One day later, I don’t know what was worse: The fact that Toronto lost out on a chance at acquiring a No. 1 goalie and a 23-year-old versatile forward from Chicago at the trade deadline or that Maple Leafs GM Kyle Dubas was the one who reportedly walked away from the deal because the prices were too high.
You can’t put a price on winning the Stanley Cup.
That is, if you still think the Leafs are in a position to win.
Based on what they did — or did not do — at Monday’s trade deadline, you can make an argument that is no longer the case. By trading for defenseman Mark Giordano, Toronto is still considered a legitimate contender. But following a busy week where almost every team around them got significantly better, Vegas bookmakers had downgraded the Leafs’ odds (+1200) at winning a championship.
They are no longer among the top-five favourites, which include Colorado (+400), Florida (+600), Tampa Bay (+800), Calgary (+900) and Carolina (+900). Instead, Toronto is now closer to the second tier, mixed in with Vegas (+1400), Pittsburgh (+1600), Boston (+1600) and the New York Rangers (+1800).
Maybe that would have changed had the Maple Leafs managed to acquire goalie Marc-Andre Fleury and top-six winger Brandon Hagel from the Blackhawks. But Dubas reportedly was unwilling to part ways with top prospect Matthew Knies, as well as a couple of first-round picks to get the deal done.
So Fleury ended up in Minnesota, while Tampa Bay got Hagel. And Toronto ended up going to Plan B, which was picking up Giordano and depth winger Colin Blackwell from Seattle for a couple of second-rounders and a third-round pick.
It was a rather telling move.
This was not keeping up with the Jones’. This was not making a statement. This was, for the most part, keeping the status quo by ensuring that Toronto is good enough to qualify for the playoffs, but not quite ready to take that next step and contend for a Cup.
While the teams above and below them in the standings were willing to give up multiple first-rounders and top prospects in hopes of increasing their odds at going deep in the playoffs, the Leafs hung on to their biggest chips. They didn’t trade a first rounder. They didn’t give up a top prospect. They didn’t make a splash.
Maybe it’s because Dubas didn’t believe he needed to go all-in. Or maybe, it’s because he doesn’t believe he has a team that can go all the way — much less halfway and win a round or two.
“More so the prospects, than the picks, were important for us to keep,” Dubas said on Monday.
That’s the kind of comment you rarely hear from Lightning GM Julien BriseBois, who gave up two first-round picks for a third-liner in Hagel. Two years ago, he also gave up a couple of first-rounders at the deadline for Blake Coleman and Barclay Goodrow. You think he’s worried about those picks today? No, he’s just worried about trying to win a third straight Cup.
Dubas, meanwhile, sounds like he’s already planning for another first-round exit. Then again, it’s not like the Leafs have given management any reason to believe this is the year to go for it.
Despite sitting comfortably in a playoff spot all year long, Toronto heads into the final stretch of the regular season jockeying for position in the crowded and competitive Atlantic Division. They are one point back of Tampa Bay for second place, tied with Boston for the first wild-card spot and three points ahead of Washington for the final wild-card spot.
With the way things have been trending lately, it is looking like they will end up with the latter.
Has the path to a championship ever been this difficult? Has the Eastern Conference ever been this competitive? Forget winning a Cup. Just getting out of the first round is going to be a challenge.
Florida, which leads the division, just added Claude Giroux to what could end being a third-line role and beefed up their defense with Ben Chiarot and Robert Hagg. The two-time defending champion Tampa Bay Lightning got even deeper with the additions of Hagel and Nick Paul. Even Boston went big, by acquiring Hampus Lindholm and hulking defenseman Josh Brown for a depth role.
Meanwhile, the Metropolitan Division-leading Hurricanes, who could very well be the Leafs’ first-round opponent, just added Max Domi to a defence-first team that tends to give Toronto fits. Beyond that, the Penguins picked up Rickard Rakell and the New York Rangers got playoff-ready by trading for Justin Braun, Andrew Copp and Tyler Motte.
In other words, everyone got better. And while Toronto also got a bit better, Dubas didn’t get do enough.
He didn’t take advantage of what has been an MVP season from Auston Matthews, who leads the NHL with 46 goals and is playing his best hockey since he came into the league. He didn’t patch the holes that should have been fixed in the summer. He didn’t send the message — to the players and to the fans — that this is the year when the Leafs will finally get over the hump, when they will finally win a round, and go all the way and win a championship.
Instead, he played it safe. And, unless Toronto figures out a way to avoid another first-round exit, it might have cost him his job.