Six new Leafs (and counting) plus a goodbye to Sandin & Engvall: Digesting Kyle Dubas' aggressive trade deadline so far – Maple Leafs Hot Stove
What an unbelievably fun couple of days and weeks this has been in the build-up to an NHL trade deadline that is not only living up to the hype but easily over-delivering on the promise created by the uniquely strong board of potential trade candidates.
We were made to believe serious fireworks were not possible in a hard-cap league, especially in the era of the flat upper limit. The competitive pressure inside the stacked Eastern Conference and the economic pressure of the flat-cap environment are forcing GMs to find creative solutions (e.g. widespread three-way deals with the double-retentions) for making their teams better. Combined with the abundance of prime talent on offer from the cohort of seller clubs, is a truly wonderful thing to behold.
It’s been a chaotic few days here at the site and it doesn’t appear to be slowing down any time soon, so before everything changes again, I am going to throw a wall of thoughts at you in notebook form.
Firstly, the summary of all of the Leaf-related activity:
– It’s clear now Dubas has fully embraced that winning in the playoffs is going to be achieved with veterans by and large, particularly among the supporting cast around his stars. The Pontus Holmberg, Bobby McMann, and Joey Andersons of the world — while the first two received valuable experience and remain good call-up options if injuries strike — have either been traded (in Anderson’s case) or left to develop further on the Marlies.
It’s also very clear that Dubas has embraced making the Leafs heavier and more experienced up front and on the blue line while adding multiple Cup rings (or players with deep runs on their resumes in Noel Acciari, Erik Gustafsson) as they look to overcome the psychological playoff hurdle just as much as the physical one.
The identity of this team feels much different in behind the core four now in terms of veteran experience, proper bottom-six role players, and multiple good center and D options (i.e. the spine of the team). It certainly feels playoff-ready to me.
A shift in tone I noticed from Kyle Dubas in his recent press conference following the Jake McCabe and Sam Lafferty acquisitions: In his response to a question about changing the identity of the mix on the team, he said — to paraphrase — it was the whole point of these moves.
– It’s also more than evident that Dubas hasn’t been lulled into a false sense of security by the team sitting in the league’s top five again. He sees this upcoming Atlantic Division/Eastern Conference playoff tournament between elite teams for what it is and is aggressively filling the holes. It’s a rather extraordinary amount of change for a team so high in the standings, but it is almost certainly what is required to take down Tampa and then Boston. And he’s probably still not done.
When there are six additions to the NHL roster and at least three forward lines and all three defense pairs are potentially impacted, you wonder a little bit about the team morale/chemistry side of it with just 20 games remaining to gel. The Swedish clique seemed tight within the Leafs‘ room, for example (though it’s worth noting it’s getting a new member in Erik Gustafsson). But there are a lot of high-character veterans coming in, including players who have bounced around the league a lot and fit in quickly inside their new homes in the likes of Ryan O’Reilly, Noel Acciari, Luke Schenn, and even Erik Gustafsson.
It’s also not like the Leafs have moved out any of their top six forwards or any of their top five D, either. It’s notable that Keefe has frequently mentioned the team’s quiet bench when Wayne Simmonds isn’t dressed; no one in the previous bottom six (prior to all of the changes) seemed to have much of a voice.
There might be one exception to that. We’ll see if he is still here by Friday at 3 p.m., but Alex Kerfoot is regularly mentioned as a big part of the leadership group by Sheldon Keefe and his teammates. I wonder if this is one part of why he’s here still and Pierre Engvall is not.
– On that note, I thought this was a telling quote from Sheldon Keefe today:
Sheldon Keefe: “Every guy we’ve brought in is a guy that we got great confidence that when the temperature rises they are going to continue to push, continue to play, continue to be themselves”
— Mark Masters (@markhmasters) February 28, 2023
My inference here, but it definitely seems Keefe did not trust Pierre Engvall to find the elevated playoff-level intensity — not consistently enough, anyway — needed for him to be effective inside his top nine for hopefully multiple rounds in the playoffs. Hard to blame him based on the last three postseasons (cue the George Bush fool-me quote).
I will say… As we sit here tonight, I am not 100% sold on the wiseness of Engvall and Sandin going out (combined $3.65 million) and Kerfoot ($3.5 million) staying put, but we likely don’t have the complete picture yet, either, so commenting on this prematurely would probably be foolish.
