TORONTO – Kyle Dubas could’ve acquired Alex Galchenyuk for nothing off the waiver wire and elected not to.
That the general manager chose instead to spend a couple of mid-tier assets — forward Egor Koshkov, 24, and defenceman David Warofsky, 30 — speaks volumes about the Toronto Maple Leafs’ desire for flexibility in its bottom six and with its salary cap.
Simply put: A Galchenyuk who no longer needs waivers to slide back and forth from Toronto’s lineup to its taxi squad is worth giving up on a bruising prospect in Korshkov who has yet to stick as an NHLer.
Remember, Dubas has already lost one asset, goalie Aaron Dell, to waivers. And another one, Pierre Engvall, just played a game Monday that cost him his waiver-exempt status.
Under a flat cap, flexibility and depth have grown paramount. And a hesitancy to commit too deep to a 27-year-old, who has now bounced to his seventh NHL franchise, seems only logical.
Another small bonus here is that because Galchenyuk had yet to travel to the U.S. after his weekend trade from Ottawa to the Carolina Hurricanes, the forward can simply remain in Ontario and neither party has to twiddle thumbs during a 14-day quarantine.
Following Monday’s embarrassing 6-5 collapse to the Senators, Sheldon Keefe was still wrapping his head around the trade.
The head coach could not be faulted for being in no mood to sing the praises of the club’s newest addition; he was still fuming at the current players’ carelessness.
“He’s another depth option for us to come in,” Keefe said of Galchenyuk. “We’ve been looking to find a mix in our bottom six. He’s one of those guys that will compete for a spot like that.”
The deal was finalized so close to puck drop that Dubas and Keefe had not yet had a discussion of where Galchenyuk would fit in their lineup, and we’d imagine the Milwaukee native will need some time to get up to speed with the Leafs’ development staff.
But if there is a coach patient enough to find a fit for a highly touted and talented forward who’s been on a downward slide since his 30-goal, 56-point pinnacle with the Montreal Canadiens in 2015-16, it may just be Keefe.
Just as Galchenyuk has floundered in search of his niche, the Maple Leafs have not been able to trot out a trusted bottom-six forward group with any consistency since Keefe’s arrival 15 months ago.
A pessimist would argue that Galchenyuk can’t be too useful if the worst club in the league couldn’t use him. That he is only getting a seventh shot in the world’s best league because he’s a top-three pick (2012). Or because Dubas loves betting on skill and has never shied away from a small cap hit (Galchenyuk’s is $1.05 million) with plenty to prove.
Once again, the GM is spinning a low-risk, high-reward roulette wheel that, when spun often enough, has its hits (Wayne Simmonds), its misses (Alexander Barabanov) and its pushes (Jimmy Vesey).
The only way the Leafs lose this deal is if Galchenyuk flops and Korshkov — who is enjoying a career-best season (31 points through 53 games) for KHL Lokomotiv — returns to North America and becomes a Canes player.
But what Dubas has in his corner is an open-minded coach willing to experiment, to give a little leash to fresh recruits in hopes they take off.
If there is a path to unlocking Galchenyuk’s A-game, Keefe will work at forging it.
Just this season, Keefe began by giving Vesey a plum top-six role on John Tavares’ wing. He threw Simmonds on the top power-play unit and veteran Joe Thornton beside a pair of all-world offensive players entering their prime. For a spell, he was willing to scratch a defenceman he trusted (Travis Dermott) for one yet to earn that trust (Mikko Lehtonen).
Rest assured, Galchenyuk will get his looks. And his history of finding ways to produce — albeit in bursts and busts — while playing centre or either wing increases the options with which Keefe can experiment.
Galchenyuk scored one goal and averaged a career-low 9:30 of ice time in his eight games played before the Senators gave up on him.
He’s in danger of playing himself out of the league. Now he’s been given a shot to stick with a club that is placing a premium on urgency and wants to make its regular season meaningful.
Galchenyuk can take someone’s job in this town, but it’ll be up to him to decide if how bad he wants to.