What Is Kyle Waiting For?

TORONTO (Feb. 25) — If it’s true, as suggested by Elliotte Friedman of Sportsnet, that Kyle Dubas turned down a trade with Dallas for defenseman John Klingberg, the Maple Leafs general manager will fall on that sword.

How many more playoff years can Dubas waste before understanding his blue line is not close to Stanley Cup caliber? With or without the fading Jake Muzzin, whom the Leafs have placed on Long Term Injured Reserve with another concussion. Except for Auston Matthews and Morgan Rielly, what player, prospect or draft pick is too valuable to be sacrificed for an established, offensively gifted defenseman? And, please don’t say Rasmus Sandin, the obvious return in a deal involving Klingberg. By the time Sandin is ready to perform at Klingberg’s level — if that ever happens — the “Core 4” up front will no longer be intact. As I’ve repeatedly written, one of Mitch Marner or William Nylander will be unloaded before next season to accommodate Rielly’s salary increase (to $7.5 million) and a hefty raise for goalie Jack Campbell. Within two years, Matthews will be able to walk. Nylander will be up for renewal. Marner will have one season left on his $11 million/year pact. So, I ask again: What is Dubas waiting for? Is he afraid to relinquish a first–round draft pick in another non–lottery season? There are no justifiable answers.

After Thursday’s National Hockey League games — the Maple Leafs defeated Minnesota and Columbus upset Florida — Toronto is only five points in back of the first–place Panthers in the Atlantic Division, with a game in hand. This could be the Leafs best chance to finally make some noise in the playoffs. But, it will not happen if Dubas stubbornly hangs onto his prospects and draft picks; if he continues to be frightful of the future at the cost of a Stanley Cup challenge (as it appears). Last year, at the trade deadline, Dubas climbed down from his safety pedestal and coughed up a first–round pick for veteran Nick Foligno, who wasn’t healthy enough to contribute.

If that has spooked him into paralysis, the Leafs are doomed to an early exit. Again.


Another defense target is Jakob Chychrun of Arizona; still just 23 and under contract through 2024–25 at a modest $4.6 million. There is interest in Vancouver forward J.T. Miller, still on the books at $5.25 million for next season. But, Toronto doesn’t need another talented player up front. It’s the blue line that is crying for an upgrade.

Skittish Leaf followers will recoil at the notion of sacrificing part of the future for immediate help. Especially given that Klingberg, a pending free agent, wouldn’t likely remain in Toronto beyond this season. At some point, however, the Leafs have to go for it. Until the Stanley Cup is raised for the first time since 1967, there will always be questions; always be reasons to not take a chance. What if the club isn’t one front–line player removed from challenging for the NHL title? What if Campbell isn’t a Stanley Cup–caliber goalie? What if Sandin morphs into another Borje Salming? The Maple Leafs have been convinced, one way or another, to dawdle for 5½ decades. With absolutely nothing to show for it. How much longer can the franchise wait to fully avail itself of the consecutive draft gems (Nylander, Marner, Matthews) and the $77 million commitment for John Tavares? As mentioned, it won’t be long — just two more years — before the Maple Leafs start to re–tool from top to bottom. By the 2024–25 season, it’s conceivable that only Rielly and Tavares will still be under contract to the team. Then what?

How bitterly disappointing will it be for Leafs fans, a full decade into the so–called Shanaplan, to watch the club spinning its wheels? Continually insisting that the future — which never arrives — cannot be spared? By 2025, the longest–ever Stanley Cup drought will have grown to 58 years. Yet another GM and coach will be promising to end the interminable famine. A Maple Leafs supporter will need to be in his or her mid–30’s to recall the club winning a single playoff round. Isn’t it imperative — with Nylander, Marner and Matthews entering their prime NHL years; with Rielly in his prime and Tavares declining with age — for Dubas to put all his chips on the table?

There is no guarantee, of course, that adding Klingberg will push the Leafs over the top… or even propel the club beyond one of the Florida teams into the second playoff round. But, there is a sure–fire guarantee that the current team, with its pedestrian blue line, will not pose a Stanley Cup threat. Adding another “body” at the trade deadline (Ben Chariot, Justin Braun, Josh Manson) isn’t the answer. The Maple Leafs have been going piecemeal for as long as anybody can remember. It’s time for a bold move; for showing the Core 4 that management truly believes it will “get this done”, in the famous words of Shanahan after last year’s first–round folderoo against Montreal.

If the overriding concern is that the Maple Leafs aren’t tough enough to withstand four rounds of playoff toil — which seems entirely accurate — there’s no purpose in making any move before the trade deadline. The Leafs cannot be pugnacious. Not without a top–to–bottom restructuring and change in philosophy. The Shanaplan Leafs are built to win with skill. The only reasonable course is to add more skill where it’s needed… on defense.

WHAT ABOUT JACK? Yes, Jack Campbell is making everyone nervous right now. Is he another Jocelyn Thibault, Jim Carey or Andrew Raycroft — trophy winners between the pipes that fizzled after one brilliant year?

Or, is he the goalie that put up historic numbers for the Blue and White in the first half of this season?


