probably wouldn’t have minded staying, so…..

Taking Sandin and Engvall away basically ruins any upgrade the Leafs get from O’Reilly and McCabe, barring a star turn from either player.  However, non-stars offer only marginal upgrades, and so unless O’Reilly regains his former form or McCabe proves to be a diamond in the rough hidden by always being on crap teams (and there is evidence this is the case) then what a colossal mistake.

The fact that they made these moves to bring in Luke Schenn (are you kidding me?) and get Matt Murray under the cap is just depressing.  They would have been better off with Engvall and Sandin, and Joseph Well backing up Sammy.

Personally, if I was Kyle Dubas I would have went out my way, but I can understand that there is a lot of pressure on someone in his position to conform.

And, side-note: it might not matter.  The NHL is won by star players and hot goalies.  If the Leafs get the kind of performance (or at least the results) that heretofore Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner, William Nylander, John Tavares and Morgan Rielly have not delivered, they will win.

If they get a strong performance from one of their goalies, they will win.

The Toronto Maple Leafs are still a top team, but the problem is they didn’t really get better, they just got more acceptable to Nick Kypreos.

Next. Biggest Misses at the Trade Deadline. dark

Timo Meier would have made them significantly better automatically.  The Leafs brought in 5 old-school types, and what they should have done was bring in more talent, which is what actually wins hockey games.