This is a fairly simple method of measuring the additions and subtractions. I’m going to use the percentile rank that aggregates the various measures from Evolving Hockey on their Player Cards, set to just this season.
EH Rank: 62 - mostly offensive
Ice time: first line
Points: 15 G - 9 A - 24 P - 45 GP
EH Rank: 83 - balanced between offence and defence
Ice time: first pair
Points: 2 G - 18 A - 20 P - 55 GP
EH Rank: 92 - good on defence, heavenly on offence
Ice time: first - second pair
Points: 7 G - 31 A - 38 P - 61 GP
EH Rank: 60 - all defence
Ice time: second to fourth line
Points: 11 G - 8 A - 19 P - 59 GP
EH Rank: 38 - all defence
Ice time: second to fourth line
Points: 10 G - 11 A - 21 P - 51 GP
EH Rank: 58 - all offence, defence is essentially zero
Ice time: second to first pair
Points: 3 G - 18 A - 21 P - 55 GP
Most of these players were used in much bigger roles on their original teams. The exception is likely O’Reilly, who is going to be afforded genuine offensively gifted linemates, not Josh Leivo. He already looks better than his record.
Schenn played with some of the best forwards on the Canucks, and I would utterly ignore his points and about half his Offensive GAR rating.
Lafferty has been rocking an absurd Shooting %, most of which is hot air, but some of which is his speed and skill. Otherwise, he’s just Acciari with a go fast buff.
Gustafsson has legitimately excellent results in a focused offensive role.
McCabe is what’s called a model darling for obvious reasons, and Kyle Dubas thinks that’s real enough to bank on him. I’m keeping an open mind, but I find it very hard to know what a lifelong tank team player really is.
EH Rank: 72 - balance of offence and defence
Ice time: third line
Points: 12 G - 9 A - 21 P - 58 GP
EH Rank: 66 - all offence, defence not as bad as Schenn, but not a positive impact
Ice time: second to third pair
Points: 4 G - 16 A - 20 P - 52 GP
Both of these players show extremely good expected GAR, and extremely poor actual GAR. Sometimes, that’s just how it goes, and a player is on the ice with teammates who can’t buy a goal. But at some point, you have to start asking if it isn’t maybe them, and not everyone else. EH’s model attempts to answer that, but it isn’t perfect.
I didn’t include Joey Anderson here because he’s played 14 games, and the Denis Malgin trade was early enough, it doesn’t seem relevant either.
I think it is very clear the team got better from this entire process. It’s possible to say you would have rather some other player than Engvall traded away, but it’s difficult to find someone with a cap hit big enough who adds less to the team. Engvall’s reputation as a fun player is overshadowing the reality of his limited game. Someone had to be removed from the lineup, though.
The swap of Rasmus Sandin for Erik Gustafsson made the team better right now. That seems incontrovertible. Particularly when you add in the fact that Sandin wasn’t going to be played once McCabe swelled the ranks.
It’s tough to lose players, and the Leafs are doing the kinds of trades that Tampa or Vegas have done, where they sacrifice the future of some of their younger players for wins now. Several players added have term or are possible to re-sign at good value, and beyond the unknowable future of how they all fit together, this is quality work from the GM.
My take on the specific area of the defence is this: I would have rather done the deal the Oilers did for Mattias Ekholm, but the risk was much higher, and the chance of being lumbered with a big LTIR contract in a couple of years is high. He might have been a Jake Muzzin replacement in the wrong way. His cap hit would have made a lot of the other additions impossible.
But the decision Dubas and Keefe made — and I don’t believe they made it this week or two years ago in the playoffs or last fall, I think it’s all of that together — is that Sandin isn’t a top four defender now, and they need a top four defender now. In fact, they seem to think they needed two options for that role.
I don’t think Dubas is done, because I don’t actually think he’s doing all of this and then going into the playoffs with Wayne Simmonds, Pontus Holmberg and Bobby McMann as his only forward depth.
But he made the team better in significant ways that will impact game outcomes.