After a demoralizing loss to the New York Rangers on Wednesday night, the Toronto Maple Leafs didn’t take much time in making a drastic change to their roster. Mere minutes after the final horn blew, the Leafs had struck a massive deal with the Los Angeles Kings.
There are some conditions on the draft pick and Clifford is coming in at 50% retained salary, but it is essentially swapping a depth forward and two draft picks for a new backup goalie and a sand paper forward.
My initial reaction to the announcement of this trade was that of excitement, not only for the prospect of trying out a different goalie behind Frederik Andersen, but also because this transaction addressed a need that the Leafs have been sorely lacking all year. Ever since they dealt Nazem Kadri to the Colorado Avalanche, Toronto has been without a gritty forward who can play physical and provide some offence.
You would think that on a team that can score goals better than most NHL teams this wouldn’t be an issue, but it leaves them exposed should they clinch a playoff birth and may become intimidated on the physicality aspect of the game. It is an old-school thinking that being able to hit and stand-up is valuable. Yet even in recent years, most of the previous Stanley Cup winners possessed at least one player that had that aspect of their game being their signature trait.
Which is why adding a player like Clifford to a young Leafs team is so important; guys like him will fire the team up when they lay hits or draw fights and players will gravitate towards them because of how hard they work each and every day. He is the modern day version of a gritty forward who should provide value in the bottom-six and bring an element that hasn’t been present much of this season.
It certainly helps that Clifford is also an analytical darling and has found success at both ends whenever he’s on the ice. He doesn’t need to score 50 goals to be a valuable asset, but his stat line of 6 goals, 8 assists, and 14 points is certainly exceptional for a fourth line player.
This is part of the reason why I have been so vocal in expressing my desire for the Leafs to acquire Blake Coleman of the New Jersey Devils. And while Clifford is no Coleman, adding the former was the right call and a much needed addition to the lineup.
The exact same thing can be said of Campbell, who is the latest backup goalie to try and land the role of “The Guy That Can Ease Andersen’s Workload.” We are now four years into Andersen’s tenure and Toronto has yet to find such a player (although Curtis McElhinney came close).
Michael Hutchinson was the latest candidate, having been acquired midway through last season. His first full year in Toronto has, to put it mildly, not gone well. And while it is unfair to place blame on the backup for the team’s misfortunes, given his inconsistent play throughout the year, the Leafs have lost valuable points and are now in a dogfight to reach the postseason in part because Hutchinson hasn’t gotten it done consistently enough.
So all Campbell has to do to win faith in a fanbase that is currently restless is simple: just make some saves. Judging by his work with the Kings so far this season, he appears to be doing just that. Although a .900 SV% and a 2.85 GAA aren’t eye-popping numbers, they are miles better than Hutchinson’s stats (.886 SV%, 3.66 GAA).
As a result of this trade, the Leafs are a much better team than they were heading into Wednesday’s game. While they still need to acquire a top-four RHD, the transaction addressed two needs that desperately had to be sorted out.
Going the other way is Trevor Moore, who fans have grown to appreciate as an underdog player who made up for his small frame with tenacity and speed. There are some who are distraught to see him go, but the unfortunate reality is that Moore became replaceable during his time on IR.
With the emergence of Ilya Mikheyev and Pierre Engvall, there wasn’t going to be much room to fit Moore into the fold beyond the fourth line. And that is the worst spot to be in on any team, especially one like Toronto that is loaded with quality wingers throughout the organization.
Kings fans are going to get a kick out of him and will come to love his play style, which is a great fit on an LA team that is in a transition stage of their rebuild. He is young enough to be part of their depth core moving forward and can kill penalties. It also helps that he is a local kid who will be returning home, so he’ll likely get a kick out of playing for his childhood team.
Simply put, this is a trade that needed to happen. It would have been nice for it to occur a few weeks prior, but it was necessary nonetheless.
Toronto addressed two important needs and it only required to give up a depth piece plus some draft picks without letting go one of Andreas Johnsson or Kasperi Kapanen. Given the critical state of the season the Leafs are in and how valuable each game is the rest of the way, Kyle Dubas made right by pulling the trigger on this deal.
As for when the Leafs will make the much anticipated trade of a top-four defender who shoots right, we will have to wait on that. For now, there is a lot to be excited about the two latest additions to the Blue and White.