TORONTO (Mar. 21) — A bromide in professional sport decries that “the best trade is often the one not made.” Is it possible that Kyle Dubas, general manager of the Toronto Maple Leafs, could regret a best trade he “should have” made? There’s lots of rhyme in that sentence… and perhaps as much reason.
With bartering players no longer permitted in the 2021–22 National Hockey League schedule, Dubas and the Leafs are back to square one: Discounting an entirely unforeseen circumstance, only the re–emergence of Jack Campbell as an elite goaltender can allow the club to break its 18–year lapse of winning a playoff series and, possibly, challenge for the Stanley Cup. The notion that any of Petr Mrazek (waived by Toronto on Sunday; cleared today), Erik Källgren, Joseph Woll or Michael Hutchinson can offer similar hope is pure fantasy. Not entirely inconceivable, but the longest of shots (Finnish goalie Harri Säteri, signed by Toronto on Sunday, did not clear waivers; he was claimed by Arizona). Dubas chose, once more, to roll the dice with the game’s most–critical position by turning down the chance to acquire future Hall–of–Fame goalie Marc–Andre Fleury from Chicago.
According to trusted Insider Darren Dreger of TSN, the Maple Leafs could have obtained Fleury and winger Brandon Hagel from the Blackhawks for Mrazek; University of Minnesota prospect Matthew Knies and at least one first–round draft choice (Dubas all–but confirmed the report today when saying he was “disappointed” that the Fleury trade talk became public; blaming the Chicago administration for the apparent breech).
Perhaps an unreasonable price if you consider a first–round pick in the late–20’s beyond salvation for the Maple Leafs. Otherwise, a potentially lethal non–call by a fourth–year GM that surely will not see a fifth year without his team — holding the dubious record for longest Stanley Cup famine — advancing past the opening playoff series.
This rejection came with a double–whammy when Atlantic Division rival Tampa Bay acquired Hagel. The Lightning, in possession of the league’s top goalie (Andrei Vasilevskiy), will attempt to become the first team since the 1981–82 New York Islanders to win three consecutive NHL championships. A likely, though not certain, first round obstacle is Toronto — out of contention for Fleury once Minnesota obtained the 37–year–old stopper just prior to noon today. There was no guarantee, of course, that making the proposed trade for Fleury would nudge the Leafs into Cup contention. The club is still too docile to endure an eight–week playoff grind. Neither is anything in life guaranteed. At some point, however, and probably after it’s too late, the Leafs will recognize that continuing to defer was a calamitous blunder. The future is forever persuasive here in Toronto with an undying legion of zealous advocates (amid fans and media). There is no apparent limit to the adversity and chagrin of Leafs Nation.
As such, we always have next year. And, the one after that, etc.
Accordingly, it took no time for the Leaf apologists in the media to strike. Even before the 3 p.m. Eastern deadline came this offering from TSN: Gino Reda, Martin Biron, and Jamie McLennan discuss the Leafs’ goaltending troubles and what could be Kyle Dubas’ outlook on the team’s goaltending going forward. McLennan says that the only options [for] Dubas were lateral moves that might not pay off in the end. Love all the guys mentioned here: Gino, Marty and Noodles. But, “might not pay off in the end?” With a team for which nothing has “paid off” since 2004 in the Stanley Cup tournament? What could the Leafs possibly risk by stepping outside their comfort zone?
We await, of course, the daily “all is terrific” submission from Luke Fox of Sportsnet. (Follow up: My bad. At least Luke asked the pertinent question… https://sprtsnt.ca/36cehGa).
As for Dubas, I’ll give him credit for honesty. He told reporters after 3 p.m. that he chose to preserve the club’s prospects over a “costly” rental… even after “renting” Mark Giordano. If he dies on that sword, so be it. Clearly, the results of yielding a first–round pick for Nick Foligno last year engendered caution. And, Kyle made a good point when forlornly suggesting that Rodion Amirov, the club’s first–round choice in 2020, may no longer be in the picture while battling a brain tumor. For the most part, Dubas has been consistent in his trade–deadline strategy.
But, will he rue not pulling the trigger on Fleury, last year’s Vezina Trophy winner and with a solid Stanley Cup resume? Until Campbell’s recovery is complete and he either does or does not regain his form, it’s a rhetorical question. Only the most dyed–in–the–wool Leafs supporter would honestly favor the club, right now, in a playoff match up against any of Florida, Tampa Bay, Carolina, the Rangers or Pittsburgh. Boston and Washington also have goaltending questions, but not as severe as Toronto’s. Then there’s Colorado and Calgary out west, still three playoff–round victories in the distance. None of the aforementioned would be an underdog against the Leafs.
Which brings us back to the infamous vow from Brendan Shanahan in the wake of last spring’s embarrassment against Montreal. “We will get this done,” asserted the Leafs president in reference, primarily, to his core players and their perennial playoff underachievement. As a Hall–of–Fame power forward that won the 2002 Stanley Cup in front of Detroit teammate Dominik Hasek, we wonder how Brendan truly feels today.
