The Toronto Maple Leafs have added a pair of players tonight while moving out one frustrated winger. Ilya Lyubushkin and Ryan Dzingel are on their way to Toronto from the Arizona Coyotes in exchange for Nick Ritchie and a conditional draft pick. The Coyotes can select whether to receive Toronto’s third-round pick in 2023 or second-round pick in 2025. No salary is retained in the deal from either side.
Lyubushkin was referenced at the intermission of tonight’s Maple Leafs game by Elliotte Friedman of Sportsnet, and now just after the loss to the St. Louis Blues, Toronto has made their move. The big defenseman would bring something that the team doesn’t have much of, size and physicality on the back end. Now 27, Lyubushkin has racked up nearly 500 hits in a 180-game career, including 94 already this season. That number would easily lead the Maple Leafs, who currently have Jake Muzzin on top of that list with 81. It’s beside Muzzin that Lyubushkin could even potentially play, giving the team some extra length in something of a shutdown pair. Toronto has been looking to add depth on the right side for some time, as Justin Holl has taken a step backward this year and Timothy Liljegren is still very early in his career.
In fact, this addition could spell trouble for Holl, who played the fewest minutes of any Toronto defenseman tonight and has struggled to fill the top-four role he had with Muzzin in years past. By bringing in another penalty-killing defenseman, it’s unclear what his role will be, though there will have to be a roster spot of some sort by the Maple Leafs tomorrow to create enough cap space. When the team recently acquired Adam Brooks off waivers it was Liljegren who went down for the day.
There is also the addition of Dzingel, however, who adds another forward to the mix for Toronto. A 26-goal scorer in 2018-19, he has just four goals and seven points in 26 games this season for the Coyotes playing in a bottom-six role. Even those four goals are more than Ritchie, who had just two in 33 games for the Maple Leafs despite starting the season with Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner. The 26-year-old Ritchie had played his way right off the Toronto roster, recently having cleared waivers and been assigned to the minor leagues. From a Maple Leafs perspective, getting out from under Ritchie’s two-year deal may have been the most important part of the deal. He was set to earn $2.5MM against the cap again next year, something that a team working in the margins of the salary cap cannot afford if he’s not contributing.
Notably on Dzingel, if he fails to contribute anything, the Maple Leafs could bury his entire $1.1MM salary in the minor leagues. He would need to clear waivers to do it but that allows the team to not be stuck with any dead money if he isn’t a good fit. Lyubushkin meanwhile makes just $1.35MM against the cap, a reasonable number for a defenseman if he’s playing regularly and less than both Holl ($2MM) and Travis Dermott ($1.5MM) who was scratched again tonight.
As a member of the Coyotes, Ritchie certainly isn’t destined for the minor leagues. General manager Bill Armstrong explained that he was “excited” to add Ritchie to the roster, noting that he can give the team some more size and toughness. He also is a player signed for next season, something you can’t say about many other Coyotes. In fact, only Clayton Keller, Nick Schmaltz, Andrew Ladd, Jakob Chychrun, Conor Timmins, and Shayne Gostisbehere are on one-way contracts through next season, and several of them may find their way to other teams by the trade deadline. Ritchie, who did score 15 goals in 56 games for the Boston Bruins last season, could find his way to top-six minutes once again in the rebuilding Coyotes lineup.
For them, the big thing is adding another draft pick for expiring contracts. The Coyotes are hoarding selections in their rebuild and will be bringing a huge number of prospects into the system over the next few years.