Toronto Maple Leafs: NHL trade deadline analysis

Many Toronto Maple Leafs fans may have expected the team to be busy at the 2018 NHL trade deadline.

But the Maple Leafs were rather quiet as this year’s trade clock ticked on Monday, save for acquiring veteran forward Tomas Plekanec and prospect Kyle Baun from the Montreal Canadiens on Sunday for minor-league defenceman Rinat Valiev and forward Kerby Rychel.

The Maple Leafs also sent a 2018 second-round draft pick to their long-time rivals in red, blue and white.

With the Maple Leafs (39-20-7) ranked third in the Atlantic Division and pushing for their second straight playoff appearance, this move added depth to a Toronto squad hoping to win a post-season series for the first time since 2004.

The trade

Overall, the return fetched by general manager Lou Lamoriello for a couple prospects and a second-rounder was impressive.

Valiev and Rychel were passed on Toronto’s depth chart quite a while ago by the emergence of better players with the AHL’s Toronto Marlies, such as Timothy Liljegren and Andreas Johnsson, among others.

Without a roster spot with the Maple Leafs in sight for Valiev and Rychel, or at least no long-term room for them, it can’t hurt Toronto to move on from them.

That doesn’t mean they won’t be back if their careers take off elsewhere and they end up back on the trading block, even if it looks like a long shot right now.

The Maple Leafs also have seven picks in this year’s entry draft, or an average of one selection per round. So losing one while adding an asset isn’t bad, especially with the success of Toronto’s rebuild thus far (without getting too far ahead of ourselves, of course).

Statistically, Plekanec’s best years may be behind him. But his ironman streak and numbers on a struggling Canadiens team (25-29-10) in 2017/18 suggest he may still have some fuel left in the tank.

Plekanec has missed just 17 games in his 14-year, 983-game NHL career. The Kladno, Czech Republic native put up six goals and 18 assists this year with Montreal, and although that’s a far cry from his 69-point campaign in 2007/08 and 70-point season in 2009/10, the experience he brings is also beneficial.

Plekanec was part of the Canadiens’ Eastern Conference Final runs in 2010 and 2014. His total playoff stats include 16 goals and 49 points in 87 post-season games.

With star centreman Auston Matthews possibly out long-term with a shoulder injury, Plekanec’s arrival is also timely. The depth he brings down the middle should fill a hole in the Maple Leafs’ bottom-six forwards and bolster the team’s penalty kill for the time being.

In summary

Plekanec is a pending free agent in July, and although he may not re-sign with Toronto this summer, it can’t hurt to have him around as a cheap rental for now (Montreal retained half of his $6-million salary).

Gaining Baun in return also should bolster an already-strong Marlies team, one that currently leads the AHL with a 39-15-2 record.

Lots of fans may have hoped Toronto would shop for a stud defenceman at this deadline, but if the Maple Leafs want to contend for several years, they would be wise to stay the course rather than mortgage the future for an immediate (but long-awaited) championship run.

Having guys like Liljegren and Andreas Borgman in the system also underlines the Maple Leafs’ need to remain patient.

Perhaps the Maple Leafs can strengthen their blueline or centre depth in the off-season if any viable back-end options are available and if the price is right with most of Toronto’s young guns being due for big raises soon.

This summer, the Maple Leafs must also decide if Tyler Bozak, James van Riemsdyk and Leo Komarov will still wear the blue and white beyond then or if they’ll walk in free agency. Their desired money and term will surely be factors, along with who might replace them.

Lamoriello’s long-term future as GM is in doubt as well, but undoubtedly the Maple Leafs’ strong front office will figure something out on that too.

What do you think of the Toronto Maple Leafs' trade deadline moves? What should they do in the off-season? Have your say below in the comments section.