– It’s easy to call Rasmus Sandin the next Travis Dermott now, although it was a comparison I was pondering last summer, too, as the contract stalemate persisted. I do think he is a more cerebral player than Dermott with a better first pass and better instincts at the offensive blue line. Sandin was in a tough spot here, though.
It’s difficult when he can’t play top power play for the foreseeable future (Rielly’s spot), is blocked out from the top four on the left side for the time being, and doesn’t PK (yet), either. Luke Schenn not only brings the traditional bottom-pairing elements of veteran savvy, snarl along the walls and at the net front, and PK ability, but he has also been surprisingly productive at five-on-five (in large part due to the Quinn Hughes effect) and brings an ability to occasionally elevate in the lineup (more in spot duty ideally) and reasonably complement a capable puck mover if needed. That was not in Sandin’s repertoire as of today.
It’s a matter of contention-window timing as much as anything. Whether or not Sandin pans out into the top four Dermott didn’t, it simply takes a long time for defensemen of his ilk — for anybody but the elite few — to develop into an everyday top-four regular when we’re talking about smaller puck-moving defensemen who play secondary PP time and softer 5v5 minutes. He’s perfectly suited to go somewhere where he can play a bunch of minutes and further develop his game properly with lots of NHL TOI.
– Of course, you’d like to keep everyone, and it does suck to see Rasmus Sandin moved out for a first-round pick and a rental depth defenseman knowing that the pick is not going to help the team any time soon even if the Leafs hit on it (Sandin is objectively a good 28th overall pick already relative to the realistic expectation for a very late first). However, the late first from Boston might be a more notable trade chip more than it is a draft asset for the Leafs in their current position.
We talked about Schenn’s added elements and versatility over Sandin as a depth option, but Erik Gustafsson should be able to help them in a similar capacity — second PP time, even better 5v5 production, but probably not someone who is playing big minutes or matching up against good players against Tampa or Boston — while bringing the added experience of a couple hundred more games in the league and some playoff experience.
– We know Dubas told Dermott he would move him along to a new opportunity if he was drowned out on the depth chart, and the trade for Jake McCabe put Rasmus Sandin back in the same spot he was in the last playoffs as the #7. I wouldn’t be shocked if there were some assurances provided during last summer’s negotiation that Sandin would get his shot this season, and if he found himself in the same spot yet again by deadline time, Dubas would find him a new opportunity. I am going off of any inside information here, but it just seems to be in line with Dubas’ M.O.
By the way, we’ve all heard the criticisms over the years of Dubas possibly being loyal to a fault, but he was a big Sandin guy. We all knew he was picking him way in advance of the 2018 draft.
– This might get lost in the shuffle in terms of the changes on the blue line over the past few days: The Leafs added two D who are currently inside the top 25 in five-on-five points this season in Erik Gustafsson (12th) and Luke Schenn (t-25th); it’s three inside the top 40 when we add in Jake McCabe (t-39th).
Due to Rielly’s injury, the Leafs previously had one inside the top 40 in Mark Giordano (t-24th). I’ve always thought this point about production by the D doesn’t get talked about enough when we discuss the Leafs and secondary scoring.
– It feels like the Leafs have eight defensemen with a completely legitimate case to play each night. Is that one too many or just right? To win a bunch of rounds in the playoffs — especially these playoffs — I do think you need at least seven who are by rights NHL regulars (with one forced to sit unfairly). Could the Leafs conceivably carry eight and sit two of Luke Schenn, Erik Gustafsson, or Justin Holl on the regular? Injuries are inevitable.
– The Leafs still might be a forward short among their group up front. If the plan is to build three lines centered by Auston Matthews, John Tavares, and Ryan O’Reilly at some point — necessarily bumping Alex Kerfoot or Calle Jarnkrok onto 2LW — there might need to be an additional option to pair with ROR beyond one of Kerfoot/Jarnkrok and then one of Sam Lafferty or Noel Acciari.
Biznasty threw out the dream-land idea of Tom Wilson… What is Detroit thinking with Tyler Bertuzzi (rental) after really ugly back-to-back losses against Ottawa? How about Pavel Buchnevic (non-rental) in St. Louis? The Leafs now have a 2023 first-rounder to dangle.
