In case you have been living under a rock, the Toronto Maple Leafs acquired forward Alex Galchenyuk from the Carolina Hurricanes in exchange for forward Egor Korshkov and defenseman David Warsofsky on Monday.
Given that Galchenyuk passed through waivers earlier this week, the acquisition cost was bound to be low. The Leafs will now have some flexibility with Galchenyuk, who they can flip between the NHL roster and taxi squad within the next few weeks, giving them the same freedom that they were looking for when they placed Jason Spezza on waivers. Additionally, given that he’s already in Canada, there’s no requirement for a 14-day quarantine. All in all, I see this as a low-risk move with some potential reward.
Galchenyuk fascinates me. A third-overall pick in the 2012 draft, he looked like he could have a long career as a top-line forward. 21 for the majority of the 2015-2016 season, Galchenyuk scored 30 goals that year. It’s not like that was his only productive year, either: Prior to last season, he had posted five consecutive 40+ point seasons. I’m just amazed at how far his reputation has fallen over the years. I remember the outrage when he was “snubbed” from Team North America at the World Cup of Hockey and the shock on Twitter when the Habs gave him up for Max Domi. His reputation just completely sank last year.
He’s certainly talented offensively. It’s amazing that he boasts the second-most career points from that 2012 draft class, and his highlight reels are quite impressive. You can see why most people thought that he would spend his entire career as a top-six forward. His career points per 60 at 5-on-5 is 1.71, which is comparable to names like Ryan O’Reilly, Jason Spezza, David Perron, Tyler Bozak, and Kyle Palmieri during that time period. That’s also surprisingly ahead of players like Zach Hyman, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Josh Anderson, Anthony Beauvillier. Offense has never been the problem with him, or at least it wasn’t before last season. Put in a position to succeed, Galchenyuk can still get you 40-plus points.
The problem with Galchenyuk is his defensive impact. As Leafs fans know from the Phil Kessel or Tyson Barrie days, bad defense can significantly diminish a player’s value. Galchenyuk is the last player you’d expect to see on a checking line, and when he’s not scoring, he’s not helping his team. Obviously, Galchenyuk isn’t expected to provide as much offensive value as Kessel did in his prime. However, I do think it’ll be easier to shelter him compared to Barrie last year, especially on a team that also has Morgan Rielly.
The Galchenyuk trade could be bad news for Jimmy Vesey, who continues to look rather invisible on most nights. I expect Galchenyuk to start on the fourth line, in a sheltered role where he would be counted on to out-score opposing fourth lines. I like the Engvall-Kerfoot-Mikheyev line, but you could potentially try him out on that line as well. If Thornton was still out, I may have even given him a chance with Tavares and Nylander. This reminds me a bit of the Tyler Ennis signing — he was also a former 40+ point player who came with some defensive concerns. Galchenyuk’s shot can certainly help the Leafs on the power play, and the team could definitely use more secondary scoring.
In terms of what they gave up, Egor Korshkov is a 24-year-old winger who had 25 points in 44 games with the Marlies last season. Of those 25 points, 16 were goals, and he was helped out by a 22% shooting percentage. His calling card is his height — he’s 6’4″ — and carries the ability to play the net-front role on the power play. I was in attendance for his one NHL game, where it was great to see him score. However, I think I’ve been lower on him than almost anyone else in the prospect rankings I’ve done in the past.
Korshkov was pretty clearly behind Pierre Engvall on the Marlies depth chart last year. He’s big, but I don’t think Korshkov is as strong on the forecheck as Engvall is, he doesn’t have the same type of speed, he’s not as strong defensively, and he doesn’t offer the same type of value on the penalty kill. He’s fairly similar to Mason Marchment, who the Leafs traded for Denis Malgin last season, but without the same physicality or fighting. He reminds me a bit of Jimmy Vesey — he’s a taller player who doesn’t play with a ton of speed, physicality, forechecking ability, or playmaking talent.
Given that he’ll be 25 in July, he’s pretty much a finished product by now. There’s a reasonable chance that he turns into a fourth-line winger, but I would have him behind players like Engvall, Boyd, and Petan on the depth chart. He’s currently playing in the KHL, and I’m not sure if he has any interest in playing in the AHL again (I don’t think they were planning on promising him an NHL roster spot anytime soon). I won’t be surprised if he stays in the KHL for a few seasons.