For my money, and without question, it’s the latter. As such, the Leafs should make an addition that offers Campbell the best chance of succeeding in the Stanley Cup tournament this spring; that proves the undeniable confidence of management in the player brilliantly acquired from Los Angeles two years ago. Brendan Shanahan and Dubas have unabashedly thrown support behind the $40 million men up front, even after repeated playoff underachievement. Why not do the same for Campbell by providing him another layer of elite, puck–handling skill?

The sort that John Klingberg could supply the Maple Leafs while skating alongside Rielly.

Running scared for the future isn’t the answer. It never will be with this group.

MELYSA’S HOCKEY CARD PORTRAITS


My friend, Melysa Gorlicky, is a kindred spirit. I collect hockey cards and she turns them into exquisite art.

From her bio on liveartist.ca: Melysa Gorlicky is a Toronto based fine artist and live performance painter. She is an Ontario College of Art & Design (OCAD) graduate and a well–known force to be reckoned with in the Toronto art scene. Her recent collection of sport card paintings celebrates some of the most valuable and sought after cards in the industry. Her other interests as an artist include painted tributes of well–known icons, hosting workshops, live performances, working with local charities, and custom portraits.

Melyssa is pictured, above, with Leafs legend Darryl Sittler and a painting of Sittler’s rookie card from the 1970–71 O–Pee–Chee set. Below are paintings of Doug Gilmour’s rookie item from the 1984–85 O–Pee–Chee issue and that of Raymond Bourque from 1980–81. All of her work is available for sale. She can be reached via her website:

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11 comments on “What Is Kyle Waiting For?

  1. As much as I like my former sports editor of the Western Gazette – Friedman’s bonkers if he thinks Dubas turned down a fair offer to acquire John Klingberg.

    I share your enthusiasm for JC in the net. Additionally, color me impressed with the play of Petr Mrazek. He’s got mad skills for passing the puck up to the forwards (he just needs to stay healthy).

    I’m looking forward to seeing Nick the kid Robertson tomorrow night. IMO, the Leafs need an injection of youthful optimism. I’d love Dubas to pick up a right D-man, like a Chara, PK, or Weber but there is no point in flushing picks or prospects down the dumper.

  2. Howard if the Leafs are to truly be bold why not trade Nylander now, and also be open to a seperate trade(s) using a 1st and Sandin or Robertson for example.

    Also I am more skeptical on Campbell. The North division was weak last year and his start this year was not a long enough stretch. For comparison purposes James Reimer was right alongside Campbell at the top of the league earlier this year. I’m a fan of Reimer but I see similarities between the two. Both likeable guys, both capable of above average play at times, but for short periods of time. TBH I don’t think Campbell would fare as well as James has on some very poor teams.

  3. My feeling is very simple, I think Jack Campbell is tired as they have played him waaaaaaaay too much already. As well, I still believe that Boston will overtake Toronto in the standings and pit Toronto against Florida. For my money, you trade Marner plus players from the Marlies and whatever picks you have left that are enticing enough, and make a major deal for either a top notch d Norris type, or for the cornerstone goalie you so badly need. I would do the d-man first. Until that happens, nothing goes forward. Good article.

  4. Howard,

    You put way too much stock on JC. As a 30 year old goalie, up until this year, he had never started more than 31 games in a season, and as he is pushing 40 starts, the signs of fatigue are beginning to set it (mental or physical).

    Yes, Campbell has had an incredible “calendar year” performance wise. BUT, also keep in mind that the Leafs had the luxury of playing exclusively in arguably the weakest division in the NHL last year, play a 56 games regular season, and play against the likes of Senators, Canucks and Flames (all of whom were awful last year) 8-9 times each. So, IMO his numbers as a result are definitely inflated, vs. if he had played a full 82 gams schedule.

    Not saying that he can not/will not bounce back and recapture his form from earlier in the year, but to suggest “without question” he will do so (as you are suggesting), would be a stretch.

  5. When I read or hear comments about a GM turning down a trade for a player, I always take it with a huge grain of salt unless it’s clear what the ask is. I agree that the Leafs should, and probably will upgrade the blue line this year. I’m not so sure that Klingberg is the only or even best option for them. Even if Dubas did turn them down, it’s not like things couldn’t change. Crafting a deal of that magnitude is tricky business. The closer to the deadline you get, the more realistic the expectations from both parties.

    I’m curious, why so high on Klingberg and not Giordano? For me, as a pure rental, I’m leaning more towards Gio because he brings more physicality and a bigger shot. I would love to see the buds pick up Gio and one of either Schenn/Chara. Then, as you suggest, you roll with what you’ve got.

    Also, I presume that you are of the same opinion as I am that Muzzin has played his final regular season game this year (outside of maybe a conditioning stint with the Marlies)?

    1. I think I just answered my own question. Gio doesn’t seem like a good fit on the right side and is a left shot, where Klingberg is a right shot. And with Brodie on pace for just over 20 pts this year, the Leafs could really use more offence from the blueline. So yeah, I get it now.

  6. I’m glad Dubas didn’t make the trade. I’ll take Sandin over Klingberg even now. I think if we can add Chychrun for Liljegren and a good prospect or two, would be awesome.
    The idea of Rielly, Sandin, Chychrun on the backline is special. I think adding a veteran like Schenn would shore the core further.

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