On a day other teams bolstered their lineups for the playoffs, all the Maple Leafs did was reacquire the borderline NHL defenceman they traded away last year along with Nazem Kadri, and pick up a 29-year-old minor-leaguer.
Happy NHL trade deadline day, Toronto.
Even the news that the team had signed Jake Muzzin to a four-year contract extension couldn’t make up for the Maple Leafs’ meagre yield. If anything, they lost ground to their more active Eastern Conference rivals.
General manager Kyle Dubas said salary-cap issues and injuries made it challenging to pull the trigger on a significant deal. With Morgan Rielly and Cody Ceci expected back from the long-term injury list before the end of the season, the US$9.5-million they earn between them goes back on the books and leaves little manoeuvrability.
“We put ourselves in a position we don’t want to be in, which is battling for our lives,” Dubas said. “We set ourselves up on a journey and it is going to be hard.”
Toronto currently holds the playoff spot guaranteed to the third-place team in the Atlantic Division, but things will become dicey if it falls lower and has to fight a half-dozen clubs for one of the two wild-card berths in the Eastern Conference.
And all around them, adversaries were busy:
- The Boston Bruins added forward Nick Ritchie from Anaheim.
- Buffalo acquired veteran forward Wayne Simmonds from New Jersey.
- The Carolina Hurricanes obtained centre Vincent Trocheck from Florida and defencemen Sami Vatanen from New Jersey and Brady Skjei from the New York Rangers.
- In exchange for Trochek, the Panthers received four players, including winger Erik Haula.
- The New York Islanders picked up one of the biggest prizes available in centre Jean-Gabriel Pageau of Ottawa.
- The New York Rangers gave a contract extension worth US$45.5-million over seven years to winger Chris Kreider, one of the players drawing most interest.
- The Philadelphia Flyers acquired centres Nate Thompson from Montreal and Derek Grant from Anaheim.
- The Pittsburgh Penguins acquired veteran forward Patrick Marleau from San Jose and wingers Conor Sheary and Evan Rodrigues from Buffalo.
- Tampa Bay obtained right winger Barclay Goodrow from San Jose.
Elsewhere in the league, the biggest winners were the Edmonton Oilers and the Vegas Golden Knights.
Showing it is serious in its attempt to lock down a playoff position, Edmonton added a speedy winger to play alongside Connor McDavid in Detroit’s Andreas Athanasiou, who scored 30 goals last year. It also got veteran defenceman Mike Green from the Red Wings, and left winger Tyler Ennis from Ottawa.
Vegas now has two No. 1 goaltenders heading into the playoffs after acquiring Robin Lehner from Chicago. He will likely share significant time with Marc-André Fleury. It also obtained centre Nick Cousins from Montreal.
One of the high-profile players who was not traded was Maple Leafs defenceman Tyson Barrie, about whom the team had received queries in recent days. Part of the trade for Kadri, he will become an unrestricted free agent at the end of the season.
“We were in no rush to do something with him," Dubas said. “He has played very well, especially since [Sheldon Keefe] took over as head coach. We were fine with him running it out and being part of a successful group.”
Toronto got Rosen, who played for Keefe when the American Hockey League Marlies won the Calder Cup in 2018, from Colorado for backup goaltender Michael Hutchinson. The 29-year-old appeared in 15 games this season and had a 4-9-1 record, 3.36 goals-against average and .886 save percentage.
Dubas said the club’s biggest moves were made two weeks ago when it acquired winger Kyle Clifford and goalie Jack Campbell from the Los Angeles Kings. That, and signing Muzzin, a rugged defenceman who has become the spiritual leader of the team.
The 30-year-old will be paid an average of US$5.625-million over the four years.
“Jake’s importance here was immense on the ice and off," Dubas said. “It was very apparent when he was injured this season that we missed him dearly. He adds a lot for us and we are thrilled to have him.”
After practising at its facility in Etobicoke, Ont., on Monday the team flew to Tampa for a game against the Lightning on Tuesday, and then travels to Sunrise, Fla., for an engagement with the Panthers on Thursday. The latter could play an important role in the standings because Florida trails Toronto by just two points.
The Maple Leafs suffered an embarrassing loss to Carolina on Saturday in which they were beaten by 42-year-old backup goalie David Ayres. Earlier in the week they suffered lopsided defeats to Buffalo and Pittsburgh.
“We are clearly not there yet, but we have shown signs of what we could be,” Dubas said. "I think the group is in a challenging spot, but with that comes the opportunity to do something great. It is going to be on the players to respond in the right way and on me and Sheldon [Keefe] to guide them in the right direction.
“You can go meekly into the night or fight your way back.”