The Toronto Maple Leafs made waves Monday in announcing they would not bring back GM Lou Lamoriello for a fourth season.
“Three years ago, Lou and I agreed on a contract that would see him serve as General Manager of the Maple Leafs for three years and then transition to Senior Advisor for the following four years,” team president Brendan Shanahan said in a release. “This morning I informed Lou that I was not going to deviate from that course of action. I will now focus all of my attention towards making a decision regarding our next general manager.”
Odds are the Maple Leafs will promote from within, as Kyle Dubas and Mark Hunter appear to be the front-runners to move into the vacant role. Hunter has played a key role at the draft table and was instrumental in the team deciding to pick Mitch Marner fourth overall in 2015, while Dubas has seemingly been the GM in waiting since joining the organization. The Colorado Avalanche interviewed the 32-year-old for their GM job last summer, but in the end the Leafs wouldn’t let him go. The Arizona Coyotes had also reportedly showed interest in Dubas before hiring John Chayka.
In April of 2016, Dubas told Sportsnet’s Luke Fox that he wasn’t quite ready for a GM position.
“Very bluntly put, I don’t believe I’m ready to be an NHL general manager,” Dubas said. “I believe I have a lot to learn, and I believe Toronto is the best place for me to learn that.”
Whoever the next GM is will be tasked with taking this team to the next level after two straight first round exits. Defence remains an obvious area in need of upgrades, but with a number of players eligible for unrestricted free agency Lamoriello’s replacement will also need to fill out a changing roster, while managing against the salary cap ahead of expected huge salary increases to Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner and William Nylander in the coming years.
Lamoriello was brought into the Maple Leafs’ organization on July 23, 2015 and he left his mark on the organization with 19 trades. Here is a look at four of the most impactful ones:
Oct. 6, 2017: Toronto acquired Calvin Pickard from Vegas for Tobias Lindberg, 2018 sixth-rounder
The Golden Knights picked up 26-year-old Pickard in the expansion draft from Colorado and swapped him to Toronto after the goalie cleared waivers. It was initially expected that Pickard would push Curtis McElhinney for the backup job, but instead he stayed in the AHL nearly the entire season, playing only one game for the Leafs.
In the AHL, Pickard made up half of the league’s best goalie duo with Garret Sparks. Pickard’s 2.31 GAA and .918 save percentage in 33 games were both top 12 in the league, but overshadowed by Sparks’ 1.79 and .936 numbers in 43 games.
It’s not yet clear how the goaltending situation will play out in Toronto. McElhinney posted strong numbers as Frederik Andersen’s backup this season (2.14 GAA, .934 SP), but with just 18 games played he is not pushing Andersen for starts. With Andersen playing 66 games in each of the past two seasons, there is a growing sentiment that Toronto needs a backup to either push him, or to give him a backup the Leafs can lean on more often as Andersen heads into his age 29 season. Sparks or Pickard would more naturally fit that role.
The next Leafs GM has options on how to proceed at this position, and Lamoriello put them in this position. The cost, 22-year-old winger Lindberg, was worth it for a team already loaded at that position. Lindberg posted 23 points in 64 games for the AHL’s Chicago Wolves this season.
June 20, 2016: Toronto acquired Frederik Andersen from Anaheim for 2016 first-rounder, 2017 second-rounder
Prior to this trade, the Maple Leafs didn’t have a difference-maker in net since Ed Belfour left in 2006. James Reimer got the team to the playoffs in 2013, but had constant injury woes. Vesa Toskala had one season with a save percentage over .900. Jonas Gustavsson never reached the level of hype he came to the NHL with, and a number of other goalies were tried before moving out the revolving door.
Andersen, finally, secured the position as Lamoriello immediately signed Andersen to a five-year, $25 million contract. The Dane had played more than half of Anaheim’s game in the two previous seasons, posting save percentages of .914 and .919, but didn’t get into more than 54 games. John Gibson was the goalie of Anaheim’s future all along.
After starting rough out of the gate for the Leafs, which happened again in 2017-18, Andersen settled in and posted a .918 save percentage in both seasons as Toronto’s starter, which was good enough for 13th in the league both years. In the past two seasons, no goalie has faced more shots or made more saves than Andersen, and Toronto made back-to-back playoff appearances.
The first-rounder Toronto sent to Anaheim was Pittsburgh’s acquired in the Phil Kessel trade, a move made a couple weeks before Lamoriello was hired. The Ducks used the 30th overall pick on Sam Steel, who has scored 83 goals in 120 WHL games since.
Less than a month after acquiring Andersen from the Ducks, Lamoriello sent Jonathan Bernier to Anaheim for a conditional pick.
Feb. 28, 2016: Toronto acquired Connor Carrick, Brooks Laich, 2016 second-rounder for Daniel Winnik, fifth-rounder
With the Maple Leafs well out of playoff contention and en route to finishing last overall and drafting Auston Matthews, the 2016 deadline was a time to sell. Lamoriello made five trades in February of 2016 as he tried to recoup futures for players who weren’t a part of the team’s long-term plans.
At the time of this trade, Winnik still had another full season on his deal so Washington was adding a veteran for two playoff runs. In return, the Leafs got a second-round pick they used on Carl Grundstrom, who has three points in two games for the Marlies since recently arriving from Sweden. The more impactful player, so far, in this trade though has been the 24-year-old Carrick, a right-shot defenceman who played 67 for the NHL club last season, and 47 this season.
“Depth will be a strength of every team looking to play on past Game 82 and we’re fortunate to have it.” – @connorcarrick
— Toronto Maple Leafs (@MapleLeafs) April 2, 2018
Carrick averaged 15:08 of ice time this season, which was actually a drop of more than a minute from 2016-17 as the Leafs added Ron Hainsey and gave looks to Travis Dermott. Carrick did not get into Toronto’s playoff series this year, but is still a promising defensive defenceman who could stick with an NHL team at least in a third-pair role. But there may be more to come from him at the top level, whether it’s with the Leafs or another organization.
Either way, the Leafs turned a depreciating asset into a couple promising youngsters. In Toronto, Carrick at least provides an excellent option as the seventh defenceman (and one who arguably deserves a much bigger role), but if he has no permanent place in head coach Mike Babcock’s lineup, the next GM should have no trouble finding an other trade partner.
Feb. 9, 2016: Toronto acquires Jared Cowen, Colin Greening, Milan Michalek, Tobias Lindberg, 2017 second-rounder from Ottawa for Dion Phaneuf, Matt Frattin, Casey Bailey, Ryan Rupert, Cody Donaghey
With three seasons still left on a contract carrying a far too heavy $7 million cap hit, dumping Phaneuf’s contract to Ottawa was a huge relief for the Maple Leafs. Toronto didn’t receive anything of great significance in return (though a second-round pick is great value and Lindberg was later traded in the Pickard deal), but getting rid of Phaneuf’s contract was what this deal was all about.
His contract, which had no-move protection, became a problem for Ottawa in the Vegas expansion draft. The team asked Phaneuf to waive his no-move so they could expose him in the draft and protect Marc Methot instead, but when Phaneuf refused, the Senators ended up losing a key minute-eater from their blue line. Ottawa eventually traded Phaneuf at this year’s deadline to Los Angeles for Drew Shore and Marian Gaborik.