As the Trade Deadline nears in the season's final quarter, it's safe to say the Maple Leafs will not be participating in the 2023 BEARD playoffs.
I doubt many are surprised as the team clearly had the future in mind when selecting its roster in the Dispersal Draft. With few quality veterans in the fold, and the majority of his top selections still in the farm system, it has been a tough year for the Leafs.
One that has produced only 19 wins thus far, resulting in the team being a seller as the trade deadline approaches.
GM Cory "Pacman" Parcels has shown a proactive approach to the deadline making a number of trades in the past months to better position his team for years to come. The first was a minor league "hockey trade" that saw Ty Dellandrea going to the Calgary Flames in exchange for Peyton Krebs.
Dellandrea looks to have a bright future and was a tough player to see go. Leafs management said they feel good about their young centres and were looking to improve on the wing in their farm system. Krebs is a player that will likely play with the Marlies for the remainder of the season, but isn't far from making an impact on the pro level.
In the second trade the Maple Leafs sent Zach Bogosian and pending UFA Zemgus Girgensons to the Philadelphia Flyers for netminder Charlie Lindgren and a 5th round draft pick in this summers Entry Draft.
Lindgren is likely an insurance plan going into next season as Kevin Lankinen has expressed interest in testing the free agency market, and Cal Petersen's play has been "akin to an 18-wheeler going right off a cliff, I don't know what happened." Bogosian was a steady presence on the blueline with a great cap hit and will be missed by the fans, while Girgensons was another pending UFA wanting to test the free agent market.
In a third move the Leafs made a defenceman swap sending Nikita Zadorov and Alex Alexeyev to Calgary for Timothy Liljegren and Kevin Gravel. Zadorov and Alexeyev both looked to be long time Leafs, but it's no secret Pacman had his eye on Liljegren since the Dispersal Draft and he as finally able to bring in his guy.
Soon after they traded prospect Luke Evangelista to Vancouver for forward Tyson Jost, as well as pending UFA Alex Chiasson to Dallas for the Kings fourth round pick in 2025. Jost was partially acquired for cap reasons as the team was getting dangerously close to the cap foor, but he also fits well with the direction the team seems to be taking.
Pacman followed that with his biggest move of the season thus far. After a lot of persistence from Chicago GM Dan Bacon, he moved arguably the teams best forward in Valeri Nichushkin along with Artemi Kniazev and 2023 3rd round pick to the Windy City. With that Toronto welcomed pending RFA defenceman Dante Fabbro and prospect Caeden Bankier to the organization on top of acquiring Chicago's 2023 first round pick (conditional: if top 10 after lottery becomes CHI 2025 1st).
It was very hard to see a fan (and GM) favourite leaving the franchise, but tough decisions have to be made to improve. With Nichushkin reaching his late 20s and the team obviously focusing on youth, adding another first round pick along with a good young defenceman and promising forward prospect made sense for the team.
Since then the team traded their fourth round pick in 2024 for pending UFA Noel Acciari. Noel immediately rejected a contract extension but we will see what the Leafs do moving forward. And let's not forget September they traded Micheal Bunting to the Columbus Blue Jackets along with 2023 4th and 5th round picks for Johan Larsson, Columbus' 1st in 2023, 2nd in 2022 (Fraser Minten) and 3rd in 2022 (Nicholas Moldenahuer).
Larsson has since provided points in his games with the Leafs and is currently rumoured to be on the trade block while awaiting future contract negotiations. Bunting amassed points for the Blue Jackets this season, however they also find themselves in the bottom of the standings and are awaiting a decision from Bunting and his agent as to if he would like to return next season or test free agency.
The only other Leaf trade worth mentioning in the fall was a prospect swap that saw Jake Neighbours and William Wallinder going to Vancouver in exchange for Matthew Knies and Rodion Amirov.
With those deals in the books, the team has still shown interest in moving pending UFAs Kevin Lankinen (73OV; $1.5m), Marcus Johansson (73OV; $1.1m), Johan Larsson (73OV; $1.7m), Ryan Reaves (71OV; $1.75m), Michael Stone (71OV; $1.125m), Noel Acciari (69OV; $1.25m), Ryan Dzingel (68OV; $850k) and Justin Dowling (67OV; 850k).
Lankinen, Johansson, Reaves, Acciari and Dzingel have all decided they will enter free agency this offseason, while Larsson, Stone and Dowling have yet to enter any contract negotiations.
They've also shown willingness to listen to offers on Alex Wennberg, Mason Marchment and Dante Fabbro, though it doesn't appear they will be going anywhere without a return that makes sense for both the teams future and finances.
The summer may seem like a long ways away for Leaf fans, but it should be an exciting offseason if all goes well. The 2023 Entry Draft is looking to be one that provides plenty of NHL calibre talent and the Leafs currently have their own 1st round draft pick, along with Columbus' first (via Bunting trade) and Chicago's first (Conditional; via Nichushkin trade).
They'll also have their 2nd round draft pick, and Philadelphia's fifth round pick at their disposal to add to their already well stocked cupboard of prospects. The preasure will be on the Maple Leafs newly developed scouting department to do their due dilligence and make selections that can make an impact at a pro level.
Not only will the Leafs be busy at the Entry Draft, GM Pacman has stated he plans to be very aggresive in free agency.
It is rumoured that some high end players are potentially looking to test free agency this year (D.Pastrnak, P.Kane, JT Miller, R.O'Reilly) and with only $58 million on the books for next season Pacman is expecting to be one of this summer's big spenders.
Those players acquired in the offseason will be joining the following players. All of which are already signed or on RFA contracts therfore under team control and likely will be signed when the time comes.
Forwards: A.Wennberg, M.Marchment, T.Jost(RFA), A.Mantha, K.Labanc, P.Tomasino, Q.Byfield, M.Rossi, P.Krebs, A.Turcotte, E.Afanasayev, A.Ruotsalainen, R.Grimaldi, T.Tynan, A.Steeves, M.Chaffee(RFA), E.Tuulola(RFA), R.MacInnis(RFA), J.Dunne and M.Letunov(RFA)
Defence: M.Heiskanen, J.Chychrun, J.Muzzin, J.Drysdale(RFA), T.Liljegren, R.Sandin(RFA), D.Fabbro(RFA), K.Clague(RFA), C.Dahlstrom and S.Barton
Goalies: C.Petersen, C.Lindgren, L.Domingue, J,Johansson and A.Silovs
Prospects: Forwards: J.Kulich, M.Knies, E.Soderblom, R.Amirov, L.Del Bel Belluz, F.Minten, C.Bankier, N.Moldenhauer, T.Robertson, N.Chibrikov, J.Chmelar, J.Almeida and R.Ansons Defence: T.Hinds, G.Sward, K.Kulonummi and M.Crozier Goalies: E.Portillo, M.Mayorov and D.Wells
It has been a long season for Leaf fans as Im sure all hoped to be the first team etched on the BEARD Stanley Cup. Trust the process is the message for now, only time will tell if the team can make the improvements necessary to be a playoff team next year.
Written by Leaf Insider Bob PacKenzie