The Leafs have reportedly inquired about Vladislav Gavrikov, with Frank Seravalli noting that this is “a win or go home year for the entire front office.”
Vladislav Gavrikov has become the topic du jour lately, as Elliott Friedman noted Saturday during Hockey Night in Canada that the Toronto Maple Leafs were among the teams that reached out to the Blue Jackets about the shutdown defenseman.
“I think Edmonton and Toronto are among the teams that have looked at Gavrikov,” Friedman said. “What’s interesting here is that Columbus is allowing teams to talk to Gavrikov as they try to facilitate a trade for the free agent defenseman.”
There’s no doubt that the Leafs have been impressive both in terms of creating offense and limiting chances. Adding to their group of prolific scorers will neglect a back-end that has seen Morgan Reilly, TJ Brodie and Jack Muzzin all go down with serious injuries. The bulk of their defense is left by two kids in Rasmus Sandin and Timothy Liljegren, as well as 38-year-old Mark Giordano.
They’ve performed better than expected, but not upgrading that position heading into the playoffs won’t make much sense because it’s a win or home year for the entire front office.
The most interesting part of Seravalli’s note, of course, is that this is a win-or-go-home year for Toronto’s front office. The Leafs have failed to advance past the first round of the playoffs for six straight seasons, and it seems like there’s more pressure than ever for Kyle Dubas to put all his chips on the table so the team can make a deep playoff run. the spring
Since taking over as Toronto’s general manager in the spring of 2018, Dubas has never shied away from making in-season additions to the team, but he’s always maintained a big-picture approach rather than selling the farm for a single run.
The biggest pre-deadline move he made was back in January 2019, when the Leafs sent first-round picks to the LA Kings for prospects Sean Durzi and Jake Muzzin. Otherwise, it’s been deals that don’t involve big prospects, such as giving away two third-rounders for Zach Campbell, a first for Nick Foligno, and second and third rounders for Mark Giordano.
Since being shocked by the Blue Jackets in the first round of the 2019 playoffs, the Tampa Bay Lightning have been in constant sell-the-farm mode for years. They moved two first-round picks in 2020 for Blake Coleman and Barkley Goodrow, they traded a first- and third-round pick for David Savard in 2021, and they traded two first-round picks in 2022 for Nick Paul and three prospects for Brandon Hagel. The result was back-to-back-to-back Stanley Cup Final appearances and two championships.
May 14, 2022; Toronto, Ontario, Can; Tampa Bay Lightning forward Nick Paul (20) celebrates after scoring a goal against the Toronto Maple Leafs during the second period of game seven of the first round of the 2022 Stanley Cup Playoffs at Scotiabank Arena. Mandatory Credit: Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports
Despite the lack of playoff success, it’s not hard to see why Dubas has taken a conservative approach to his prospects. The Leafs’ blueline has been ravaged by injuries this season, and Rasmus Sandin and Timothy Liljegren, who cost the team $2.8 million, have both stepped up and played very well in bigger roles. Although injuries got in the way, the same logic applied to Nick Robertson, as Dubas prioritized having entry-level talent complement the team’s expensive core.
But if this is truly a win-or-go-home year for Dubas, getting value out of young players on cheap deals won’t be a priority in the coming years. We could very well see him making his biggest in-season moves thus far, especially considering he’s in an arms race with the spend-at-will Lightning ahead of an inevitable first-round matchup with them in the first round. This year’s first, next year’s first, and potentially Matt Nice, Topi Niemela, Fraser Minten and Robertson could all be on the table so the Leafs can finally get over the hump.
Seravalli noted in the aforementioned Daily Faceoff article that the Blue Jackets are hoping for the same return for Gavrikov that they got from Tampa for Savard a few years ago. Looking back on Tampa’s in-season trade, Savard was easily more regrettable, as he logged just 14:07 per night for them in the playoffs and walked in the off-season. In a similar situation, the Florida Panthers paid nearly the same price for Ben Chiarot last spring, and he was hardly a difference maker in their run that ended in the second round.
There’s nothing wrong with acquiring a shutdown defender to add depth to the blueline, and Gavrikov could be a useful player if he drops down the depth chart from his current top-pairing defenseman role in Columbus, but the Leafs should aim for a deal involving a first-round pick for more impact at any position. . A trade like the one the Edmonton Oilers made last spring, which saw them acquire Brett Kulak for a second-round pick and non-prospect William Lageson, would be a good template for adding depth to the defense.