Why Maple Leafs Should Target the 29-year-old star After Nikita Zadorov’s Trade …

With the recent trade of Nikita Zadorov to the Vancouver Canucks on November 30, 2023, the Toronto Maple Leafs are now in need of a defenseman who can bring physicality to the team. While players like Chris Tanev from the Calgary Flames are potential options, the article suggests that a reunion with Ilya Lyubushkin, currently with the Anaheim Ducks, could be a more fitting choice.

The Maple Leafs have familiarity with Lyubushkin, having acquired him during the 2021-22 season when he was part of the Arizona Coyotes organization. In a trade on February 19, 2022, Lyubushkin and Ryan Dzingel were sent to Toronto in exchange for Nick Ritchie and a choice of a draft selection. During his time with the Maple Leafs, Lyubushkin played 31 games, showcasing his gritty style with two goals, four assists, 32 blocks, and 93 hits. He proved effective in breaking up offensive cycles, providing strength to the team’s blue line.

Lyubushkin’s compatibility with Morgan Rielly on the top defensive pairing was evident, with their styles complementing each other. The article suggests that a reunion could rekindle the chemistry between the two, enhancing the Maple Leafs’ defensive capabilities.

As Lyubushkin is a pending unrestricted free agent with a $2.75 million cap hit, the Maple Leafs could manage his salary, especially if John Klingberg remains on long-term injured reserve. The Anaheim Ducks might consider retaining up to 50% of Lyubushkin’s salary, but this would impact the trade price.

The article presents two mock trade scenarios, one without salary retention and another with 50% retention. In the first scenario, the Maple Leafs would offer a 2026 third-round pick and a seventh-round pick to the Ducks. The second scenario involves salary retention, reducing Lyubushkin’s cap hit to $1.35 million. The proposed trade includes Max Lajoie, a 2026 third-round pick, and a 2025 fifth-round pick going to the Ducks.

Maple Leafs Should Target Ducks' Lyubushkin After Zadorov Trade

The author emphasizes that while Lyubushkin may not be as physically imposing as Zadorov, he still brings a physical presence. The potential acquisition of Lyubushkin, along with Tanev, is seen as a way to make the Maple Leafs tougher and more competitive, especially in the playoffs. The article concludes by suggesting that a move to bring back Lyubushkin should be a priority for Maple Leafs’ GM Brad Treliving to strengthen the team’s blue line for a successful playoff run.

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