Kristen ShiltonESPN NHL Reporter3 minute read
The Toronto Maple Leafs are all set to win. NOW.
That’s the message general manager Kyle Dubas sent Friday night when he acquired forwards Ryan O’Reilly and Noel Acciari from the St. Louis Blues for prospect Mikhail Abramov, forward Adam Gaudette, the pick first-round pick of the Leafs in 2023, Ottawa Senators in 2023. third-round pick and second-round pick of Toronto in 2024. The Blues also retained 50% of O’s $7.5 million cap. Reilly.
It’s an important trade that brings the Stanley Cup-winning backgrounds of O’Reilly and Conn Smythe — from the Blues’ 2019 championship run — to the Toronto locker room. Dubas hopes the Leafs, who are second in the Atlantic Division and fourth overall with 74 points, can be inspired to similar success.
“The team was in the top five in the standings (before); we’re there again this year,” Dubas said on Saturday. “When you’re there, your goal, I think, has to be that you try to win. And if you try to win, you try to win the Stanley Cup. We try to win, and that’s the message. Nothing less than that, we will all be disappointed.
To seal the deal with O’Reilly, Dubas enlisted the help of a third team — Minnesota — to take on 25% of the veteran’s hit cap. The Wild launched forward Josh Pillar, a 2019 fourth-round pick, into the deal and received the Leafs’ 2025 fourth-round pick. Pillar had 12 points in 12 games this season with the Saskatoon Blades of the WHL.
O’Reilly, 32, will be an unrestricted free agent this summer. He was the big fish of the trade, while Acciari plans to play a mid-range role. Dubas was delighted not to part ways with any of the Leafs’ coveted top prospects, including forward Matthew Knies, but admitted losing more draft capital weighed on him.
Toronto is down to four picks in the first three rounds of the next three drafts.
“I would be lying if I said it wasn’t my concern,” Dubas said. “But my view is that I would much rather keep the young players that we have signed. We know them, we know what they are talking about. We have our projection of their potential without overdoing it. Our ability to have a certain success in this area dictated it. I don’t think that’s sustainable (keep letting go of choices) in the very long term. But I think with where we are right now, we need to do (what) we have to do. And with the way these guys have progressed, I was just more comfortable moving the picks around.
Dubas is also happy with O’Reilly’s health. The center, who has 12 goals and 19 points in 40 games, broke his foot on December 31 and just returned to play on February 11.
Toronto played in St. Louis a few days before O’Reilly was injured, and Dubas saw him resume with no problems.
“Seeing him come back healthy and playing well gives you peace of mind,” Dubas said. “And it’s not like it’s a muscle problem, it’s a broken bone. So once he’s back healthy and healed and playing, and ‘He’s playing well, and you see him there, it puts everything to rest so he’s healthy and ready to roll.”
Leafs coach Sheldon Keefe said O’Reilly and Acciari should be in the lineup against Montreal on Saturday night. Keefe predicted that O’Reilly could play a number of top-six roles for the Leafs and that he would use the rest of this regular season to find optimal combinations heading into the playoffs.
How long O’Reilly will stay in Toronto after that remains to be seen. Dubas said he hasn’t engaged in any kind of extension talks with O’Reilly’s camp, nor does he plan to do so. Not yet anyway.
“You want to see how the player fits in where you are, if he likes it here, if it’s the right choice,” Dubas said. “I like people living together before they get married rather than taking that step without it. That’s just my point of view.”