The Necessary Toronto Maple Leafs’ Trade

Toronto Maple Leafs' Trade

The necessary Toronto Maple Leafs‘ trade. That is how this one will be remembered. On Wednesday Feb. 5, 2020, the Toronto Maple Leafs acquired Jack Campbell and Kyle Clifford from the Los Angeles Kings, in exchange for Trevor Moore and two draft picks. The draft picks include a 3rd round pick in 2020, and a conditional 3rd round pick in 2021. The Los Angeles Kings will retain 50% of Kyle Clifford’s salary as part of the deal.

Toronto Maple Leafs Trade for Jack Campbell and Kyle Clifford

The Leafs announced the move following their 5-3 loss to the New York Rangers on Wednesday night. The trade occurred in response to inconsistent and porous play from their backup goaltenders. It also addressed the perceived lack of grit and tenacity from some of the forwards in recent weeks. Acquiring Campbell and Clifford represents an important step in addressing two of the Maple Leafs’ most glaring deficiencies.

Key Players for the Leafs

From the Maple Leafs’ perspective, the most important piece in the deal is Jack Campbell. Campbell is a 28-year-old goaltender, who is something of a late bloomer. He has spent the past two seasons behind Jonathan Quick with the Los Angeles Kings. Initially, he put up elite numbers with the Kings in the backup role, posting a 2.38 goals-against average and a .928 save percentage in 31 games during the 2018-19 season. This season has been more of a struggle. Over 20 games, he has a 2.85 goals-against average and a .900 save percentage, both below league average.

Campbell is a former first-round pick of the Dallas Stars, drafted 11th overall in the 2010 NHL Entry Draft. During and following his draft year, he was a successful starter with the United States at the World Junior Hockey Championships, winning the gold medal in 2010. He also has a prior relationship with Kyle Dubas, who traded for him while he was General Manager with the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds in November 2011.

Kyle Clifford is a gritty 29-year-old winger, who plays a tenacious style and can provide a little scoring punch from the bottom half of the lineup. He has 60 goals and 69 assists in 660 career games. He has played his entire career as a bottom-six forward with the Los Angeles Kings, averaging slightly more than 10 minutes of ice time per game. Clifford’s true value is in hits and puck possession. In his career, he has 1449 hits. He has a Corsi For Percentage of 53.1, often driving play in his teams favour.

Key Assets for the Kings

In Trevor Moore, the Los Angeles Kings get a 24-year-old, speedy winger with some offensive upside. He displays creativity around the net and has good hands and stickhandling ability. In 52 NHL games, he has five points and eight assists while playing primarily on the Leafs’ fourth line. With the right linemates and the opportunity for more ice time, he could thrive in Los Angeles. The third-round draft picks in 2020 and 2021, the latter of which is conditional and could improve, provide the Kings with the opportunity to restock their talent and improve their depth.

Trade Implications for the Leafs

The Maple Leafs currently have 63 points, one behind the Florida Panthers for third in the Atlantic Division. The Panthers have two games in hand. The Leafs are also two points behind the Philadelphia Flyers for the last Wild Card spot, despite having played one more game. Given their depth of offensive talent, the Leafs’ roster has arguably underperformed. Recent injuries to Frederik Andersen, Morgan Rielly and Cody Ceci have put the team in a difficult position. Something had to be done.

In making the trade, Leafs general manager Kyle Dubas highlighted the importance of his prior relationship with Jack Campbell, saying it helps because you “know their character, what they are about. It gives you some security in terms of the type of people you are bringing in.” He pointed out that he would have made the trade sooner, had the deal been available. He also admitted that Frederik Andersen’s injury, along with the Leafs’ lack of depth at the backup goalie position, fueled his urgency to make the trade.

Acquiring Campbell is interesting because Kyle Dubas acquired him once before, while with the Sault St. Marie Greyhounds. That trade did not pan out for Dubas or the Greyhounds, yet Dubas has decided to go back to the well. Based on prior experience, he is taking a risk. It is worth noting that in his time with the Greyhounds, Campbell was a young, inexperienced goalie. Since then, he has evolved into a capable NHL  backup goaltender. In making this deal, Dubas is betting that Campbell’s evolution is permanent.

Regarding Kyle Clifford, Dubas emphasized his versatility, and work ethic. He made a special point of highlighting that Clifford is “a player you don’t have to hide,” that he has talents in addition to being gritty and tough. As evidence, he cited Clifford’s important minutes on championship teams with the Los Angeles Kings, as well as his ability to contribute offensively on occasion. He also rightly noted the scarcity of this type of player on the Toronto Maple Leafs.

Final Thoughts

The Toronto Maple Leafs’ necessary trade is a breath of fresh air. Both Jack Campbell and Kyle Clifford represent a solid effort to shore up clear holes in the Leafs’ roster construction, specifically in the areas of backup goaltending and forward tenacity. The Leafs’ flaws in those areas have been apparent for some time. For whatever reason, until now, they were slow to respond. Hopefully, this trade will be a prelude to another transaction that addresses their defensive shortcomings.

The move also helps the Los Angeles Kings. It provides them with roster flexibility, additional draft picks and a fast skating, creative player with some upside in Trevor Moore. In time, there is a good chance that the trade will be regarded as a positive one for both teams. As the saying goes, better late than never.

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