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Toronto Marlies trade Stefan Leblanc for Tanner MacMaster

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Laurence Gilman acquires yet another guy from the Utica Comets.

Stefan LeBlanc
Credit: Christian Bonin

The Toronto Marlies made a Sunday afternoon deal mere hours after Martin Marincin was sent down by the Toronto Maple Leafs. The Marlies swapped 1996-born defenseman Stefan Leblanc to the Utica Comets (Vancouver Canucks affiliate) in exchange for 1996-born left winger Tanner MacMaster. Both players are on AHL contracts.

On the surface, this appears to be a good trade. The Marlies traded a left-handed defenseman — whom they have a surplus in — for a left winger of the same age. The Marlies lost two LWs over the past week; Carl Grundstrom went to LA in the Jake Muzzin trade, and Mason Marchment is out with a broken collarbone suffered on Friday night. But looking more closely, I think this is a loss.

Who we gave up

Stefan Leblanc was signed to an AHL contract for the ECHL Newfoundland Growlers over the summer. Leblanc immediately started his season as the best, most prolific defenseman on the Growlers, but had to leave that team because the Marlies were plagued by injuries. From limited third-pair minutes, Leblanc was promoted all the way up to a consistent second pair role on the Marlies until eventually Andreas Borgman came back and forced him down to the third pair. Now Martin Marincin has arrived and it’s curtains for Leblanc, through no fault of his own.

Leblanc is a good AHL defenseman. He moves the puck really well, and I’d say he was far and away more efficient at creating offense than Jordan Subban. On defense, it’s very easy to trust that he will be in the right position at the right time, and he’s a strong body in front of the net despite his size. He played both power play and penalty kill for the Marlies in his time, as well.

Going back to his time in Mississauga, which I followed very closely, Leblanc was on most nights the reason why Vegas Golden Knights pick Nicolas Hague showed so well. He was the teenage babysitter that did all the work to cover for his flawed partner and get the puck out of the zone so that his team could go play offense. He played the most minutes at 5v5 and on the penalty kill, and received no love for that commitment. Even after a year in the AHL with the terrible 2017-18 Laval Rockets, Leblanc was playing that same style and getting the same results.

In the 17 games he played with the Marlies, Leblanc amassed seven assists, had a +3 goal differential, and only picked up four minor penalties. He’s a good player and I’m disappointed that the Marlies felt like they could let him go. At least send him back to the ECHL?

Who we got

Tanner MacMaster is a 23-year-old left winger who went undrafted before spending four seasons at Quinnipiac University before getting an AHL deal from the Utica Comets at the end of last year.

MacMaster began his tenure with the Comets with seven points (2g, 5a) in 13 games before putting up four points (1g, 4a) in five games against the Toronto Marlies in the 2018 Calder Cup Playoff — a tournament Toronto won. So he’s a point-per-game playoff performer. That guy must be good!

Not quite. In 29 games this season for the Comets, MacMaster has 11 points (2g, 9a). I searched for any injuries as to the reason why he’s only played in 29 of the team’s 47 games this season, but I could not find any. MacMaster also has a goal differential of -5 on the season (plus/minus has him at a -10).

According to some friends I have who watched MacMaster at QU in the NCAA, he was never an impressive player until his final year when he was a senior playing against people younger than him.

Comparables

The player that MacMaster seems most like is Morgan Klimchuk. Klimchuk had two good seasons with the Stockton Heat before falling off this season, stepping out of the gate with only eight points (3g, 5a) in 17 games. Klimchuk was then flipped for Andrew Nielsen, scored two goals in 13 games — plus a three-game suspension — before being shipped off to Belleville for Gabriel Gagne. Klimchuk never fit in with the Marlies and honestly became more of a hinder than a help (21 PIMs). I don’t think the Marlies need another Morgan Klimchuk, especially not for a Stefan LeBlanc.

Verdict

I worry that the evaluation of this trade by Laurence Gilman was that he saw MacMaster have a hot week against the Toronto Marlies in the playoffs last year and decided to trade a solid top-four defenseman who could make the lineup every night for either the AHL or ECHL team just because he was expendable.

The Marlies now have three players (four if you include Tom Sestito) from the Utica Comets, Gilman’s former team. Both Jordan Subban and Michael Carcone have been consistent scratches this season.

I just don’t think that’s good team management. The Marlies have Trevor Moore, Pierre Engvall, and Dmytro Timashov as the sure-fire top-three left wings on the team with a player like Griffen Molino on the fourth line able to give energy minutes. Depth is always good, but that’s what the ECHL is for.

Listen, I know Leblanc was X players down the list on the Maple Leafs depth chart, but where was the fire? The Marlies are famous for carrying too many players at defense, and there are plenty of capable players who can be called up from the ECHL while Marchment is on the shelf. At least, that’s what I hope the organization did over the summer.

I think in terms of overall value, the Marlies got schooled in this trade. They gave up value for position, and did it at a time that wasn’t necessary.

At the very least, I’m happy for Leblanc, who now gets to continue playing meaningful AHL minutes. Perhaps he gets paired with Luke Schenn!