GM: Maple Leafs in Cup or Bust mode after the trade

The Toronto Maple Leafs are determined 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, a first-round pick. of the Leafs in 2023, the 2023 selection of the Ottawa Senators. third-round pick and 2024 second-round pick out of Toronto. The Blues also retained 50% of O’Reilly’s $7.5 million salary cap.

It was a significant change that brings O’Reilly’s Stanley Cup and Conn Smythe’s winning record, from the Blues championship in 2019, 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 achieve similar success.

“The team has been in the top five in the standings [before]; we’re there again this year,” Dubas said Saturday. “When you’re there, I think your goal has to be that you’re trying to win. And if you’re trying to win, you’re trying to win the Stanley Cup. We are trying to win, and that is the message. Anything less than that, we’ll all be disappointed.”

To finalize the O’Reilly deal, Dubas enlisted the help of a third team, Minnesota, to take 25% of the veteran’s salary cap. The Wild included forward Josh Pillar, a 2019 fourth-round pick, in the deal and received the Leafs’ 2025 fourth-round pick. Pillar has 12 points in 12 games this season with the WHL’s Saskatoon Blades.

O’Reilly, 32, will be an unrestricted free agent this summer. He was the big shot in the trade, while Acciari plans to play a role six in the middle. Dubas was pleased not to part with any of the Leafs’ top coveted prospects, including forward Matthew Knies, but admitted losing more substantial draft capital weighs on him.

Toronto has just four picks remaining in the first three rounds of the next three drafts.

“I’d be lying if I said I don’t care about that,” Dubas said. “But my take on it is that I would rather keep the young players that we have signed. We know them, we know what they do. We have our projection of what their potential is without going overboard. Our ability to have some success in that arena dictated this. No I think it’s sustainable [to keep giving up picks] for the very long term. But I think where we are now, we have to do what we have to do. And with the way those guys have progressed, I felt more comfortable moving the picks.”

Dubas is also happy with O’Reilly’s health. The center, who has 12 goals and 19 points in 40 games, suffered a broken foot on December 31 and returned to action on February 11.

Toronto played St. Louis days before O’Reilly went down, and Dubas has seen him bounce back without a hitch.

“Seeing him healthy and playing well calms you down,” Dubas said. “And it’s not like it’s a muscle thing, it’s a broken bone. So once he’s clean and clear and playing, and playing well, and you see him out there, it all settles down so he’s healthy and ready to roll. “

Leafs coach Sheldon Keefe said both O’Reilly and Acciari are expected to be in the lineup against Montreal on Saturday night. Keefe projected that O’Reilly could take on any number of roles in the Leafs’ top six and would use the remainder of this regular season to find optimal combinations ahead of the postseason.

How long O’Reilly will stay with Toronto after that remains to be seen. Dubas said he hasn’t been involved in any kind of outreach talks with the O’Reilly camp, nor does he plan to. Not yet, anyway.

“You want to see how the player fits in where you are, if they like it here, if they fit in well,” Dubas said. “I like people to live together before they get married instead of taking that step without it. That’s just my opinion.”

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