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Leafs remain flexible ahead of trade deadline


The Maple Leafs practiced at the Ford Performance Centre on Friday.


Brad Treliving is gearing up for a busy week. 

"I think there are areas we still need to address," the Leafs general manager said. "Will we be able to address them all by the deadline? No. That's just the reality. And not every team will. But is there a way that we can help ourselves between now and next Friday? That's what we are going to try to do."

Treliving made his first deadline-period add on Thursday night. Toronto acquired defenceman Ilya Lyubushkin, who is a pending unrestricted free agent, from the Anaheim Ducks in a three-way deal that also included the Carolina Hurricanes. Anaheim received Toronto's third-round pick in 2025 and retained 50 per cent of Lyubushkin's salary. Carolina received a sixth-round pick in 2024 and retained 50 per cent of Lyubushkin's remaining salary. 

"The number he came in at ($687,500) provides some flexibility," Treliving said. "It adds to our depth. It gives us a body at a position of need and allows us to still seek other opportunities over the course of the next week."

Treliving joked that assistant general manager Brandon Pridham, the team's salary cap guru, "is working on the toes now. He has run out of fingers." But he also noted there is room to maneuver.   

"We are going to try to be creative and see where we can help ourselves."

And Treliving is willing to part with the Leafs first-round pick in the upcoming draft. In fact, he wouldn't rule out using it to acquire a player on an expiring deal. 

"In the right deal — with where our team is at — you want to help the team," Treliving said. "You have to be careful with first-round picks for short-term help, but if it makes sense — at the end of the day, when you do the final analysis, if you think it is going to have an impact — you have to look at every option."

The Leafs have won eight of nine games, but remain eight points behind the Florida Panthers and Boston Bruins in the Atlantic Division. Toronto has played two fewer games than Boston and one fewer game than Florida. 

After buying at previous deadlines, Toronto doesn't have a lot of draft capital to move. The Leafs don't have a second-round pick in the next three drafts. They don't have a pick in the first four rounds of the 2025 draft. 

Even after acquiring Lyubushkin, there is a need on the blue line. 

"You can never have too many defencemen," Treliving said. "You just can't if you want to get to where you want to get to."

There's potential to add at every position. 

"We continue to look at any opportunity that becomes available," Treliving said. "We continue to look at our defence. We look at our forward group. We have three goaltenders right now. I think we are going to stay at three for today, but we will see what tomorrow brings."

ContentId(1.2083249): 'We're going to try and improve our team': Treliving on Leafs' deadline game plan


Lyubushkin is cost effective, but there are plenty of other reasons why he was attractive to the Leafs. 

"One of the things we need to improve on is stopping plays and killing plays," Treliving said. "He has the ability to kill plays when we look at our data. It varies when you go from different teams to different situations, but he was a strong denier of the blue line. He has the ability to kill plays. He has some heaviness to him."

Lyubushkin averaged 17 minutes and nine seconds of ice time in 55 games with Anaheim, including almost three minutes a night on the penalty kill. He led the team in blocks and was fourth in hits. The 29-year-old from Moscow doesn't produce much offence with only four assists on the year. 

"He is ultra-competitive, physical and strong," said head coach Sheldon Keefe. "He doesn't back down to anyone or any situation. He plays the game hard and honest."

There's a built-in comfort level with the player, because Lyubushkin was also acquired by the Leafs during the 2021-22 season and played 31 regular season games down the stretch plus seven more in the playoffs. That was the only time Lyubushkin has suited up in the Stanley Cup playoffs. 

Treliving spoke to Keefe and a few players to get a better sense of whether Lyubushkin would be a good add.

"As a teammate, they spoke glowingly about how he fit in with the group," Treliving said.

Lyubushkin paired with Morgan Rielly during the playoff series against the Tampa Bay Lightning back in 2022. Based on Friday's practice, it appears the plan is to have those two reunite. 

"It gives a good 'Boosh' to the group," Rielly said with a grin when asked about how the trade boosts his team. "He's a big, strong guy, who plays well defensively. He's physical. He was one of those guys that you like being around. He's competitive. He puts the team first with how he plays and how he acts. He's just one of those guys you like having on your team."

