Leafs trade to NHL draft to get rid of goaltender Petr Mrazek’s contract

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The Maple Leafs were trying to keep a plan B for their goaltender open as the image of the panhandle around the NHL changed dramatically throughout Thursday.

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They freed up some money for Jack Campbell or maybe another goaltender and erased a mistake from last year, all with a trade of trouble-plagued replacement Petr Mrazek to the Chicago Blackhawks in the first round of the NHL Draft on Thursday night in Montreal.

Just before they were selected 25th overall, general manager Kyle Dubas traded Mrazek and the pick to the Hawks, with Toronto dropping to 38th overall. That knocked the Leafs out of the first round for the third time in four years, moving all of their picks to Friday, with the Hawks’ second-rounder Winnipeg in third (79th in total) and a seventh (218e).

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The Leafs will save US$3.8 million this year and next with Mrazek’s departure.

On Wednesday, Dubas was trying to drum up commercial interest by touting Mrazek’s virtues, writing off his freshman issues in Toronto, including a few injuries and an .888 save percentage, as an anomaly. The deal done, Dubas walks away from his mistake.

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“With the ceiling space we have right now, we have all the options,” he told reporters at the Bell Center.

But Campbell will still be looking to at least double and maybe triple the $1.6 million he received last year and get a longer term. That will likely force Dubas to save even more on his salary as the start of free agent buying looms on Wednesday.

Toronto hasn’t exactly been flush with 30-game single-season winners since Felix Potvin, Curtis Joseph and Ed Belfour each played prominent roles in the Conference Finals between 1993 and 2002. Still, Campbell, who is in the franchise’s top 20 wins and ranks third in club history with a .916 save percentage (minimum 75 games) can probably get a lot more than Toronto can afford with clubs like Edmonton who are also looking for help in net.

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Darcy Kuemper came on the radar as the Colorado Avalanche traded for Alexandar Georgiev as the main stop. Georgiev was in the shadow of Igor Shesterkin in New York, while Kuemper has the Stanley Cup as a bonus to attract suitors. Dubas said when the prospect he wanted left at 25, Dubas phoned Hawks counterpart Kyle Davidson.

Marc-Andre Fleury, 37 but just a year out from a Vezina Trophy, made the belated decision to return to the Minnesota Wild on a two-year contract at a US$3.5 million AAV. Before that, Toronto, Washington and his draft team, the Pittsburgh Penguins, were linked with him.

Ottawa’s Matt Murray is much further afield for the Leafs, but with a historic connection to Dubas and head coach Sheldon Keefe via their time with the Soo Greyhounds. Murray is unhappy to be one of three Senators goalies and ready to move on after a bad season with injuries and a controversial demotion. A buyout or commercial voodoo should happen to get him to the Leafs or elsewhere, working around the $6.25 million owed the next two seasons. When trade talks with Buffalo intensified this week, with the Senators’ first-round pick (seventh overall) on the line, Murray refused to remove the city from his no-fly list.

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The brilliance came from Campbell in post-season games, with two of the club’s six consecutive first-round failures under his watch. And Dubas not only has to be careful with the money when it comes to Soupy, but be wary of the long term Campbell is looking to take full advantage of his limited free agent window. Dubas already has six players earning over $6.9 million down to $11.6 eating up significant cap space.

Dubas insisted the Leafs had good options for a new replacement between Erik Kallgren and Joseph Woll who saw limited action last year.

RUSSIAN AROUND

Dubas is trying to figure out what’s going on with Russian hockey in these turbulent times, from the possibility of new restrictions on NHL players there now or the potential pitfalls of signing someone with his club and national teams banned in the world following the invasion of Ukraine.

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“As we approach the repechage, the Russians are eligible,” Dubas concluded on Wednesday when asked to assess the risks. “It was a little more difficult to gather the same information on them. We will evaluate as they come up on our list.

The Leafs have made scouting Russian KHL free agents and finding draft picks a priority in recent years, selecting four Russians in the past two years.

“There is so much uncertainty (now), a situation that I haven’t encountered since my time here,” Dubas said. “We have people in our staff who were involved when it was very difficult to get players out of Russia for different reasons than today. At that time, a lot of very good players came to the NHL a bit later.

“I’m only talking about hockey decisions. There is obviously a much bigger human situation going on there.

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The Leafs have two 6-foot-1 Russian goalies with Kazan in the KHL right now, Artur Akhtyamov (drafted 106e in total in 2020) and Vyacheslav Peska (185e Last year).

LIGHTNING

Was Dubas shooting for Tampa to beat the Avalanche in the Cup final for better optics after the Leafs failed to finish them in the first round?.

“I never think of things that way. In the end, we didn’t succeed. To pause the space-time continuum and say that we would have done the same… we only have to focus on ourselves. The “what ifs” don’t really help, cure sleepless nights, or make you feel better. If anything, it’s probably a bit the other way around.

“We just have to focus on ourselves avoiding that same feeling, avoiding the same questions of the ‘does it feel good to you that this team you played well against is two wins away (from the Cup )? “. We need to be the team in this position moving forward and we believe we are ready to do that. More importantly, our players believe they are.

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LOOSE LEAF

Dubas received second and third votes from his executive peers for the Jim Gregory GM of the Year Award, finishing 10th overall behind deserving winner Joe Sakic of the Avs… This is Wes Clark in charge of Leaf amateur scouting after moving to replace Jean Lilley. “His communication with staff was very similar to John’s,” Dubas said. “He’s been great throughout the year hammering home with the staff what he wanted day to day, meeting to meeting, in terms of wanting the guys to complement all of their live viewings with more of proofs with video, to check your work. Wes relies heavily on our analyst department and our research and development”… Dubas spoke so far about the big changes this week for his hockey department, in particular new assistant GM Hayley Wickenheiser and new goaltending coach Curtis Sanford. Of Wickenheiser becoming the sixth woman to be named an NHL assistant in a short period of time, Dubas said, “I think it’s a great trend. It just shows the many different people, genders, races, sexual orientations, who are capable of doing great things in hockey. Last year’s and last week’s hires that branched out (including San Jose’s Mike Grier as the first black general manager) are great for the future and the state of hockey. New Jersey assistant general manager Kate Madigan has announced the Devils’ top pick, defenseman Simon Nemec … Wickenheiser likely won’t address his historic appointment until development camp later this month, while Keefe won’t. won’t comment on Sanford until September training camp… Bringing in Fleury would have continued a rather curious fixation that many Leaf GMs have had with acquiring someone else’s No. 1 overall pick. Fleury would have been the ninth, after Dale McCourt (Detroit 1977), Rob Ramage Colorado ’79), Mats Sundin (Quebec ’89), Owen Nolan (’90 Quebec), Eric Lindros (’91, Quebec), Bryan Berard (Ottawa ’95), Thornton (Boston ’97) and John Tavares (Islanders, 2009).

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