When the other Atlantic Division crown hunters splashed the pot, Lou Lamoriello folded his hand, refusing to put any significant portion of the Maple Leafs’ future on the line to get better for the 2018 playoffs.
The Boston Bruins (Rick Nash) and Tampa Bay Lightning (Ryan McDonagh) both surrendered first-rounders, taking a much more aggressive approach at the trade deadline.
The Leafs, however, held tight to any prospect the the franchise believes has a real chance to make the big club and only gave up what they’re banking on being the lesser of two 2018 second-round picks. That went to the rival Montreal Canadiens, along with a couple of deeper Marlies, in exchange for bottom-six rental centre Tomas Plekanec, a wily veteran who should have coach Mike Babcock’s trust but may underwhelm with his speed.
Toronto also grabbed a small amount of found money — San Jose’s seventh-round pick — for centre Eric Fehr, who was playing AHL in San Diego and was never going to be recalled to the Leafs.
Here’s a brief peek at how Toronto’s one conservative trade affects its prospect and draft outlook.
Kyle Baun: The late-blooming, undrafted forward returns home, thanks to the Plekanec trade, after putting up 16 points through 54 games with AHL Laval. The grandson of Maple Leafs legend Bobby Baun — a four-time Cup champ most famous for scoring the OT winner in Game 6 of the ’64 final — Kyle has appeared in just five NHL games himself (all with Chicago). Baun will be 26 when he turns UFA this summer, and with wing prospects such as Andreas Johnsson, Mason Marchment and Jeremy Bracco ahead of him, he’ll be in tough to graduate to the Leafs.
Rinat Valiev: The 22-year-old left defenceman, a third-round Toronto pickup in 2014, was enjoying another solid season with the Marlies, but with a fairly stacked left side of Toronto’s D core, he’d need a sudden breakout or multiple injuries to catch a break. The Russian will have a much better shot at making some noise in Montreal.
Kerby Rychel: Rychel, a 2013 first-round selection by Columbus, finds himself with his third franchise in three seasons. A solid left winger who mixes grit with his play-making (he leaves the Marlies with 82 points in 128 games), the 23-year-old could well benefit from the Canadiens’ weaker depth chart on the flanks. Both Rychel and Valiev are RFA at season’s end, so Montreal has time to assess their talent.
DRAFT PICK SITUATION
2018 picks: Round 1, Round 2 (SJS), Round 3 (SJS), Round 4, Round 5, Round 7 (own), Round 7 (ANA)
DRAFT PICK OUTLOOK
The Plekanec deal was eased by the fact Toronto held an extra second-rounder in 2018 — thanks to the picks reaped from San Jose during the Leafs’ teardown stage. Aside from missing a sixth and holding two sevenths (it’s a dart game that late in the draft anyway), Toronto will head to Dallas with its full complement of picks. Heading into the final year of Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner’s entry-level deals, Lamoriello should be willing to spend another pick or two on the floor if they can be packaged to fill the club’s need for a top-four, right-shot defenceman.
REASON FOR OPTIMISM
The Leafs exchanged two decent prospects and a second-rounder for a centre who can help them short-term and a long shot in Baun. What’s optimistic about not trading a stud like pending UFA James van Riemsdyk when the 30-goal man surely could’ve yielded a high pick?
Well, we watched AHL left wing Andreas Johnsson put up two assists and thrown nine shots on net Wednesday at Ricoh Coliseum. He killed penalties, contributed on the power play, and was a constant threat to break out and create. Johnsson leads the Marlies in goals (23) and assists (28) and is humming along at better than a point per game.