The Toronto Maple Leafs acquired defenseman Jake McCabe, forward Sam Lafferty, a conditional fifth-round pick in 2024 and a conditional fifth-round pick in 2025 from the Chicago Blackhawks in exchange for a conditional 2025 first-round pick, 2026 second-round pick, Joey Anderson and Pavel Gogolev, the team announced Monday.
We’ve acquired Jake McCabe, Sam Lafferty, a conditional 5th round pick in 2024 and a conditional 5th round pick in 2025 from Chicago in exchange for a conditional 2025 1st round pick, 2026 2nd round pick, Joey Anderson and Pavel Gogolev
— Toronto Maple Leafs (@MapleLeafs) February 27, 2023
McCabe is the centerpiece of this deal for the Maple Leafs, giving the team a much-needed left-shot defenceman who can eat up minutes, especially against bottom-six groups. Chicago will retain 50 percent of McCabe’s $4 million salary for this season, along with the next two seasons, meaning Toronto now keeps the 29-year-old at $2 million through 2024-25. He recorded two goals and 20 points in 55 games with the Blackhawks, while averaging 19:30 per game.
McCabe will likely play on the left side, but he’s capable of playing either side of the ice. We’ll see how Sheldon Keefe rolls out his lines, but McCabe could start out on the second pair alongside Timothy Liljegren, as the Maple Leafs use the final 20 games of the season to experiment with their optimized combinations.
Chicago controlled 46 percent of the expected goals at 5-on-5 when McCabe was on the ice, but that was a function of the team bottoming out. McCabe is going to a much more stable situation in Toronto, where it’s championship or bust for this iteration of the Maple Leafs.
If you don’t want to read into the graphs, we don’t blame you, but McCabe played some stellar hockey on a club that is outright tanking.
At 5-on-5, the Blackhawks have outscored opponents 41-39 with Jake McCabe on the ice.
The Blackhawks have a minus-53 goal differential at 5-on-5.
— Mark Lazerus (@MarkLazerus) February 27, 2023
Maple Leafs general manager Kyle Dubas believes this deal, along with the Ryan O'Reilly trade earlier this month, will go a long way in forging a playoff identity.
"That is what we have tried to do. There is no reason for us to really beat around it," Dubas said. "We have wanted to become more competitive.
"That has been the whole goal here. It is something we feel like we’ve needed in those big moments and we have maybe lacked a little bit of to push us over the top."
Lafferty is in the midst of the best season of his career, recording 10 goals and 21 points in 51 games with the Blackhawks. The 27-year-old is a right-handed center who generates opportunities with plus-speed and will fortify Toronto’s bottom-six forward corps. It’s possible Lafferty bumps Zach Aston-Reese out of the lineup and shifts over to the right wing on a line with newly-acquired Noel Acciari.
There is no certainty that Lafferty will receive consistent playing time, but Toronto now has ample depth in its bottom-six and can test out a few different pairings throughout the March road trip. He is under contract through the 2023-24 season at a reasonable cap hit of $1.15 million.
Dubas likes the flexibility Lafferty brings to the lineup and is impressed by his speed.
"For me, the speed is the number one thing that he brings but also the versatility," Dubas said. "He is able to play centre and is able to play wing. With the forechecking — the competitiveness, and the tenacity on the forecheck — he is able to create turnovers up the ice and be physical and really competitive.
Dubas had to go all-in to keep pace in the Eastern Conference and acknowledged there might be more moves coming before Friday's trade deadline. If Toronto flames out in the first round, it’ll be impossible to say that the general manager didn’t try hard enough to bring enough stellar pieces in pursuit of the franchise’s first Cup since 1967.