Lyubushkin is a righty, which has been an area of need basically all season. That need became more urgent this week when Timothy Liljegren (undisclosed, day-to-day) joined fellow righties Conor Timmins (mono, out indefinitely) and John Klingberg (hip, done for the season) on the sidelines. As a result, the Leafs have been forced to dress an all-lefty defence in the last two games. 

"He is a right shot, and we have talked enough about that to know the importance of that," said Keefe. "That in and of itself allows some things to settle into place, which is where the additional boost comes from."

ContentId(1.2083250): Leafs excited to have Lyubushkin back in the fold


Rielly, who leads the Leafs defence with 43 points, has not hit the scoresheet in four games since returning from a five-game suspension. 

"I feel like I'm still trying to find my game," Rielly acknowledged. "I feel good physically. It's just the timing, the rhythm, the mental side, but I know it's coming. I expect myself to be better and it's moments like this in a season where it's challenging and fun and you got to push yourself to get better. There's no better time to do it than right now."

An ill-timed pinch by Rielly led to a shorthanded goal by Alex Kerfoot on Thursday. He is minus-six in the last three games. 

"As things have moved around more, it hasn't gone as well for our entire D core," Keefe noted. "Morgan is part of that. As we saw in the Vegas game and the Colorado game, when he came back, he did a good job for us. You could see the boost and the energy that he had from missing the time."

Rielly played with William Lagesson in his first two games back. The last two games he has played mostly with T.J. Brodie. He started Tuesday's game on the right side before shifting back to the left.

"I am not worried about Morgan," Keefe stressed. "He has been here for a long time and has performed at his very best when it counts the most. We will keep working with him and keep putting him out there. We know we can count on Morgan."

ContentId(1.2083266): Rielly struggles to regain form since suspension; reunites with Lyubushkin


Liljegren skated before the main group on Thursday, but did not take part in practice. 

"Not necessarily ruled out for tomorrow, but it is not a certainty he will play given his absence in practice," Keefe said. "It was purposeful today to get a feel for where he is at but not to overdo it so that he could be a possibility for tomorrow."


Defenceman Mark Giordano sustained a concussion after crashing into the boards in the first period of Thursday's game. 

"He is going to be out for some time," said Treliving. "He is doing better today. As with any of these, he is in the protocol. We will just see how things respond over the next few days, but he is going to miss some time."

Giordano, at 40 the oldest player in the league, will be placed on injured reserve.  

"I talked to him last night and he was in rough shape," Treliving said. "We had a good chat today. For everybody in the building, you caught your breath a little bit. He went in hard. He was out for a little bit. He was doing better after the game."

Giordano was playing in just his second game after returning from bereavement leave. His father passed away on Feb. 16. 

"He's been through the wringer, but he's a warrior," said Rielly. "He's got a lot of people in here that really care about him so it's on us to support him. He's got his own network that is extremely supportive and it's times like these that you need to be there for people."

ContentId(1.2083284): Giordano headed to IR with concussion


After Giordano got hurt on Thursday, the Leafs turned to winger Mitch Marner to take some shifts on defence.

"He was a little risky at times even for my liking," Rielly said with a smile. "He's getting a little too comfortable."

Marner also took shifts on defence in a game on Feb. 17 against Anaheim after Lagesson sustained an upper body injury in the first period and couldn't return. 

"He's always been the guy we talk about that could do anything on the ice," said Rielly.

"I'm just going where I'm getting asked," Marner said. "Obviously it's a bit of a learning curve back there."

The biggest challenge?

"Probably gap control," Marner said. "Just trying to figure out when to pinch on guys, try to be up in the play. I'm quite new to it so don't want to give up a 2-on-1 or breakaway and screw my D partner. So, trying to be smart with the pucks and make plays in our D-zone or through the neutral zone."

The Leafs experimented with Marner on defence at times last season, usually late in games when they were trailing. 

With the lack of right shots available on defence, Keefe revealed that the team considered playing Marner on the back end even before the game started. 

"He has run power plays from the top basically his whole life," Keefe noted. "He is comfortable being the last guy back, having the puck, and being the guy breaking the puck out. That is a special skill. Not a lot of forwards have it. You can have some of the most skilled players in the world, but being the last guy back is a different animal. It is a special skill and ability that defencemen develop over time to be calm in those situations. Mitch has that. With his defensive acumen and ability to defend, he is a natural fit."


