On the latest 32 Thoughts Podcast, Elliotte Friedman shed some light on the Maple Leafs’ process behind the Ilya Lyubushkin acquisition and where GM Kyle Dubas might go from here with his roster moves.
For Toronto, they were looking for D. I think they decided that if they were doing a rental, they weren’t going to be trading a first-round pick for it. I also don’t think they were doing one of their top prospects for a rental.
People are going to ask them for Knies. Knies looks like he is a real steal for them. They have some other really good prospects, too. Toronto was saying, “We are not doing that.”
Lyubushkin is a good fit for them. He is a right-hand shot. He is not much of an offensive player, but he is a pretty good defensive player, and he is physical. He is not a guy who is going to wow you with his speed game, but he knows where he is and fits at the bottom of their D. I think it is a really good pickup for them.
Ritchie wanted to move on. There was no path for him back into the NHL until the playoffs, barring injury. They cleared his cap room for next year. Arizona liked Ritchie. They had only five players under contract for next season.
… This is about clearing Ritchie’s contract for next season, and Lyubushkin is a player that Toronto can use.
The lack of appetite to move a top prospect or first-round pick for a rental is noteworthy and may speak to their rumoured interest in Chicago forward Brandon Hagel as well as Dubas’ general preference for cost-controlled players with some term who are on the right side of the age curve.
There isn’t a lot in the bank when it comes to draft-pick capital with just six draft selections total between 2021 and 2022, and the Leafs can’t be moving out potential impact players who feasibly project to enter the league on an entry-level contract within the next couple of years such as Matthew Knies and Nick Robertson. The contention window needs to be kept open, and draft and development are critical in that vein.
Friedman also shed further light on their situation on defense and whether Kyle Dubas still has more in store in terms of blue-line moves:
Toronto has a situation on D where Sandin is getting a chance to play second pair and Liljegren has had a chance to move up a little bit in the lineup. I think they are trying to see exactly what they have here. They still have a month before the deadline to see if they want to do anything else defensively.
I still think it is a possibility — I wouldn’t want to rank it on a scale of 1-10 — that Holl or Dermott moves. I don’t think Toronto has given up yet on the possibility of that.
I think they wanted to strengthen their D and they saw Lyubushkin as a relatively cost-effective, underrated player. They don’t have guys like him, really. His skill set is a bit different than they have got with the skill sets they’ve got.
One of the guys Toronto looked at over the last month is Klingberg. He is someone they considered. But they didn’t do it.
1) I think the acquisition cost might have been higher.
2) I think also that they look at it and say, “We have guys like him.” He is a good player who I think they like, but they have guys liked him. Lyubushkin is something that they really didn’t have.
I don’t think Dubas is necessarily finished tinkering with his defense. It may end up that nothing happens, and this is what they’ve got. But I don’t think it is impossible that he continues to tinker with it — specifically with Holl.
The benefit of acquiring Lyubushkin with a month to go until the deadline is that they can give him a decent runway to adjust to the new environment before they can reasonably evaluate what exactly they have in the player.
The team has eight NHL defensemen on the roster right now; Dubas also recently mentioned options like Alex Biega and Carl Dahlstrom as depth cover in case of multiple injuries. If Lyubushkin gives them confidence in his status as a top-six regular who can bring elements they don’t have, it potentially opens up the avenue to move out a little salary off of the backend (be it Dermott’s $1.5 million — a tad rich for a #7/8 — or Holl’s $2 million), creating the cap flexibility to maneuver further or address other needs.
Dubas said yesterday, “May the best defenseman win.” It’s shaping up as something of a mid-season camp-style roster battle that could determine who stays and who goes. It’s also possible they size it up in a month’s time — both their internal situation and the external options in the trade market — and decide to proceed with the eight defensemen they currently have.
Meanwhile, very shortly (at 2 p.m. EST), we will find out if Ryan Dzingel and his $1.1 million contract has cleared waivers unclaimed. His cap hit can be fully buried on the Marlies if he does clear.
Kyle Dubas provided the perspective yesterday that Dzingel would replace Ritchie by giving them the depth of having an established NHL forward on the Marlies who can be called on if needed. Putting him on the Alex Galchenyuk program and rebuilding his confidence offensively from the ground up with the team’s development staff would be the vision here, but we’ll have to wait and see.
Update (2:02 p.m. EST): Off goes Leafs legend Ryan Dzingel.
SJ claims Dzingel
— Elliotte Friedman (@FriedgeHNIC) February 21, 2022
The Leafs will now recall Rasmus Sandin, leaving them in a situation where they’re around $640k beneath the cap ceiling and are accruing cap space ahead of the deadline.