Ryan O'Byrne #3 of the Colorado Avalanche checks Patric Hornqvist #27 of the Nashville Predators at the Bridgestone Arena on April 2, 2013 in Nashville, Tennessee.
Photograph by: Frederick Breedon/Getty Images, Postmedia News
TORONTO — It was not exactly a vote of confidence. More like a lukewarm endorsement.
In an ideal world, the Toronto Maple Leafs wanted to add a goaltender at Wednesday’s NHL trade deadline. Not to necessarily replace James Reimer or Ben Scrivens, but to augment the inexperienced duo. They had received permission to talk with Calgary’s Miikka Kiprusoff and tried desperately to convince him to waive his no-trade clause. They reportedly talked again to Vancouver about acquiring Roberto Luongo.
But by the time the 3 p.m. ET deadline rolled round, Toronto’s only move was bringing in 28-year-old depth defenceman Ryan O’Byrne from Colorado in exchange for a fourth-round draft pick in 2014. And so, with 13 games remaining and the team sitting in fifth place in the Eastern Conference standings, the Leafs will continue with most of the same group that got them this far.
“Nothing changed at all,” general manager Dave Nonis said in a news conference at Air Canada Centre. “I know there was a big deal about goaltending. There always has been in this marketplace. The benefit of bringing Miikka Kiprusoff in would have been we weren’t moving any one of our goalies out. And we always said that if we could get some veteran presence to help these guys along and give them some experience and some tips, that it would have been an ideal situation.
“I had that discussion with Miikka directly. I think that part of him was excited about that, and part of his apprehension was not having his heart in it 100 per cent and coming here and letting us down. That was the direction we wanted to head.”
Instead, a 25-year-old (Reimer) and a 26-year-old (Scrivens) with a combined 123 NHL games and zero NHL playoff experience will lead the team.
That might not be necessarily a bad thing. Reimer, who has won his last three games and has not lost in regulation in his last seven starts, has a better save percentage (. 920) this season than Luongo (. 904) and Kiprusoff (. 868) and as many wins (13) as both combined.
“We’re happy with the goaltending,” Nonis said. “We have two quality goaltenders. We’re not trying to move one of them out. We wanted to add to that group. But if we couldn’t, those guys have earned the right to play.
“(Reimer is) still a young goaltender. It’s not about his ability. We’re fine with his ability. His play has been exceptional. It was just about getting him some experience to help him. There was nothing more to it than that.”
While the Leafs were unable to add that experience in net, the team beefed up its blue line with the acquisition of O’Byrne. The 6-foot-5 and 240-pound defenceman, who ranks second on the Avalanche in hits and is fourth in blocked shots, has appeared in 19 playoff games.
“He’s going to be one of our eight defencemen,” said Nonis, who added that O’Byrne would likely play on the second defensive pairing alongside former Avalanche teammate John-Michael Liles, Mike Kostka or Jake Gardiner. “He’s not going to come in here and take over our defensive corps. He’s a defensive defenceman. We feel he can play with good players.”
It was a small move. But for where this team is, both in terms of age and in the standings, it was probably the right one.
Nonis said that this is the first year in his Leafs tenure in which the club is in playoff mode as opposed to selling off players for draft picks. At the same time, he knows that the team is not one or two pieces away from contending for the Stanley Cup. So the plan was to try to add some depth without disrupting the current lineup or giving away the future.
“I didn’t see a blockbuster,” Nonis said of the trade landscape available to him. “I think everyone that made some deals made some modest improvements. And that’s all that was available to most teams.
“The message (to the Leafs) is: We’re happy with their play. They’ve put us in a good position.”
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