Hab posts video showing frustration with punishment for Bruin – CTV News Montreal
Montreal Canadiens forward Mike Hoffman took to social media Friday to vent his frustration with a decision by the NHL’s Department of Player Safety.
“So I’ve gotten a two-game suspension for cross-checking a guy in the back of the helmet. A full-blown intentional cross-check to the face? One game. Hmm,” a bloody-chinned Hoffman says in a video shared online.
Hoffman is referring to the one-game suspension given to Boston Bruins winger A.J. Greer, who cross-checked Hoffman in the face during the first period of the Bruins-Canadiens game Thursday night.
The incident occurred after the players slashed each other’s sticks leading up to a faceoff.
Greer was assessed a major penalty and a game misconduct. Hoffman was able to complete the game sporting a bloodied face and a mask covering the injured area.
In addition to the suspension, Greer will forfeit US$4,121.62 in salary.
The Canadiens lost the game 4-2.
With files from The Canadian Press.
Senators' playoff push takes huge hit with Chychrun lower-body injury – CBC Sports
Senators defenceman Jakob Chychrun will be sidelined multiple weeks due to a lower-body injury, head coach D.J. Smith told TSN 1200 in Ottawa on Saturday.
Smith also announced forward Ridly Greig will miss the remainder of the regular season due to a sternum injury.
Both players were injured during the Senators’ 7-2 victory over the Tampa Bay Lightning on Thursday. Chychrun did not participate in practice Friday, and Smith told reporters that the defenceman “tugged something there a little bit, we’ll see how he reacts to treatment here.”
The Senators (35-32-5) have 10 games remaining in the regular season, which ends April 13 at Buffalo. Ottawa is five points out of the second wild-card spot in the Eastern Conference entering play Saturday.
Chychrun, who turns 25 on Friday, has recorded five points in 12 games with the Senators since being acquired from the Arizona Coyotes on March 1. He had seven goals and 28 points in 36 contests this season with the Coyotes.
Chychrun has 62 goals and 175 points in 385 career outings with Arizona and Ottawa since being selected by the Coyotes with the 16th overall pick of the 2016 NHL draft.
Greig, 20, has six points in 16 games this season, his first in the NHL. He was drafted by the Senators with the 28th overall pick in 2020.
Canadiens Forward Mike Hoffman Calls Out Department Of Safety
Montreal Canadiens forward Mike Hoffman is not a happy camper.
The 33-year-old forward took to Instagram to discuss the recent one-game suspension of Boston Bruins forward A.J. Greer.
Hoffman, freshly decorated with a gnarly battle scar after the ridiculous cross-check by Greer during Thursday night’s matchup between the Canadiens and the Bruins, expressed his concern with the lack of consistency from the NHL’s Department Of Player Safety.
“I’ve gotten a two-game suspension for cross-checking a guy in the back of the helmet,” said a wound-muffled Hoffman. “A full-blown, intentional cross-check to the face? One game. Hmmm.”
TALK YOUR SHIT MIKE 🗣️🗣️🗣️ pic.twitter.com/cPaXmjUQrY
— Habs Fan TV (@habsfantv_) March 24, 2023
Hoffman’s message was clear: the standard has dropped in recent years, especially if we compare the decision made on Friday to the decision made in 2016 when Hoffman was suspended for two games after his cross-check rode up Logan Couture’s back and hit him in the helmet.
That’s not to say Hoffman did not deserve a suspension. If anything, the ruling at the time was a step toward erring on the side of caution when brain injuries were in play, putting an onus on player safety in a spot that oftentimes forgets about the well-being of its employees.
Greer’s cross-check, on the other hand, was about as blatant as it gets, leaving a trail of blood behind the Canadiens forward as he quickly exited the ice.
There was some tomfoolery prior to the faceoff, perhaps even a little kerfuffle, but there’s no justifying a blatant cross-check which resulted in an injury.
By handing down a one-game suspension, the Department of Player Safety deemed Greer’s attack three times less severe than accidentally spitting on an opponent, which carries a three-game suspension in the NHL.
Hoffman returned to the game in the third period sporting a full birdcage, and though he did not miss significant time, he clearly did not appreciate the lack of safety provided by the NHL’s Department Of Misnomers.
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