1. Of all the rookie moves I’ve seen a GM make, calling out another GM publicly for allowing details of a trade to leak ranks right up there. Just stupid. He’s not wrong to be pissed, but publicly announcing it serves the Leaf’s no purpose, and in fact, just makes his job harder all around. Just a stupid move.
2. That said, and now that we know in fact that they had interest, I just don’t understand how they came away without a goalie. Marc-Andre Fleury is still an elite goal-tender, just playing on a bad team. Given a month to acclimate to the team and vice versa, I think you’ll see MAF return to his Vegas form. When I saw him go out last year, I said to myself, I would move heaven and earth to sign that man. The wild are going to get a very motivated player.
3. Without trading for a goalie, why bother bringing in Gio? It makes no sense to me. As you know, I really do like Gio. I think he’s going to be excellent for the Leafs. I just think that the Leafs needed to solve both problems to have any chance at winning a cup this year.
4. As such, I still predict a first round playoff exit for Toronto this year. Unless the stars align and Jack Campbell returns to his 2021 self, which I believe to be unlikely, I can’t realistically see the buds beating any potential first round opponent from the Atlantic.
5. I doubt it matters much, but I think the Leafs would probably be better off to finish 4th in their division at this point, IF that would mean facing Carolina in the first round. I’d much rather go into a 7 game series with soft-goal Freddie in net than Bob or Vasy (not to mention the teams in front of them).
6. Lastly, assuming that the Leafs do fail to get out of the first round this year, I think you can expect a major shake-up in Leafs management (probably both Shanny and Kyle going in that case). Going back to the beginning, all because they were two afraid to pull the trigger on an elite netminder. Of all the years to throw caution to the wind and “go for it”, this was the year to do so, and I believe that Management failed to do that.
Your comments are pretty much spot on except I don’t think bringing in MAF would make any difference. Team is not playoff built. So you can tinker, tinker, tinker and in the end it’s bye bye Kyle and Shanny. At least they didn’t burn more first rounders for nothing.
I’ve been a Leafs fan for 50 years and you stated the obvious. The Leafs are not built for four rounds of playoff hockey. The best thing would have been to sit this one out and stop giving up assets. Then next year clean house in management and let the next guy start the rebuild. I almost spit up my warm milk when Shanahan made his “we will get it done” statement.
How dumb. Do you actually think Shanahan wasn’t in on the moves today or pre-draft day? As if he was not included in this discussion? You were not privy to the whole return of Hagel and Fleury. It’s true Shanahan won a cup with Hasek. He also won one with Chris Osgood. Giordano was an upgrade to the goaltending all by himself.
Must be nice to dream in technicolor (or blue and white).
Fleury may or may not have been the solution. He hasn’t had great success every playoff year. You cannot succeed by constantly coughing up draft picks and top prospects. Sorry, Howard, but Tampa Bay really overpaid for [Brandon Hagel]. I am glad we did not.
As written: “The future is forever persuasive here in Toronto with an undying legion of zealous advocates (amid fans and media). There is no apparent limit to the adversity and chagrin of Leafs Nation. As such, we always have next year. And, the one after that, etc.” May I also remind you that Tampa Bay has won the past two Stanley Cups.
In my world, you trade one of Marner or Nylander, Marner having the higher cap hit. Take that money, some Marlies and draft pick capital. Make a trade for a top notch d-man, get creative here on that one. Then, take whatever money may be left over an / or straight up players and land a goalie. To develop one, this core would be all but gone by then. Dubas has never stepped out of the box as he is married to this core and will go down with it. Mike Futa made a very good point several months back on Kyper and Bourne. He had said then, when asked about what could possibly be the reason the team does not make it out of the first round and the core usually don’t do much? He answered, if you give them the keys to the city without having won any championship, but sign them on the “hope” of winning, then there is nothing left to fight for. If they have their money, there is not incentive in the end at that stage of their career. He stated, he could not figure out another one, other than toughness not being a part of their skill set. Had it been Lamoirello, he would have waited until they did something in the playoffs and then reward them. Interesting take.
Another good question for Shanahan would be is how he would define “getting this done”? Should the Leafs prevail in the opening round, but lose in the second round, would that still qualify as “getting it done”, deem Dubas as a genius, and declare that all is fine and dandy in the Leafs’ land for a few years to come? Or does the management genuinely believe they have a team worthy of winning it all, and nothing short of perhaps a final 4 appearance, would be considered as “getting it done”?
I suspect winning one round would preserve some jobs. And sent Toronto into hours of euphoria.
No matter what the Leafs did or didn’t do today, the fact remains that even Vasilevskiy would be meh behind the Leafs defence.
Not sure about THAT.