TORONTO — As the hours ticked by and the Toronto Maple Leafs’ other targets got plucked at high prices by their aggressive competitors, it became increasingly apparent that Kyle Dubas’s big trade deadline swing would be for Mark Giordano.
Of greater intrigue Sunday — and greater concern for an astutely critical fanbase — wasn’t so much who was coming in next to try to get the Maple Leafs over that immovable first-round hump.
It was how much would he cost.
Dubas — whose most famous quote is “We can, and we will” — believes in speaking desires into existence.
The general manager had made clear that his primary target would be a defenceman, recent games of goalie roulette be damned. He also made plain that he had no intention of surrendering a first-round pick for a rental, a strategy that came back to bite him in 2021, when he paid a steep price to borrow Nick Foligno from Columbus and had no tangible success to show for it.
As go-to capologist Brandon Pridham worked his magic math, Dubas placed a series of players on waivers and dealt seventh defenceman Travis Dermott to the Vancouver Canucks for a 2022 third-round pick (Winnipeg’s) on Sunday, clearing roster and cap space. Then he lifted the bat from his shoulder.
Dealing with friendly associate Ron Francis, Dubas acquired Giordano and versatile bottom-six forward Colin Blackwell from the Seattle Kraken for the Leafs’ 2022 second-round pick, 2023 second-round pick, and 2024 third-round pick. The Kraken retained 50 per cent of Giordano’s salary.
Toss in the fact that Dubas had previously brought in Ilya Lyubushkin for a modest cost, plus wiped some cap burden for 2022-23, and the GM is poised to be a deadline winner when the critics rush to kick losers and pump tires after Monday’s 3 p.m. ET cut-off passes.
Unlike fellow Atlantic Division buyers Boston, Florida and Tampa, Toronto made good on its objective to hold all first-rounders and Grade-A prospects.
Sure, Giordano’s desire to come home and chase a Cup — and Francis’s desire to do right by Seattle’s first captain — helped the cause. But in a frenzied market, and under the gun to bolster one of hockey’s most electric offences with responsible back-end support, this is some fine work.
“Can’t say enough good things about him,” says T.J. Brodie, who spent years as Giordano’s partner in Calgary. “He’s a great guy on and off the ice, his dedication and work ethic. He’s an unbelievable guy.”
In addition to automatic chemistry with Brodie, Giordano brings all the intangibles that make hockey men swoon.
“What an individual. I had talked to a lot of people, read a lot of things about Gio in the past and watched from a distance. But until you’re around him every day, it’s hard to understand just how impactful he is as a human being and as a player,” says Kraken coach Dave Hakstol. “He’s been awesome inside of our dressing room, and he’s been great for us.”
The 38-year-old left shot may not be best deployed in Toronto at 21-plus-minutes a night the way he is now. But as a Leaf, he won’t need to run a power play or be counted on to fuel offence. That would just be a bonus to smart positional D-zone play, cycle stuffs, crisp zone exits, and killing penalties.
There’s also a romance to bringing in a local kid, the only undrafted Norris winner, and a respected character desperate to win a Stanley Cup while he can still have an impact.
“He’s been a very good player in the league for a long time. New team and different situation for him here this season. He’s versatile and helps teams in all sorts of ways,” Leafs coach Sheldon Keefe said.
Morgan Rielly has chatted with Brodie about Giordano and has hung out with him through mutual friends.
“He plays hard,” Rielly says. “In D-zone, he’s always working hard. He’s always taking the body. He’s very physical, and he can still move well.
“He’s always up in the rush, even on the penalty kill … That he’s able to get up and down the ice and play as hard as he does has always been impressive.”
With Brodie’s ability to play the right side, we could see him reunited with Rielly as Giordano forms a shutdown pair with Holl or Lyubushkin. Reuniting Giordano-Brodie is also an option. No doubt, Keefe will experiment with a few options over the next 20 games.
Factor in a healthy Jake Muzzin, and Toronto will enter this post-season with its greatest defensive depth of the Core Four era.
Blackwell, 28, brings edge, youth and defensive responsibility to Toronto’s bottom six. He’s another rental, but his $725,000 cap hit was as attractive as his positive fancy stats. Despite starting most shifts in his own zone, he drives play forward.
The centre/right wing has eight goals and nine assists in 39 games played, to go along with a career-high 57 hits.
Dubas’s prioritization of the blue line means rolling the dice in goal.
Losing faith in Petr Mrazek, the Maple Leafs waived the veteran Sunday and are taking a flyer on European import Harri Säteri, who inked a one-way contract at a pro-rated $750,000. (Säteri must clear waivers Monday to join the club.)
Säteri backstopped Finland to a silver medal at the 2021 World Championship and an Olympic gold last month. The 32-year-old was lights-out in Beijing, going a perfect 5-0 with a 1.00 GAA and a .962 save percentage.
The 6-foot-1, 205-pound journeyman has been rock solid for the KHL’s Novosibirsk Sibir this season, posting a .926 save percentage and 2.02 GAA.
Säteri was drafted by San Jose back in 2008 and eventually played nine NHL games for Florida nearly a decade later, going 4-4 with a .911 save percentage in 2017-18. He spent the following season as the No. 1 for AHL Grand Rapids. Once he failed to crack the Red Wings, however, he opted to for a KHL return.
So, yes, as Jack Campbell skates, the questions in goal will linger. But with Giordano’s homecoming, the second-last line of defence hasn’t looked sturdier.
One-Timers: Prospect Nick Robertson was returned to the Marlies and played Sunday … Fourth-liner Kyle Clifford was also placed on waivers.