TORONTO — Kyle Dubas isn’t leaving the Maple Leafs’ playoff hopes to chance.
In a busy 72 hours leading up to Monday’s NHL trade deadline, Toronto’s general manager added six players to the Leafs’ ranks, while only giving up Alexander Barabanov from the active roster.
The rest Dubas got done with draft picks, trading away six in total to leave Toronto with only six selections remaining in the 2021 and 2022 entry drafts.
Building for the future isn’t where the Leafs are at this season though. They are looking to win now. Each of Dubas’ moves was designed to help them get there.
“The group of players and coaches deserved every effort [from] management to bolster the team,” Dubas told reporters on a Zoom call Monday. “One of the major things that we [wanted] was to get through the deadline with the group intact. It's one of the tightest knit groups we've had and the spirit and the vibe of the team is very good. We were excited to, we believe, add the pieces that will continue to enhance our ability to be as competitive as possible as we go into the playoffs.”
Dubas kicked things off Friday with a small trade, bringing in Riley Nash from Columbus for a conditional seventh-round draft choice in 2021. Nash is out 4-to-6 weeks with a knee injury and should be back for the postseason.
After that, Dubas was ready to go all-in. Through a three-way trade with Columbus and San Jose on Sunday, the Leafs acquired Nick Foligno for a first-round pick in 2021 and a fourth-round pick in 2022. To make the money work, Columbus retained 50 per cent of Foligno’s salary in the transaction. The Leafs then enlisted San Jose to retain another 25 per cent in exchange for a fourth-round pick in 2022 and forward Stefan Noesen.
Foligno anticipates travelling to Toronto early this week and will serve a seven-day quarantine before stepping into the lineup.
Once Foligno’s deal was done, Dubas hauled in goaltender David Rittich from Calgary for a third-round pick in 2021. Rittich is expected to join the Leafs in Toronto on Tuesday ahead of their game against his former team.
Monday’s action was comparatively quiet, with depth additions of defenceman Ben Hutton from Anaheim for a fifth-round pick in 2021 and forward Antti Suomela from San Jose for Barabanov.
In the lead-up to Monday’s deadline, Dubas said he would part with a top prospect in order to make his club better now. Ultimately that would prove unnecessary.
“It wasn't an absolute non-starter for us, but we're excited that we get through the deadline with those prospects still a part of our system,” he said. “The players we have in here, they're already known to us. We were hopeful to [get by] without having to move any of them and just continue to develop, so it’s nice.”
Dubas touched on a number of deadline-related topics with the media, including how Frederik Andersen’s injury status influenced his decision-making process and why Foligno was worth betting high on.
On the injured Frederik Andersen, who has been sidelined with a lower-body injury and not skated since March 19
The situation with Fred has really not changed. Fred's carried a tremendous load for us over the last four and a half seasons and our main ambition now is patience and making sure that he's at 100 per cent. That's really all that we're focused on at this point, is making sure that we get through the stretch and give him the chance to be absolutely 100 per cent, and be ready to roll come playoff time.
On when Andersen will return to the ice and begin practising again
I'm convinced that Freddie is going to play for the Leafs for sure, whether it's here in the next number of weeks or whether that's in the playoffs. Once the medical team gives him the green light, that's when he'll be there. I don't have a definitive timeline on it. As I've said to him many times, our focus on this is patience and making sure he's back at 100 per cent and not really putting a huge amount of pressure on him to do that. That's really why we went out and got Rittich, to be able to come in here with Jack [Campbell] and [Michael Hutchinson] and form a really solid threesome of goaltenders before Fred gets rolling.
On how Jack Campbell’s historic 11-0-0 start gives Andersen some breathing room
I think Fred is rooting for Jack and it takes the pressure off him, whereas in the past there was always a pressure on Fred to play and play a lot, and to come back as soon as possible from every injury. Now with Jack playing the way he has and with Dave coming in, it'll allow us to be slow and cautious with Fred and make sure he's absolutely at 100 per cent and for once, from our end, do right by Fred as someone who has done so much for the organization.
On what made 33-year-old Nick Foligno worth the investment of a first-round draft pick
Number one, you know what you're going to get from Nick every single night. Our expectations are just that he comes in and does everything that he's done in his career. You can rely upon him in terms of his effort level, his work rate and his responsibility defensively. He’s able to play against anybody in the league, able to kill penalties at a high level and most importantly able to make plays when he has the puck. The energy and the grit that he brings to a team is infectious within the group. One of the more important things for us was that the people who were coming into the room were going to be able to fit into what we're doing and become a great part of it and enhance something that we feel is already a really good thing happening and it was all positive on that end with Nick.
On waiting until closer to the deadline this year to make trades compared with seasons past
The way that the team came out of playing poorly there in the early part of March [Toronto earned just one point in seven games from March 4-19; it has since won nine of 10] really made me comfortable with what we have in terms of ability to withstand and deal with times when maybe our form hasn't been the best. The way the locker room operates made me a little bit more comfortable about getting closer to the deadline before we did anything and I just think that the way the group has played this year, that's made me more comfortable with adding pieces which you would commonly refer to as as rentals to our group.
On having so few draft picks over the next two seasons
We're coming out of a draft where we had a surplus of draft picks and I think seeing those players develop through their seasons respectively has been very encouraging for us. That made me a little bit more comfortable. We’ve got more players coming into the system from previous drafts that are going to be over here starting next year, we signed Alex Steeves from Notre Dame a few weeks ago. Given the uncertainty of this draft and the fact that leagues have been going in fits and starts predominantly in North America, I would think that it would make our program a good landing spot for any undrafted players or draft-related free agents as well so we'll shift our focus there.
On finally landing Ben Hutton, a defenceman the Leafs had been eyeing for awhile
In the summer of 2019, he was available when he signed with L.A. We investigated signing him [too]. So Ben had been on our radar. He’s able to play up and down the lineup. Last year with L.A., he had a strong run of games with Drew Doughty and he was able to come in, kill penalties and play that sort of role. We felt in terms of depth, we have a lot of guys that can play on the power play and play more offensive minutes; we just wanted to bolster what we had defensively and we feel that over his career he's done that. I would expect that Ben will compete with the group and, if he wins the spot, that’s great for him and great for our depth.