After practice on Tuesday, Sheldon Keefe discussed the flurry of trade activity that added Jake McCabe, Sam Lafferty, Luke Schenn, and Erik Gustafsson to the organization over the past 24 hours.
What is this day like for you? It seems like a crazy day.
Keefe: It is not ideal when things happen right in and around practice and all of that. But it is the nature of the beast here with this week being what it is.
Obviously, Kyle has been very aggressive and very active. I think he has done a great job of getting things done early. Sometimes, you just have to get things done no matter the timing and make sure the players can be aware before things start to make the rounds.
It is what it is in that sense. The players that are leaving are guys that have given us really good minutes and years here since entering the organization as draft picks. It is never easy to see people leave, but we are really excited about those that are joining.
Did you know all of this might be coming down the wire today ahead of practice?
Keefe: I had a pretty good sense. It was a little bit surprising beforehand. The McCabe and Lafferty deal was one I had a few days’ notice on that it might be coming. This one here, especially with three transactions, was a bit of a surprise.
We did have notice going into practice. It was trying to manage it as best we could to not disrupt the group. The players were able to stay focused and get through the part that we needed to.
It is never easy to inform players they are no longer with us.
What sort of impact do you expect Jake McCabe could make on your team? Why did you opt to start him with TJ Brodie?
Keefe: I think he will probably make the rounds a little bit in terms of working with different partners. It is an easy, natural fit anytime someone plays alongside Brodie. We wanted to get him going with us.
With the fact that both guys are strong defenders and both guys move the puck, it has the potential to be a really good pairing for us. To that end, I thought it was a good way to start things here.
As I said, not unlike what we have been doing with our other guys, we will want to try some different things here along the way.
Do you anticipate using him on the right side?
Keefe: We will look at that. It is not something that we have thought of a great deal, to be honest. I know he has spent some time there. I haven’t spoken to him about it. I probably will at some point. Having a guy who is willing to do it and accept it — who has experience and success doing it — is a good asset to have for sure.
Whether it is trying it with the pairings or just the ability to move things around within the game, the more you can do that, the better it is. We will probably look to utilize it at some point, but it is not something we are looking at in terms of… When he is coming in and we’re acquiring him, we looked at him as a left defenseman.
How about Sam Lafferty? How do you think he can help this team?
Keefe: The thing that really stands out is his speed. He is right up there with the fastest players in the league. He gets on top of you really quickly both ways, whether it is on the forecheck, tracking coming back, or getting in behind the defensemen to generate some offense.
He is a very competitive guy. When you have speed combined with competitiveness the way that he has it, I think he is a guy who can really make an impact on his shift. We like that about him.
Just in the short time talking with him today, he seems like he is excited to be here. We are certainly happy to have him. He is another very versatile and important guy for us in the bottom six.
It is fresh, but what are your initial thoughts on Erik Gustafsson and Luke Schenn? How might they fit into all of this?
Keefe: Luke Schenn is a guy who has been in the league, of course, for a long time. He is a former Leaf. You know that he is a guy who is as competitive and physical as there is in the league.
He has great experience. He won a Stanley Cup. He has been a part of winning teams down there in Tampa. He has done a great job in Vancouver. He is also a guy who has spent time in the minors and worked his way back.
If you talk about character guys or team guys, he is another great one. I have not been able to talk to him just yet, but Kyle talked to him. He is really excited to be coming back to Toronto.
Gustafsson is having a great season. He has proven he is able to come in and help move the puck, play well on offense, and help the power play. Between those two guys, you have two guys who can really help increase our depth on defense. They do it differently, but both bring value with their strengths.
What kind of impact do you think these moves have on the chemistry of the group? Kyle Dubas was talking yesterday about being cognizant of the fact that the group has had a lot of success this year. How do you think it changes that mix?
Keefe: It certainly does change the mix, but that is why you want to acquire character people. I think Kyle has done a tremendous job of that with anyone that he has brought in here. Between Kyle and the rest of the management team — and even the players to a degree — they do a lot of work to make sure the character is going to be a fit and the personality is going to be a fit.
To that end, I think it makes it easier knowing you have guys who are going to come in… O’Reilly and Acciari coming in has been so seamless. In fact, I think they have improved our environment with their personalities, confidence, and experience that they have.
The on-ice part of it — Kyle has looked at our team and has been really honest about it in trying to figure out ways to get better. He has been aggressive with it. I don’t think there is any doubt we have improved in our depth and in our competitiveness at both forward and defense.
How do you think it is going to change the group in terms of competitiveness?
Keefe: I think we’re going to have greater consistency with the pressure we can put on other teams. I think every guy we have brought in is a guy who we have great confidence that when the temperature rises, they are going to continue to push, continue to play, and continue to be themselves. That is what you want to have as a team.
How do you anticipate integrating the two new defensemen into the lineup?
Keefe: It is a little early. As we looked at it, the first thing now is that we have insulation now for whatever the case may be in terms of injury or performance and adjustments to whatever the games might bring.
I just really like the depth. In particular with Gustafsson and Schenn coming in, it is two guys who increase the depth. They are experienced players. They bring different things. No matter what we might want to look like on a particular night, we can utilize that.
Kyle has done a really nice job with building out our depth at both forward and on D.