David Warsofsky seems like a pretty good AHL defenseman, but he makes $400k in the minors and he had no chance of earning NHL minutes with the Leafs. Galchenyuk makes $350k above the league minimum, so I assume Warsofsky was included in this deal just to reduce the financial burden and dump a contract in the process. The Marlies seem focused on giving their prospects plenty of ice time in this shortened season and didn’t seem to have much of a plan for the 30-year old Warsofsky.
In short, they basically got Galchenyuk for free. While they will have to pay his $1.05 million salary even if he’s not on the roster (and not counting towards their cap situation), it’s never about the money with this organization. There’s hardly any risk here. Who knows? He might be able to provide the secondary scoring help that the Leafs are looking for. I fully expect him to get an opportunity to prove what he can bring. If he doesn’t impress, they shouldn’t hesitate to scratch him.
Galchenyuk is very skilled, with a big one-timer from the left side, and it’s easy to see why he was a third-overall pick. I won’t be surprised if he scores a highlight-reel goal or two. The real question here is: Can he avoid being a complete liability defensively?
He’s no longer the highly-talented prodigy who can’t be scratched without causing a riot in the fanbase. This is a player who couldn’t earn a lineup spot on the Ottawa Senators and just passed through waivers. This should be a highly-motivated player who is fighting for his NHL future. Either he brings his best effort on a pretty consistent basis or he’s probably playing in the KHL next year.
The Meltdown against Ottawa
Blowing a four-goal lead is never a fun experience. The Leafs obviously should have closed that game out, earning two points instead of one. It was incredibly frustrating to watch. That being said, I’m not exactly losing my mind over it, either. All they can do is put it behind them and move on.
As you might know, the Leafs once blew a 4-1 loss to the Boston Bruins in Game 7 of a playoff series. That was back in 2013, and even though none of those players are still on the current Leafs roster, fans haven’t forgotten that quite yet and probably won’t until they win a playoff series. While several mistakes were made, I basically view this Leafs team the same way that I did before Monday night’s game. Monday night’s loss does not scratch the surface of the 4-1 loss to Boston in the playoffs, or the David Ayres game. I still view this 2020-21 Leafs roster in an optimistic light.
Let’s quickly go through what happened. The Leafs were up 5-1 with 59 seconds left in the second period. All was well: Matthews had two goals, Thornton looked great in his return to the lineup, and Engvall even ended his scoring slump. Given that they were on the power play, they should have ended the period with a four-goal lead, but the Senators capitalized on a rough turnover from John Tavares.
Ottawa’s next goal was also due to a mistake. Up three goals, the Leafs should have been playing far more conservatively. Morgan Rielly did not cover the player coming out of the penalty box. I actually thought the Leafs played okay after this, but these two mistakes let Ottawa back into a game that they had no business being in.
Zach Hyman then took a four-minute high-sticking penalty at the worst possible time. The Leafs actually played quite well on the penalty kill (especially Ilya Mikheyev), but the Senators scored a really nice goal seconds after Hyman stepped back onto the ice. I don’t necessarily blame anyone for that goal, or the game-tying goal that was scored when Evgeni Dadonov batted the puck out of the air and into the net. It was Ottawa’s second and third goals that were the big mistakes.
Oddly enough, I can’t really blame Toronto’s defensemen for that loss, other than maybe Morgan Rielly. Jake Muzzin, T.J. Brodie, Justin Holl, Zach Bogosian, and Travis Dermott weren’t overly responsible for the blown lead. I don’t think Andersen had an overly rough night, either, even though he got beat six times. It was certainly a series of unfortunate events, but I still think this team’s defense looks pretty good overall.
It’s worth emphasizing that the comeback was not due to poor 5-on-5 defense. The power play was on the ice for Ottawa’s second and third goals, the penalty kill was on the ice for the fourth goal, and there’s not much you can do about Dadonov swatting the puck out of the air for a goal at 6-on-5. We’re having a much different conversation if these goals were due to bad mistakes at 5-on-5. The power play has been great all season, and I’m not exactly losing sleep over the team’s power play defense.
