OPINION — Toronto Maple Leafs’ general manager Kyle Dubas saw a worrisome sight during Wednesday night’s deflating 5-3 loss to the New York Rangers: the team’s playoff hopes fading away.
The news of Leafs’ starting goalie Frederik Andersen’s neck injury, earlier this week, just made things worse. The entire Maple Leafs fanbase has gone into a frenzy. Understandably so. Backup goalie Michael Hutchinson can not hold his own. Fans have accused him of folding under pressure.
Last night’s loss was just another brick in the wall. Something needed to be done. To Dubas’ credit, he made something happen.
TSN hockey insider Pierre LeBrun explains the conditions on the additional draft pick:
The trade was not a barn burner, but it brings something into the fold that the Leafs desperately needed, a bonafide backup goalie and a gritty Tie Domi-like player who could protect the Leafs’ stars.
Skedline reached out to Oscar Elieff, a Maple Leafs beat writer for Last Word On Hockey, for his thoughts on the trade.
“I like the looks of the trade. It’s clearly needed,” Elieff said. “The goalie situation this season has been sub-par, to say the least. Kyle Clifford is also low-key good, which I didn’t really realize. It doesn’t convert much but it seems like he’s adequate defensively and drives play in his team’s favour.
“Campbell is kind of a question mark. He has a really small sample size, but he was really good last season and not great this season. So hopefully he’s more like the player of last year than this. Just kind of a question mark because of how few games he’s played over, but it’s nice that he is extended for two years after this one.”
Elieff said he will miss Trevor Moore. “While I think it was a good trade, Moore provided a nice bit of energy in the lineup (which I’m sure Clifford will replace), but still will miss him.”
The once highly-touted goalie Jack Campbell will not be the second coming of Johnny Bower, nor will he be the player that saved Toronto’s season. That said, he is an upgrade over Hutchinson.
Campbell boasted a 8-10-2 record with a 2.85 goals-against average and .900 save percentage. This all comes while he was playing for one of the worst teams in the league. The Los Angeles Kings are 19-30-5, currently good 43 points, and the third-best chance at winning the NHL Draft Lottery.
For comparison sake, Hutchinson’s record is currently 4-9-1 with a 3.66 goals-against average and a .886 save percentage in 11 games started. Hutchinson is playing on a team in Toronto who is expected to make the playoffs and possibly contend for the granddaddy of them all, the Stanley Cup.
No, he is not a starter, but a team should be able to rely on its backup goalie to win a few games here and there, when its starter needs a break. Hutchinson is not getting the job done and quite frankly, forced Dubas’ hand. He had no choice, but to find a suitable replacement.
Of course, it seemed like rival general managers were licking their chops and eagerly awaiting a phone call from the desperate Dubas.
Skedline reached out to Gabriel Foley, managing editor for Last Word On Hockey, to ask him to evaluate the trade for both teams.
“I mean I think this deal was probably the best one out there for Toronto,” Foley said. “They got a cheap, money-wise and salary cap-wise, goalie who won’t be able to demand much next year. They also got one of the best tough guys in the league which can be an unparalleled addition on such a young, fast, and skilled team. I mean, look at the impact that Maroon had on St. Louis last year.
“To top it all off, the return package was beyond reasonable I’d say. Moore has been on the block for a bit and the two picks are a cheap price for a sturdy backup and a solid bottom-six guy; who may I mention is doing great this year, relatively speaking. 14 points in 56 games on a crappy LA team. That’ll surely go up a bit with regular time in Toronto if he gets it.”
Foley said that Campbell should be able to up his game in Toronto. “I think Campbell will rebound a bit behind a much better Leafs defensive corps.”
Not everyone likes the price tag for Toronto’s deal with the Los Angeles Kings.
Joe DeClara, a writer for Last Word On Hockey, told Skedline his thoughts on the trade. “I think the Leafs overpaid a bit,” DeClara said. “On the other hand, it probably solves the goaltending issue.”
DeClara said that Clifford could be the biggest part of this deal. “I wonder if getting Clifford is a sign that Dubas may be buying into the idea that the team needs more toughness? Clifford may end up being the key piece in the trade.”
It is a good question to ponder; is Dubas finally buying into toughness? For so long, Dubas has been all about players with speed and skill that can move the puck and use their speed to fly by their opponents. Dubas has never really looked at players like Kyle Clifford with favouritism. At least that is what Leafs fans think.
Fun fact: when Dubas was a player’s agent, Clifford was his first client as per Sportsnet hockey insider Elliotte Friedman. Another fun fact: when Kyle Dubas was the general manager of the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds of the Ontario Hockey League, he made a deal to acquire Clifford.
In theory, maybe the media and fans alike have Dubas’ philosophies all wrong? Better yet, maybe the young GM finally had a change of heart and wanted to try something new? Who knows? All there is to be known is that the Leafs are in big trouble and the team needed some sort of kick in the rear end to get them going.
Although this mid-season change of thought may be confusing and frustrating, it is just what the doctor ordered. Magicians say, “The trick is told when the trick is sold.” Think about that for a second.