The trade deadline has passed, but the Maple Leafs are still facing questions about depth, injuries, goaltending and toughness with the playoffs 20 games away.
As the clock struck 3 pm EST on Monday, there was no addition to Sunday’s big trade for Mark Giordano. In fact, general manager Kyle Dubas found himself down a couple of players.
Defenseman Rasmus Sandin went to long-term injury reserve after a knee injury suffered Saturday in Nashville came to light following the trade call for Mark Giordano and Colin Blackwell from Seattle.
Then netminder Harri Sateri, whom the Leafs tried to sneak through waivers after signing from the KHL, was claimed by the Arizona Coyotes. Petr Mrazek survived the wire, not that his recent play and expensive ticket with two years to run was going to garner much interest.
Farmhand defenseman Alex Biega was also traded to Nashville for future considerations. That was it for Dubas, though he did not deny turning down an offer earlier last week from Chicago for both goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury and forward Brandon Hagel because of a reported stiff asking price. Those players were traded, Hagel to Atlantic Division rival Tampa Bay, Fleury to Minnesota, while Dubas held on to coveted draft picks and futures such as forward Matthew Knies.
Dubas reminded the media in his post-deadline comments that Ilya Lyubushkin was a significant add on defense and should give the Leafs a different look when Giordano arrives and Jake Muzzin comes off LTIR.
“That’s how we’ll roll the rest of the year and I’m excited for the prospects for our club,” Dubas said.
“It’s too bad for Rasmus, an invaluable young player for our team, but he’ll be out for the foreseeable future. Those other two moves (acquiring Giordano and trading defenseman Travis Dermott to Vancouver on Sunday for a third-rounder) were well in motion before that.”
He maintained he didn’t feel extreme pressure to match the trades by Tampa Bay, Florida and Boston.
“Everything we did was to abide by the plan we had going in and not be too reactive. We feel we stack up well with those teams.”
Mrazek and Erik Kallgren were the two goalies on the ice as the Leafs practiced for more than an hour Monday. Among the participants was winger Kyle Clifford, another waiver survivor. Muzzin, who was eligible to exit LTIR on Saturday after his concussion, remained in a non-contact red sweater.
Giordano, a Toronto native, and forward Colin Blackwell are expected at Tuesday’s practice and to make their debuts Wednesday versus New Jersey.
“It’s big for us,” coach Sheldon Keefe said of the 38-year-old 2019 Norris Trophy winner Giordano. “We know what he brings on the ice, he’s played for a long time, he’s excited to be here and willing to do what’s asked of him. He boosts our back end and gives us a lot of options.
“And Blackwell is a versatile guy. Last season and this season, he scored at about a 20-goal pace. He’s a guy I’ve liked since coaching against him in the AHL in Rochester.”
Blackwell was a player Dubas said he tried to get in free agency a couple of times.
“He can play both wings, special teams, up and down the lineup. What’s impressed in his last NHL stints is his tenacity. He’s not just a pure energy runaround forechecker, he can make a lot of plays, He’s not tall, but he’s very strong.”
That attribute is going to be key for the Leafs when they get to the post-season tournament, bounced five straight times in the first round by mostly meaner teams. The ‘organic toughness’ they’ve hoped to grow has been a very hard process.
“I think our top players have shown that throughout the season,” Dubas replied. “The most recent example was on Thursday, Mitch Marner and Ilya Mikheyev, did that against Carolina in a game that required physicality.
“If our best players lead the way as they have, everyone else on the team has to go with it. We’ve seen from other teams in playoffs, that’s what makes life harder on opponents.”
Keefe lamented the departure of Dermott, who goes back to the Marlies’ Calder Cup win with him, but says the rise of Sandin, Liljegren, the arrival of Giordano and return of Muzzin was going to make it hard to get him ice time. He wished the 25-year-old well in a fresh start.
Dubas said he put Mrazek on waivers for cap reasons, but said he retained faith in both him and Campbell to straighten out their games before the end of April, while getting a good look at Kallgren.
Keefe said Campbell has begun skating after a rib injury, while Ondrej Kase is recovering from a head injury on Saturday, but making progress.