In the wake of the Toronto Maple Leafs premature demise in the Stanley Cup Playoffs this season, it is a good opportunity to take a look back at the decisions that the club made in the offseason that affected their eventual outcome.
The biggest decision that GM Kyle Dubas made was not going all in on the Alex Pietrangelo sweepstakes and attempt to bring in the St. Louis Blues team captain and Stanley Cup winner before he signed a seven-year, $61.6 million deal with the Vegas Golden Knights.
The Leafs were interested in acquiring Pietrangelo as far back as 2018 during the contract impasse with William Nylander, but chose to not trade and re-sign the restricted free agent. After playing out his contract with the Blues and Toronto being eliminated by Columbus in the qualifying round, the Leafs were motivated to make changes and upgrade their blueline after the experiment with Tyson Barrie failed.
According to sources, Pietrangelo was very interested in coming to Toronto to join fellow Toronto native and childhood friend John Tavares, but that the Cup-winning defenseman’s salary demands would have necessitated the Leafs moving out Nylander’s nearly $7 million cap hit, something that Dubas was unwilling to do.
The Leafs instead cleared out the mid-level salaries of Kasperi Kapanen and Andreas Johnsson that enabled Toronto to sign blueliner TJ Brodie to a four-year, $20 million deal. There is no criticizing the deal for Kapanen, that brought a 2020 first round pick (Rodion Amirov) and prospect Filip Hallander or the deal that sent Johnsson to New Jersey (who scored five goals in 50 games last season) and Brodie was an overwhelming success in his first year with the Leafs alongside Morgan Rielly.
The King City, ON native has risen to the occasion for Vegas, scoring his fourth goal in the last four games on Friday, which would have been the game-winner for the Golden Knights if not for goalie Marc-Andre Fleury’s late game flub.
While bringing in veteran support players like Joe Thornton, Wayne Simmonds and Zach Bogosian helped the core group in Toronto, the lack of leadership and killer instinct that was displayed in the first round loss to Montreal is hard to imagine with Pietrangelo in the locker room and on the blueline.
The Leafs seem poised to move on from players outside of their core group like Alex Kerfoot, Zach Hyman, Frederik Andersen and possibly Morgan Rielly instead of touching the core group, a formula that did not work when choosing not to bring in Pietrangelo and may not work going forward.
*******If you are interested in sponsorship or advertising your business in the Greater Toronto / Southern Ontario area on this column, please send a message for more information by clicking on the “Contact” button at the top of the page.*******