The Toronto Maple Leafs were clearly positioned as one of the most interesting teams to watch at the trade deadline, with insiders linking them to essentially every single player available at some point or another during the process. Considering their elevated position in the standings and explicit desire to finally leverage it into getting over the hump by winning a playoff round, there wasn’t really any debate about whether they’d do anything significant between now and March 3rd.
But what exactly that move would look like was less clear, as they appeared to be facing a philosophical dilemma regarding whether to focus their efforts on upgrading at forward or on defence. Then there was the recent smokescreen about how much they’d be willing to pay for that addition, and whether they’d make their first rounder available for a rental.
We now have answers to both of those questions, after they pushed their chips into the middle of the table by acquiring Ryan O’Reilly and Noel Acciari from the St. Louis Blues for four draft picks on late Friday evening. Despite whatever your boomer uncle who still believes they’re a weak defensive team that needs to get tougher will tell you for the millionth time, I’m quite confident they arrived at the right conclusion on both of their big decisions here. Their most realistic path to meaningful roster improvement was up front, and the time to go for it was right now.
There’s certainly a lot to chew on here, from the financial minutiae of how the Minnesota Wild got involved as a third-party broker to help make the money work, to all of the potential forward combinations the Leafs now have at their disposal. So let’s break all of the trade’s components down into some more digestible nuggets by taking a closer look into O’Reilly’s production this season, what he has left to offer, and how Toronto can best use him down the stretch.