There are legitimate concerns about this Leafs team, but for once, I don’t count their defensive play among them. There are two key players who need to be much better: John Tavares and Morgan Rielly. Both players contributed to the loss on Monday night, but this is not a one-game blip on the radar at this point. We need to look at the big picture, rather than be hyper-focused on their one big loss.
To say that Tavares is key to this team’s success would be putting it lightly. He’s signed for four more seasons after this year at an $11 million cap hit. He scored 47 goals in his first season as a Leaf and looked like a player who would be a near-lock to represent Team Canada at any best-on-best tournament. I actually think he was the Leafs best player in 2018-2019, ahead of even Auston Matthews.
But Tavares currently has two primary points at 5-on-5 through 16 games and his lone goal was primarily due to Nylander. Rather than playing against top lines on a nightly basis, he was given easier matchups to start the season and couldn’t capitalize. Yes, the 3.33% 5-on-5 shooting percentage won’t last forever, but this isn’t just a shooting percentage concern at this point. Toronto’s success is tied to having two first lines, and right now, they simply don’t have that. They need him to be better.
Rielly, like Tavares, looks fine in the box score. However, like Tavares, his numbers are heavily inflated from his power-play production. I do have more confidence in his pairing than ever before, but that’s due to T.J. Brodie’s great defense rather than his production. Rielly is expected to lead this team offensively from the back-end. At this point, I can’t say that he’s been one of their best three defensemen this year overall.
- William Nylander is taking a lot of criticism lately, and unlike Tavares and Rielly, I don’t think it’s overly deserved. He has six primary points at 5-on-5, compared to just two for Tavares. He did the bulk of the work to set up both of Vesey’s goals, and he pretty much gave Tavares a tap-in for his only five-on-five goal of the year. His line hasn’t been great, but it feels like he’s on his own most nights. He’s created every single one of their chances. Unlike Tavares and Rielly, I think his point total is more reflective of his play.
- If the Leafs lose to the Senators once again on Wednesday night, it’s going to be awfully tough to go to Michael Hutchinson on Thursday. This feels like an awfully important game for the Leafs in order to get back on track. With a win, I think Hutchinson plays in the second half of the back-to-back. With a loss, I think they go back to Andersen. While you don’t want to overplay him, I’m not sure that playing an extra game in February is going to affect him come playoff time. They can give him plenty of nights off when Jack Campbell returns instead.
- The Marlies are 2-0 to start the season, and Timothy Liljegren looks like their biggest bright spot early on. In the first two seasons in the AHL, he played a rather careful style and managed to exceed expectations defensively. He doubled his point total last season and looks like he took yet another step forward offensively through two games this year. He’s rushing the puck up the ice effectively, setting up dangerous scoring chances, and continues to cut off opposing rushes in the neutral zone. I think he’s been their best player thus far.
- The quality of play in the AHL doesn’t look quite as strong in previous years. The addition of an NHL taxi squad is a major reason why — the rosters look weaker than normal. You’re going to see some impressive stats from teenagers this year, which we’ll have to take with a grain of salt. However, Nick Robertson‘s three points in two games is not exactly a fluke. I expect him to score at a pretty impressive rate.
- Joey Anderson is easily one of the better forwards on the Marlies, although I expect him to stay in the AHL for most of the year. If he keeps this up, he’ll be in the conversation for a bottom-six role on next year’s Leafs roster. Robertson’s creativity, ability to win battles, and ability to elude defenders has stood out thus far. I have no idea why they don’t have him on his one-timer side on the power play. I do think he has some work to do defensively, so the AHL is probably the best spot for him for now. Both Robertson and Anderson are playing on both special teams units and they’re getting a ton of ice time to work on their game. If Robertson dominates over an extended stretch, they won’t hesitate to call him up.
- The last note for this week: I have to give a shoutout to Rich Clune. The Manitoba Moose are a pretty dirty team. Specifically, Jimmy Oligny has been a complete pest through two games. Clune gave him a warning during game one and followed through on his warning during game two. Oligny had provided a pretty hard slash just before this fight and later cross-checked Robertson in the back of the head. I wouldn’t want to mess with Clune:
Well, you can’t say Clune didn’t warn him pic.twitter.com/z4z53aHKbE
— Kevin Papetti (@KPapetti) February 17, 2021
That’s all for this week. Let’s hope for more 5-1 leads, but without the meltdown this time!