The Leafs did a deal. You can read the breaking news story here:
- Ryan O’Reilly
- Noel Acciari
- Draft rights for Josh Pillar/
- Adam Gaudette
- Mikhail Abramov
- Four draft picks, one each from the first four rounds from various years/
I’m going to run down this part first because I think it’s largely irrelevant.
Adam Gaudette: he’s capable of NHL play, could play on the Leafs, doesn’t add anything other, younger players don’t, so he was top of my list to be moved to free up a contract space. He’ll likely get back in the NHL. A win for all sides.
Mikhail Abramov: I’ve liked him as a prospect, but he’s either having a deeply off season or he’s hit the ceiling. Ye olde change of scenery might be good for him, but the main point was freeing a contract spot.
Minnesota gets a fourth round pick for some very minor salary retention — 25% of what was remaining to be paid on $1 million. I don’t differentiate in value for draft picks below the second round to any real degree so a fourth, fifth — whatever. If you make something of that, it’s because you want to make something of it. The limited history of retention trades says this is in the ballpark.
St. Louis got three picks for two players, both pending UFAs. Seems totally normal to me when there’s no meaningful prospect going along with them. All I’ll say about “the first” is that if you use that terminology, you are implying that the pick has more value than it really has.
There has always been, in hockey nerd land, this burning desire to treat things like draft picks as currency with defined values. This is so intensely reductive, not least because the idea of currency itself having a fixed value is a false view that people hold in their heads because it’s easier to think about value and worth of things if you do.
Draft picks have different values to different teams. They matter mostly in quantity, as the more you have, the higher the probability that you’ll get a useful player someday. Picks matter mostly to teams that are done playing in April. It is extraordinarily rare to get a star player with a pick in the 30s. But because it could happen, there will forever be a belief that a first is a deeply important thing to always have. Chicago wants picks. St. Louis, who are facing a future of rebuilding want picks. Toronto has to weigh the slim probability that a pick used now matters a lot in the future against the chance of winning right now.
Hope for a player drafted in June, who might play in 2026 or 2027 is much safer than hoping for the Leafs to be playing in June in 2023.
Josh Pillar: Pillar was traded in 2022 in the WHL because of a medical issue, and it’s possible that this trade was also a favour to get him on the books of a Canadian team. His situation is private, and he’s played only 13 games this season. His rights expire this summer.
Noel Acciari: I remember this guy. My god, I hated this guy. Haaaaaated him. Welcome to the team Noel. Still got it? That desire to be the most annoying guy on the ice in a way totally different to Michael Bunting but still really annoying? I sure hope so.
He has played for Boston, Florida and one part season in St. Louis, and on every team he’s been given heavy defensive usage. We’re going to hear a lot about zone starts in respect to this trade, but please do not look at that and try to mentally correct points because that way lies, well, lies. Zone starts and the leverage deployment HockeyViz charts out tells you what the coach thinks, not who a player is or what results mean. Coaches think Acciari holds leads, plays well in the defensive zone and can do those things up and down the lineup.
He’s not a fourth liner. He sometimes is, but he’s played more third line to second line minutes over the last few years. Every coach he’s had has hauled him up the lineup to join a so-called scoring line form time to time. He had a freak scoring year in 2019-2020 with 20 goals, but he’s on those higher lines periodically to keep the coach from going over the boards and shaking someone.
At the start of the 2021-2022 season with the Panthers, he hurt his shoulder in preseason and required surgery. He came back just about one year ago today, and didn’t ever get a lot going, although he had eight points in 20 games. He was the anomaly in the Panthers’ gold-dusted season.
On the Blues he’s better than team average at both offence (not difficult) and defence (even easier). It’s very hard to judge players by this terrible Blues season, but Acciari has seemed himself as a defensively responsible hard forechecking player.
The biggest knock against him is that he takes too many penalties, but some teams and coaches like that. It’s not incurable. He plays a lot of PK when he’s not the cause of the PK. He also doesn’t draw penalties the way an annoying guy should, but maybe Bunting can give him lessons.
If you search for “hard to play against” and then filter for “can actually play hockey and isn’t a lunkhead” this is the guy you get.
Ryan O’Reilly: Full disclosure, he is almost my perfect player. He’s smart, tough, can score, can make plays, reads the ice, is positionally smart, works hard like hockey is a job not an entitlement, takes responsibility, never quits, is his own man, believes in “be yourself”, cares deeply about the team and doesn’t take crap.
Back in the day on the Avalanche, when they sucked dramatically and Patrick Roy was making them intermittently worse, there were three guys who showed up every minute they were on those teams: Gabriel Landeskog (the perfect hockey player), Jarome Iginla (used to be the perfect hockey player) and Ryan O’Reilly.
That was then and neither of us are as fast as we once were. Speed is the big question about O’Reilly, and I turn to Mark Giordano for some wisdom on this topic. In his recent interview on 32 Thoughts, he talked about recognizing he’s not as fast as he once was, and also that he has to have a game that’s about blocking shots, playing the PK and being the responsible guy defensively. He said that you have to let those younger players take over the offence and make a new game for yourself.
O’Reilly is in the early stages of doing that. Giordano is seven years older, after all, so they aren’t at the same stage. O’Reilly has always used his smarts to compensate for not being the zippiest player on the ice. Much will be made about his results on the Blues this season, and how he’s “just” bad now, and such like. Here’s my bottom line: if you believe that players should be blamed for their on-ice shooting and save % results, if you think a forward, even one with defensive usage, directly affects aggregate save percentage stats over 40 games, then I invite you to prove that to me. I know that’s not how it works, and on-ice save % is not a repeatable skill.
Does this mean O’Reilly has been bopping along, doing great, while just getting hosed by bad goalies and chance? Likely not. It doesn’t mean he’s worn out by hard minutes and is washed up at 32 though — an opinion I recently heard most of — I was laughing pretty loud.
The foot injury might keep him from being at 100% right now, and as for the rest, we’ll see. I don’t actually expect O’Reilly to play third line exclusively, although he might. I don’t expect him to always be a centre, although another very good centre is sure nice to have. I do expect Sheldon Keefe to recognize that O’Reilly has a lot more to offer than what Acciari brings — something the Blues seemed to be confused about.
So, you know that four forward power play? The Leafs played around with it while Morgan Rielly was out, and then they dropped it. There has been an assumption — even amongst people who should know better — that a goal against meant it didn’t work and they would never do it again. Boy did they learn, eh?
Kyle Dubas doesn’t think like that. He believes the evidence, to be sure, but he isn’t so easily put off when a move he makes, one he knows doesn’t guarantee success, fails to pay out. He put out two potential starter goalies with Frederik Andersen and Jack Campbell and that... sort of worked. He did it again last season, and they were varying degrees of failures, so what did he do? He did it again. He’ll do it again next year too, if he can find the guys to do it with.
He signed Joe Thornton and it didn’t work, so he got Nick Foligno, and that was scuppered by injuries, so he tried Nick Ritchie, and that didn’t work on the Leafs, and through it all it was very easy to say those players are “just” bad, and bloo bloo, I want 12 scoring talents on the ice at all times. Now Dubas has done it again. He’s found the best versions of a player type who fills a role at forward that he clearly believes the Leafs need filled. Dubas is willing to buy this kind of guy because the Leafs already drafted the sparkly and beautiful talents that fill out the top six.
Will it work this time? Let’s find out. I think this was an excellent deal, but then I would, because I’ve always believed Dubas is right about this concept (and the goalie one) but has struggled to find the right players to enact it.