Can the Detroit Red Wings capitalize on the Toronto Maple Leafs’ demise?

Octopus Thrower

Former Detroit Red Wings star Brendan Shanahan sent a tidal wave across the NHL this past Friday afternoon when the news broke that the Toronto Maple Leafs were moving on from general manager Kyle Dubas. Dubas, 37, was nicknamed the ‘whiz kid’ after being hired by the Leafs and Shanahan in 2014 at the age of 28 to serve as the assistant general manager. After being mentored by Lou Lamoriello, Dubas took over the reins in 2018 at the prime age of 32.

When Dubas arrived in Toronto, the Maple Leafs were a dumpster fire; things changed the day the organization won the NHL Draft Lottery in 2016. The Leafs won the right to select a generational talent in Auston Matthews, and he’s lived up to the hype in the regular season anyway. Toronto is still the laughing stock around the league for their inability to put together a deep playoff run, let alone win a Stanley Cup. Their last championship came in 1967. This past year Toronto finally bucked a 19-year playoff series drought, getting past the first round for the first time since 2004. To put it into context. The Detroit Red Wings, seemingly rebuilding for years, had won a Stanley Cup since Toronto won a playoff series (until a couple of weeks ago). I find that fascinating.

Although I enjoy Toronto’s sudden downfall as a rival fan, it’s hard to blame the general manager. Every general manager suffers their fair share of errors, Steve Yzerman included; Dubas put together a roster that should have been a cup contender. It’s not Dubas’ fault that Toronto’s stars clam up when the bright lights shine brighter, and the checking becomes significantly tighter in the postseason. The general manager will take the brunt of a team’s demise, but perhaps the head coach (Sheldon Keefe) should be more to blame. Or did the Leafs just run into a postseason buzzsaw?

The Detroit Red Wings know all about that. Remember the Chris Pronger-led Edmonton Oilers in 2006 or the 2003 Ducks beating the second-seed Detroit Red Wings? Oh, there are more. Igor Larionov and the eighth-seeded San Jose Sharks upset the Detroit Red Wings in 1994 following Detroit’s record-breaking regular season. One last one, the 2001 Los Angeles Kings beat the heavily favored Detroit Red Wings in six games. Adding insult to injury, former Colorado Avalanche forward Adam Deadmarsh scored the overtime winner to put the Red Wings out. So, yes, Detroit Red Wings fans know all about postseason disappointment.

After a bizarre last couple of days, Dubas will be looking for employment elsewhere.

Can the Detroit Red Wings somehow take advantage of the situation?

A few unsettling (for Toronto fans) circumstances arose from Brendan Shanahan’s press conference Friday afternoon. Shanahan broke down what transpired this past week that led to the decision to move on from Dubas.

Shanahan elected not to speak during Toronto’s end-of-season media availability this past Monday and recommended Dubas do the same. Instead, Dubas elected to address the media, and during the scrum, he alluded to the fact that he might not want to return to the role next season. Meanwhile, behind the scenes, Shanahan and Dubas’ agent had been working on an extension. Shanahan admitted that after watching Kyle’s speech, he began to have a change of heart. Can you blame him? Shanahan is cut from the same cloth as Yzerman.

These guys are not afraid to make an unpopular decision. Shanahan needs someone fully invested in the job at hand, not a GM with one foot in the water and the other ready to dash elsewhere. In a more diminutive situation, Yzerman recently didn’t see eye-to-eye with Jakub Vrana and made a less-than-desirable transaction, yet won’t look back. Yzerman had problems with Jonathan Drouin during his time in Tampa Bay, and I can guarantee you he didn’t lose sleep over it. Shanahan had a tough decision to make, he made it, and he won’t look back.

With the Leafs likely headed in a different direction starting this summer, one can’t help but wonder if a team like the Detroit Red Wings will have an opportunity to capitalize on it. While Dubas went all in, adding players like Ryan O’Reilly, Luke Schenn, and Noel Acciari ahead of the trade deadline, he left the cupboards bare. The Leafs are in salary cap hell moving forward, and something has to give.

Toronto has Mitch Marner and John Tavares locked up for two more seasons, but Auston Matthews and William Nylander are set to enter a contract year. Nylander had been someone many (including myself) had targeted as a possible player on the move this summer, but with Dubas out in Toronto, it leaves the future of a player like Matthews in question. Matthews has a no-trade clause that goes into effect at the end of June as the new league year begins. If the star sniper is reluctant to sign an extension before then, it may force Toronto’s new GM’s hand to make a blockbuster deal.

Although a deal of this significance is unlikely within the division, the Detroit Red Wings have the assets to get a deal done. But are they willing to part with them? Yzerman has been stockpiling draft picks over the past couple of seasons. The Detroit Red Wings have four first-round choices and four second-round selections over the next two years; they also have a few above-average prospects. Again, Shanahan will unlikely be willing to allow a trade within the division despite his friendship with Yzerman, but Steve at least needs to make the call. To land Matthews, Detroit would need to be willing to part with three or all four of those first-round picks and a player like Lucas Raymond or Moritz Seider. Yes. It would take that much. Also, Matthews would need to agree on a contract extension for this to work. Yzerman won’t be giving up premium assets for a one-year rental. Matthews’ next deal will likely average $13-14 million annually.

Remember, you need to give something to get something, and 40-plus goal scorers (60 once) don’t grow on trees. And for the ‘Dylan Larkin is better suited as a second-line center’ crowd, here’s your solution.

If I am close to the price as a return for Matthews, I would be reluctant to move Seider but would be willing to add Raymond as the centerpiece in a deal. I am not sure Marco Kasper or Jonatan Berggren would be enough, but they’d also be names to explore.

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