Marner's hockey IQ was on display early in the game when he made a brilliant drop pass to Matthew Knies while on a breakaway. 

"I was screaming at him to take it, take it on his own," Knies said with a smile. "That was a pretty incredible play. I was pretty lucky to tap that in right in the slot."

Marner peeked over his shoulder a couple times during his rush down the ice. 

"I kind of made eye contact with him, but I told him to take it, so I didn't know he was going to go against my word like that," Knies, a rookie left winger, said. "But, I mean, he's got a pretty good hockey brain, so that was a good play."

It was the third time Marner pulled off the move with the Leafs. He also did it with the London Knights during his time in the Ontario Hockey League. What's he thinking? 

"Trying to read the speed I have, the d-man has or the back-checker, and try to read where Kniesy is," Marner said. "So, I try to take all those things into [account]. It helps that he's a lefty, so when I go to the backhand, it's quite easy to drop it right to his forehand and hopefully give him a chance to score and it worked."

Knies wasn't the only one surprised. 

"I didn't think he was going to do that," said goalie Joseph Woll. "Like, I thought Kniesy was too far behind him. He showed what a special player he is by being able to do that on offence and then play the rest of the game on defence. Pretty cool."

ContentId(1.2083288): Marner impresses with breakaway back pass, shifts on defence


Veteran winger Calle Jarnkrok practiced with the Leafs for the first time since sustaining a broken knuckle on Jan. 26. He skated on the third line with John Tavares and Bobby McMann

"I haven't gotten the report on how things went today, but he is very close," said Keefe. "He will be a question for us going into tomorrow. I think it is the first time that he is a possibility to play. It is the first real practice that he has had with us. Today was an important day to get through. We probably won't know more until tomorrow morning."

If Jarnkrok is able to play, it looks like Nick Robertson will be the odd man out up front. 

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Toronto fourth-line winger Ryan Reaves dropped the gloves with Arizona's Liam O'Brien late in the first period of Thursday's game. 

"I thought that was a big turning point, honestly," said centre Auston Matthews. "It's been a while since he's dropped the gloves so I know he's been itching to get into one, and I just thought that was a big moment in the game."

Keefe agreed. 

"I loved the fight," the coach said. "I loved the spirit. I loved the energy. It kind of got the crowd going. It was somewhat of a quiet, slow start. It took a while before the shots and chances started to come for either team." 

The Leafs scored twice early in the second period to build a 3-0 lead. 

It was Reaves' first fight since the second game of the season on Oct. 14. 

"That was a pretty big gap for me," the Winnipeg native said. "You don't love to do that, because sometimes you get into one and you're not up to speed. I thought I handled it well, but you don't want to have too big of a gap, usually."

Reaves may not have to wait long for his next tilt. New York Rangers rookie Matt Rempe is coming to town. 

"It's been a hot start for him," Reaves said. "A good start."

Could we see a heavyweight tilt at Scotiabank Arena on Saturday? 

"I don't have the game script, but you never know," Reaves said with a grin.

Rempe, 21, has three fights on his resume through just six career games. He's already mixed it up with New York Islander Matt Martin, Philadelphia Flyer Nicolas Deslauriers and Columbus Blue Jacket Mathieu Olivier

Like Rempe, Reaves picked up his first career fight in his first career game. 

"He's coming in the league trying to make a name for himself any way he can," said Reaves, who is 37 and in his 14th NHL season. "That's how I came in. I wasn't called up to add a scoring touch, for sure, it was to be physical and stick up for teammates and draw some energy. I kind of came into the league the same way. Good on him. He's got some attention and we'll see how long it lasts."

If the new kid on the block and the veteran tough guy do tangle, Reaves will need to be aware of Rempe's reach. The Calgary native is listed at 6-foot-7 and claims to be even taller than that. 

"You can't get strung out by him, that's for sure," said the 6-foot-2 Reaves. "You gotta try to stay a little bit inside otherwise you're not going to be able to reach him. I have long arms, but not 6'7 long. Yeah, it's definitely different than, say, the guy from last night, but not something I've never dealt with." 

