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In the opening post with the list of players eligible for this year's Top 25, I referenced the ghost list. That is: the list of all the players and picks traded away since the Leafs began trying seriously to be a winning team.
Let's look at the list and see what trading the future cost the team now that the future has arrived.
Note: this is a very unequal reading since in 2016-2017, the Leafs were still shedding players for picks, but these are just those picks and players of note who were traded away to acquire present wins once the tanking was over with.
The list begins in the summer of 2016 as Lou Lamoriello was building the team:
- A 2016 first and a 2017 second were traded for Frederik Andersen, and they became Maxime Comtois and Sam Steel
- A 2017 fifth was traded to get Kerby Rychel, which the Leafs got back in some other deal and took Fedor Gordeev.
- At the deadline in 2017, a 2017 second was traded for Brian Boyle. Alexander Volkov was taken with the pick.
- It's now the start of the 2017-2018 season, and the Leafs traded a 2018 sixth and Tobias Lindberg to get Calvin Pickard, that pick became Peter DiLiberatore.
- At the deadline in 2018, a 2018 second, Kerby Rychel and Rinat Valiev were traded for Tomas Plekanec. The pick became Jacob Olofsson.
- The GM is now Kyle Dubas and it's summer of 2018 at the draft. A 2018 first was traded for a pick two spots lower and a third rounder used to get Rasmus Sandin and Semyon Der-Arguchintsev. That pick became Dominik Bokk.
- A 2019 sixth was traded for a 2018 pick used to take Pontus Holmberg. That pick became Gustav Berglund.
- In the 2018-2019 season a 2020 fifth was traded for Michael Hutchinson. The Leafs got that back in another trade and took Dmitri Ovchinnikov.
- In January of 2019, Carl Grundström and Sean Durzi were traded with the 2019 first for Jake Muzzin. The pick became Tobias Björnfot.
- It is now the summer of 2019, and Dubas isn't getting a player, he's getting cap space. A 2020 first and seventh were traded to Carolina along with Patrick Marleau. The Leafs got back the pick they took Axel Rindell with in the trade. The two other picks became Seth Jarvis and Alexander Pashin.
- A 2020 third round pick was traded with Nazem Kadri and Calle Rosén for Tyson Barrie, Alexander Kerfoot and a return pick that became Joe Miller. That third-round pick became Jean-Luc Foudy.
- Near the 2020 deadline a 2020 third and 2021 third were traded with Trevor Moore for Jack Campbell. Those picks became Alex Laferriere and Cameron Whynot.
- At the 2020 draft, a second was traded for two lower picks used to get Roni Hirvonen and Topi Niemelä. That pick became Tyler Kleven.
- The pick used to get Ovchinnikov was reacquired in a pick swap, a rare case of the Leafs trading up. The fifth and seven became Kasper Puutio and Devon Levi.
- At the 2021 deadline, a 2022 seventh was traded for Riley Nash. It became Brandon Lisowsky when it came back to the Leafs in another trade.
- A 2021 first and fourth was traded along with a 2022 fourth in the three-team deal to get Nick Foligno. Toronto got one of the fourths back and took Dennis Hildeby. The other two picks became Corson Ceulemans and Ethan Cardwell.
- A 2022 third was traded for David Rittich, and it became Aidan Thompson.
- A 2022 fifth was traded for Ben Hutton, and it became Michael Callow.
- A 2023 seventh was included in the deal for Jared McCann and it became Emil Järventie.
- It's now the deadline in 2022, and Nick Ritchie is being jettisoned for Ilya Lyabushkin and Ryan Dzingel. The Coyotes have a 2025 second as part of that deal. That pick could become a superstar!
- A 2022 second and 2023 third as well as a 2024 third were traded for Mark Giordano and Colin Blackwell. Those picks have (so far) become Niklas Kokko and Lukas Dragicevic.
- A 2022 first was traded with Petr Mrázek. In return the Leafs got the pick they took Fraser Minten with. The first became Sam Rinzel.
- At the most recent deadline, a 2023 first and third as well as a 2024 second and a 2025 fourth were used to get Ryan O'Reilly and Noel Acciari. The picks have become Otto Stenberg and Juraj Pekarcik so far.
- None of the picks used in the Jake McCabe/Sam Lafferty trade have become prospects yet.
- A 2023 third was used to get Luke Schenn, and it became Sawyer Mynio.
And that's the ghost list. Seth Jarvis, the only player here taken with a top-15 pick, has 150 NHL games played and Devon Levi looks like an excellent goalie. Other than them, Trevor Moore is likely the best player traded. Levi was just part of a pick swap, not part of a trade for a player, so he only sort of counts as one who got away.
It's easy to look at the more recent picks like Sam Rinzel, someone I know nothing about, and lament their loss the way I used to complain about that second traded for Boyle. But we now know that Alexander Volkov has cycled through two NHL teams for 46 games and is back in Russia. This hopium we use to imagine Leafs prospects as stars someday also gets used for the darker purpose of nursing grievances about picks that were traded away.
Remember when Sam Steel was the player everyone wanted and not Adam Brooks, his teammate? He likely has the most games played of the ghost list with 262, and he has 93 points in those games. He's a few months too old for the T25, though. Can you imagine his placings on the list if he'd been drafted by the Leafs? First very high and then slowly fading away as he became a role player – likely on some other team.
A lot of the ghost list would be on this year's T25 if they weren't someone else's prospect. But most of them would just make the bottom half more interesting. The 13th overall given up in the Marleau trade was replaced in the Kapanen trade with the 15th overall used to draft Rodion Amirov. So the only truly valuable pick spent was replaced with one similar in value.
What the Leafs have lacked lately is a volume of picks to play the lottery with. Five years from now they'll be in the same position they're in now – they'll have to scout for role players and depth signings and they won't have a dozen in the AHL. Maybe they'll miss on someone good. But they have several someones at the heart of the team who are more than good, and they aren't really missing any of these ghosts.
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