The Leafs’ off-season tinkering appears to have come to a close after the weekend acquisitions of D Matt Lashoff and F Clarke MacArthur. Unless they decide to hide a salary in the minors (cough * Jeff Finger * cough), Toronto is about $2.2 million under the salary cap with 25 players under contract not including restricted free agent Christian Hanson.
Brian Burke’s final venture into off-season player collecting included a trade for a young blue liner who has yet to make an impression at the NHL level and a bargain bin forward who could help out offensively. Let’s take a look at the moves.
Maple Leafs trade Alex Berry and Stefano Giliati to Tampa Bay for Matt Lashoff
A first look at this deal brings about questions as to why Burke would sacrifice two prospects to add to the defensive logjam that the club is experiencing. However, positions aside, this is simply a trade of two spare parts who weren’t exactly lighting up the AHL with the Marlies (Berry and Giliati had 16 points combined last season) for a former first-round pick (22nd over-all) with a chance to catch on as an NHL regular.
The risk of acquiring the 23-year old Lashoff is, at best, negligible with the considerable potential benefit of securing a big, puck-moving defenceman with a left-handed shot. On top of the fact that little value went the other way, Lashoff is owed just $575,000 this season and will hit restricted free agency come next year. He will, however, need to demonstrate an ability to keep up with NHL-calibre players that he simply hasn’t in other stops in Boston and Tampa Bay.
Now, the question becomes where the former Kitchener Ranger fits within the Leafs’ system. Barring a stunning turn of events during training camp, Lashoff will start the season with the Marlies, but be among the first rearguards that get the call in the event of an injury. His presence may temporarily impede Keith Aulie’s progressive march towards the NHL, but each will get opportunities at the AHL level and have a chance to prove themselves NHL ready.
Maple Leafs sign Clarke MacArthur to a one-year, $1.1 million deal
Speaking of low-risk pick-ups, MacArthur was rescued from the bargain bin by Burke and could find himself occupying one of the team’s top two lines at times this season.
The 25-year old Lloydminster, SK native likely didn’t imagine himself to be donning the blue and white earlier this off-season, when an arbitrator awarded MacArthur a $2.4 million contract, which his former team, the Atlanta Thrashers, declined to pick up. Despite the indication of his increased value, especially in light of a season where he scored 16 goals and tallied 19 assists between Buffalo and Atlanta, the left winger found free agency to be unforgiving and ultimately had to sign at a steeply discounted rate.
What was an unfortunate turn of events for MacArthur worked to the benefit of the Leafs and could, eventually, serve him well also. He will be given every chance to earn meaningful minutes as a top-six forward and assert himself into a scoring role with the club. While he isn’t known for speed, he offers some grit and his nose for the net could help ease the development of a play-making centre like Tyler Bozak or Nazem Kadri.
The two moves are, in their own right, smart, low-risk pick-ups. But they come at the expense of payroll flexibility moving forward. While the rest of the unrestricted free agent crop looks barren (none of Kyle Wellwood, Bill Guerin or Brendan Morrison is a fit here), the team could potentially lose out on a capable group of remaining restricted free agents that includes Bobby Ryan, Marc Staal and James Neal.
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Written by Ben Fisher