Why Sheldon Keefe is high on Maple Leafs' trade for Riley Nash

Chris Johnston spoke to Faizal Khamisa about William Nylander being placed on the COVID-19 list, the Maple Leafs trading for Riley Nash, and what Kyle Dubas' plans are for the trade deadline.

TORONTO – If the newest Toronto Maple Leaf gets into the club’s playoff lineup, coach Sheldon Keefe expects Riley Nash to make a defensive impact.

"What stands out to me is the way he played against us in the series against Columbus,” Keefe said Saturday morning, thinking back to Toronto’s five-game bubble elimination at the hand of the Blue Jackets.

“I just thought he was a real factor. I really got a sense of what he can bring there as a guy that gets really difficult matchups, starts in his own end, plays against good players. I thought he had a lot of shifts against our best players where you thought, perhaps, we’d be getting the upper hand — and it didn't work out that way."

If you can’t beat ’em, trade for ’em.

Nash is a 31-year-old, bottom-six centreman on an expiring contract. He was acquired by the Maple Leafs Friday in exchange for a conditional seventh-round draft pick in 2022.

That pick upgrades to a sixth-rounder if Nash participates in a quarter of the Leafs’ postseason games this spring.

Nash sprained his knee in a 3-0 loss to the Florida Panthers on Sunday and will be sidelined for four to six weeks. Meaning he may not be ready when playoffs begin next month.

“The priority is to get him healthy and take it from there, but we’re excited to add him to the group," Keefe said.

“He has a history of being a very reliable defensive player, a guy who knows exactly who he is and what to he needs to do to help his team win. So, it's great for us to add somebody with his experience.”

Nash’s offensive impact is minimal — he has two goals and five assists in 37 games this season — but he drives play despite starting just 29 per cent of his shifts in the offensive zone, is responsible with the puck, kills penalties regularly, and wins 49.7 per cent of his draws.

Moreover, Nash’s $2.7 million cap hit was slid onto long-term injured reserve Saturday.

Keefe confirmed that Nash’s acquisition corresponded with a move of Frederik Andersen (lower body) to LTIR, thus freeing up a $7.75 million LTI salary pool as long as Andersen remains off the ice, according to CapFriendly.com:

General manager Kyle Dubas is expected to make further adds in advance of Monday’s 3 p.m. ET trade deadline. He plans to address his roster movement shortly after the deadline passes.

Andersen has not skated with the team since the Leafs’ loss to the Flames on March 19. His uncertain status has spurred speculation regarding Toronto’s plans for its playoff goaltending tandem.

"I think that the easiest way to describe it is just, there's no timeline to the injury,” Keefe said. “It's just really a matter of Fred to be comfortable with where he's at now."

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