He fielded call after call – including several late breaking ones from the Vancouver Canucks on Roberto Luongo – and came close to a deal for a depth centre.
In the end, however, Toronto Maple Leafs GM Dave Nonis was one of the quieter execs around the league on deadline day, making just one small deal for depth defenceman Ryan O’Byrne with his team on the verge of its first playoff appearance in nine years.
For all the talk of gaining experience in goal or down the middle the past two weeks, the truth was the Leafs brass were fairly content with the status quo.
But it never hurts to know what’s available.
“We were close on a few other things, but not really until late in the day,” Nonis said. “Some of the [experienced players] that were available to us today were quality guys who would have been good adds four or five years ago but weren’t players that would get in the lineup [regularly].”
The most intriguing part of Toronto’s day by far was in their pursuit of two veteran goaltenders.
The first option, Calgary’s Miikka Kiprusoff, scuttled a deal that was in place early when he informed both teams he would like to remain with the Flames and his newborn in the city he’s played in since 2003.
Talks around the second – Roberto Luongo and the nine years remaining on his enormous contract – heated up late, with the Canucks making repeated offers in the final hour before the deadline according to TSN’s Darren Dreger.
Vancouver was apparently willing to accept as little as backup goalie Ben Scrivens and draft picks or prospects in return, but Nonis still wasn’t biting.
“I’m not going to speak specifically about any player other than Miikka because that was out there and we had permission to talk to him,” Nonis said. “But any player that we bring in has to make sense for us long term and you couple that with the assets you have to give up to get that player.
“With Miikka, it would have been a different story in terms of length of term and the amount of money we would have had to pay... The benefit of bringing Kiprusoff in would have been we weren’t moving either of our goalies out.”
Ultimately the day was a mild vote of confidence for Leafs starter James Reimer and Scrivens, who have posted the NHL’s seventh best team save percentage and been a big part of Toronto’s 20-12-4 record this season.
While they have started only a combined 116 NHL games and have no playoff experience, they also have shown enough promise that either one could potentially be a solid No. 1 for many more years.
The Leafs – led by new goalie coach Rick St. Croix – remain very high on Reimer, in particular, and didn’t want all of the deadline talk to take away from what they’ve accomplished.
“We have two quality goalies,” Nonis said. “These guys have earned the right to play.”
Nonis added that he had sat down and talked to Reimer earlier in the day, pointing out that the team’s pursuit of a veteran wasn’t as a result of his play or the organization’s views of his potential.
“He’s still a young goaltender,” Nonis said. “It’s not about his ability. In fact, his play has been exceptional. It was just about getting some experience to help him. There’s nothing more to it than that… “Having someone mentor you in this business, it doesn’t hurt. That was something that we had looked at. That was one of our goals. But if it wasn’t going to come to fruition, it wasn’t a devastating blow to us. We weren’t crushed today that we weren’t able to get Kiprusoff because we felt we had two quality guys here.”
Nonis also offered praise for the rest of his lineup on Wednesday, noting that despite being the lone deadline day addition, O’Byrne wouldn’t necessarily be guaranteed a spot in the lineup every night.
The 6-foot-5, 235 pound Victoria native has been a regular on the Colorado Avalanche blueline the last three years and played extensively with Leafs veteran John-Michael Liles two years ago. He brings the sort of size and toughness coveted by coach Randy Carlyle but is also noted for being somewhat slow and penalty prone.
It’s expected O’Byrne and Liles will initially be partnered together as part of a new look third pairing, taking away some of the ice time that Jake Gardiner, Mike Kostka and Mark Fraser have been logging on the Leafs back end.
That the organization only made the one minor addition was more reflective of where Toronto sits in its evolution more than anything. Not in the position to contend for a Stanley Cup or to begin a rebuild, Nonis was tasked with finding the middle ground of trying to add useful pieces without giving up much from his roster.
That included hanging onto pending unrestricted free agents like Tyler Bozak and Clarke MacArthur – two forwards who may yet re-sign before the summer – and left the 2014 fourth-round pick they gave up for O’Byrne the only asset they lost.
“There’s a lot to be said for keeping this group together,” Nonis said. “The guys have battled with heart, and it was important to us to not take anyone out of the lineup unless we were getting someone significant back… “I think we’re still in a position to keep adding assets [in the future]. Some of the deals we were presented today were about moving players within our system, but we’re trying to build that up… We’re still developing; we’re still growing as an organization. We need to add more pieces and we’re in a good position to do that.
“There was never a notion of moving a young player, a Nazem Kadri, for another established guy. That was never something we discussed at all because if we’re going to have long term success we need to add to that group.”