ContentId(1.2083259): Reaves breaks fight drought with rookie Rempe right around the corner


Reaves brings an element of physicality and toughness to the Leafs lineup, but he's also been delivering positive shifts consistently of late alongside David Kampf and Pontus Holmberg

"I think he's been playing some of the best hockey that I've seen from him since he's been here the last couple weeks," Matthews said. "I think he's really found his groove."

Reaves scored a goal, picked up an assist and fired five shots on net in the last four games. He scored two goals and failed to pick up an assist in his first 28 games with the Leafs. 

"Reavo has played some really good hockey for us of late," Keefe said. "That has been great to see. He is skating on another level. He is making plays and advancing the puck. He is doing all of the things we need him to do."

What's allowed him to take his game up a notch? 

"All-Star break was good for me," Reaves said. "I felt recharged ... I'd be very interested to go back in my stats and see what they are right after the All-Star break. I feel like I always heat up right around then."

Reaves breaks into a smile. 

"Look good with the tan," he said. "Look good, play good. I don't know what it is, but I seem to like playing after the All-Star break."


Ilya Samsonov lights up when asked what it's like to have countryman Lyubushkin on the team. Samsonov had been the only Russian on the roster. 

"This is great," he said. "I waiting [for] this question. It's unbelievable. It's great for team, for me. I'm excited. Like, what time friends come to your team, you're really excited about this."

Samsonov and Lyubushkin have been friends for a few years now. They spend time together in the summer and at Christmas. 

"We have kids, this is first one probably," he said of why they mesh well. "He's just a really, really good friend. He come for you if you have some problem. If you call him anytime, he helps you."

Samsonov texted Lyubushkin and offered to pick him up from the airport on Friday. 

"But he comes too late," Samsonov said. "I'm sleeping at this time. He's coming at 10:30 or something. I will be asleep. I prepare for next game."

Samsonov will get the start on Saturday against the red-hot Rangers and Igor Shesterkin who just wrapped up a perfect 7-0-0 February.  

"What time you play against Rangers you don't need extra motivation," Samsonov said. "Everybody knows who is this team."

Samsonov allowed five goals in a loss to the Vegas Golden Knights on Tuesday. 

"It's hard loss for us," he said after the game, "especially for me."

It was the most goals Samsonov allowed in a game since being recalled in early January. Is he doing a better job of handling losses now versus earlier in the season when he went through a very tough stretch? 

Before Samsonov could answer, a member of the team's media relations staff announced it would be the final question of the scrum. 

"I don't think about this," Samsonov said. 

ContentId(1.2083267): Samsonov starts vs. red-hot Rangers; excited to have pal Lyubushkin on team


Woll stopped 30 of 32 shots on Thursday in his first start for the Leafs since Dec. 7 when he sustained a high ankle sprain. 

"He was outstanding," raved Keefe. "He was the difference in the game. Obviously, we didn't play great."

"I felt good," Woll said. "I've had some practices to get back up to speed so I felt like I fit right back in."  

Woll received the team's player-of-the-game belt. 

"This guy's been grinding for a long time," said Tyler Bertuzzi as he walked the belt over to Woll. 

"I appreciate them recognizing the long road that I've been on," the 25-year-old said. "It was special to get a win."  

What did Woll miss most? 

"Just being able to not really be thinking and just playing," he said. "That's something I miss a lot when I'm rehabbing and it's a lot of thinking about how to get back. And then you get to [Thursday] and you don't have to think anymore, which is nice. And then just being around the guys. Initially, in an injury, that part of it is tough. You're kind of on your own a bit more and not on road trips, so it's awesome just being back around the team and being a part of it." 

Woll won't start on Saturday, but should be back in the net sooner than later. The Leafs have a busy schedule coming up with games Saturday, Monday, Wednesday and Thursday leading into the trade deadline next Friday. 

"The way that he played yesterday was a great sign and a great thing," said Keefe. "Now, it is going to be important for us to manage him well and really get him back going in a regular rhythm without overdoing it for a guy who hasn't played for a long time and is returning from a difficult injury."

ContentId(1.2083285): Maple Leafs will manage Woll's workload after impressive return


Lines at Friday's practice: 

Knies - Matthews - Marner 
Bertuzzi - Domi - Nylander 
McMann - Tavares - Jarnkrok
Holmberg - Kampf - Reaves 
Gregor, Robertson 

Rielly - Lajoie
Brodie - McCabe
Benoit - Lagesson