Dubas needs to make one more big trade for Leafs to truly go all-in

Feb 23 2023, 7:56 pm

Toronto Maple Leafs general manager Kyle Dubas might have many critics throughout his time in Toronto for the team’s lack of playoff success.

Since Dubas took over as general manager in the summer of 2018, the team has seen themselves do what they’ve always done: fail to make it out of the first round of the playoffs, going 0-for-4 in such opportunities.

But even the harshest of haters would have a hard time doubting his ability to bring some pedigree to Toronto.

During his time in the Leafs’ front office, he’s seen the team take swings for a former Norris Trophy winner in Mark Giordano, an ex-Hart Trophy winner in Joe Thornton, a Stanley Cup winner on Los Angeles’ top pairing in Jake Muzzin, the NHL’s all-time games played leader in Patrick Marleau, former Columbus Blue Jackets captain Nick Foligno, and pulled off perhaps the free agent signing of the decade when he snagged John Tavares away from the New York Islanders on a seven-year deal.

Most recently, Dubas acquired 2019 Selke and Conn Smythe Trophy winner Ryan O’Reilly, long considered one of the game’s best two-way centres.

Not every player might be in their prime by the time they get to Toronto, but the list goes on and on of the big names that Dubas has made the push for, and often got.

Dubas has never been afraid to make a splash in the NHL trade market, reiterating that with his ability to pull off the three-team trade for O’Reilly (and Noel Acciari) last week, dwindling O’Reilly’s $7.5 million cap hit down to just $1.875 million after some financial finagling through retained salary via St. Louis and Minnesota.

Toronto gave away two AHL players and four draft picks, including their 2023 first-round pick in order to make the move. Dubas’ typical talk of not wanting to give up draft capital for a “rental” player like O’Reilly, who has an expiring contract, clearly didn’t come to fruition.

But is Dubas afraid to make a second splash this year?

After the asking price for Timo Meier was “too rich” for the Leafs, as per Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman, the question is: what’s next?

Toronto appears all but locked into a first-round series against the Tampa Bay Lightning. It might not be fair (given that both teams are so high in the NHL standings) if such a thing exists in sports, but it is the all-too-likely reality.

If last year’s series was any indication, it’s shaping up to be another tightly contested series, with just three points currently separating Toronto from their rivals in the Atlantic Division standings.

And with Dubas in the final year of his own contract, there’s no better time than right now to really go for it and find a way to make at least one more big move.

Auston Matthews, the NHL’s defending Hart Trophy winner, is only guaranteed to be in Toronto until his contract expires in 2024 at the end of next season. Tavares, at age 32, is still producing at a point-per-game pace, but there’s no shortage of precedent for NHL forwards hitting a proverbial wall in their early-to-mid-30s.

With this current generation of the Leafs’ core, there are only so many more cracks at the Stanley Cup. If Dubas is serious about making the big moves (and showing his track record, he seems to be), it’s time to really shake things up and go for one more swing-for-the-fences trade.

Whether that’s trading another future first-round pick, a top prospect, or anything in between, Dubas should do everything in his power to maximize the team this season and not particularly worry too far ahead. Worry about next year’s problems when they’re next year’s problems. Patience is important in sports, but it’s hard to imagine the Leafs will ever get a more dynamic forward group in the next few years than they’ve got.

If Toronto makes another big move and falls flat on their playoff faces again and gets knocked out in the first round, so be it. Toronto, in fact, has failed more than just about every other team over the last 56 years since they last won the Stanley Cup. It might as well be time to dream big.

Adam LaskarisAdam Laskaris

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