The acquisition of Jack Campbell saw Stanley Cup winning enforcer Kyle Clifford jump ship to the Leafs. While his effort and bodyguard presence on the ice has been greatly needed, he’s also inspired more from his teammates.
With a goal and a fight on Thursday night, Kasperi Kapanen has turned into a bit of a bulldozer for this Leafs team. His greatest aspect of play is his insane speed. When he takes off through the neutral zone there aren’t too many defensemen who can catch up to him, showing this in Sunrise this week.
His goal was greatly needed against the Panthers, showing off his sniping ability, albeit on a should-have-been-saved chance. You can’t complain about pucks on net in the NHL and Kapanen has deserved more scoresheet credit in recent weeks.
Finishing the game an assist shy of the Gordie Howe hattrick, Kapanen drew the admiration of his team’s enforcer, Kyle Clifford. Kapanen dropped the gloves on the 20th of February in the 4-0 win over Pittsburgh earning this praise from Clifford:
Kyle Clifford was impressed by Kasperi Kapanen's fight: "Kappy's a fiery guy and he's got a competitive spirit in him. You don't expect him to do that on a nightly basis, but that's what makes good teams great." #Leafs
Kapanen is likely known as a skill guy with his speed and shooting ability, but now dropping the gloves twice in a week, on top of scoring in both games he fought in, shows there is an edge and much-needed different dimension to Kapanen’s game.
As a versatile forward who moves up and down the Leafs lineup as needed, Kapanen needs the physical edge to make an impact on the bottom six and needs the finesse and skills to fit in alongside Auston Matthews or John Tavares.
There is some subtext to Clifford’s comments, which he doubled down on after the win over the Panthers. Clifford, 29, has seen what it takes for a team to go deep into the playoffs and succeed. Maybe his comments on Kapanen’s development into a Swiss Army Knife on the ice suggest the Finnish forward has what it takes to make an impact on the Leafs postseason hopes.
The Leafs have brought in some much-needed grit to their lineup with the addition of Kyle Clifford. He may have been a throw-in player for the Kings, but Clifford is clearly happy to be home and will be a key piece moving forward!
Hometown is a little bit of a stretch, but Kyle Clifford is technically coming home after his move from the LA Kings in a three-player (two pick) deal with the Maple Leafs. Clifford, born in Ayr, Ontario, grew up a Leafs fan just an over an hour away from the City, and judging by his reaction on Twitter, he is more than excited to be back home!
Yes, that is Kyle Clifford’s verified Twitter account with the image being the Maple Leafs logo. And, yes that is totally awesome. He did this with the Kings, too, the team he is sentimentally connected to after being drafted by them in the second round of the 2009 draft and playing parts of ten NHL seasons with them.
The important part of this tweet was the last sentence – “Excited to be coming home.” Not only are players looking at Toronto as an attractive destination because the team is strong, but hometown players are finally wanting to return here with Clifford joining Tavares a few years prior.
It’s always important to trade for and sign good players but it’s equally important to have players that want to be playing for the team – contract value aside. Clifford is one of these players. He’ll bring physicality, a little bit of offense, and some much-needed team toughness with the Leafs, on this the final year of his deal, buying into the system and helping the team grow.
The Kings are eating half of his $1.6m cap hit on the final year of his 5-year contract, making the player attainable and cap-friendly to Dubas and Co. This playoff push and potential playoff run will be Clifford’s tryout for the team next year and/or his platform for free agency in the offseason.
Welcome aboard and welcome home, Clifford. Leafs Nation is as excited to have you as you are to be here!
Well, that didn’t take long! After back-to-back losses to crucial conference competition Kyle Dubas wastes NO time in pulling the trigger to alleviate two issues in the current Leafs team. On paper, he’s hit another home run (or two!).
Talk about hitting the nail on the head. So many people were looking at Michael Hutchinson and suggesting that the Leafs would need to massively cut through their active roster and/or prospect pool to get in someone like Georgiev to replace him, but no one thought a sensible move for Jack Campbell would be on the cards.
Where Dubas showed patience with this move is in his treatment of Hutchinson since Sheldon Keefe had taken over. The firing of Mike Babcock was an emphatic slam on the reset button. This alleviated a ton of pressure on the likes of Mitch Marner, Tyson Barrie, and William Nylander, but also Hutchinson, who had a very prominent atrocious start to the year.
Since Keefe came in, Hutchinson went 4-4 in games he appeared in, including three relief appearances that were all chalked up losses when he entered, other than the Florida game this week. As a starter, he was 4-1 and looked to be the right man for the job, on the whole.
Where Dubas was swift in his decision to make a trade was by pulling the trigger post-New York loss. Hutchinson took the third period off against Florida in a must-win game and he couldn’t come up with a save against the Rangers when the team needed him. With Anderson sidelined and a Friday-Saturday back-to-back coming up this weekend, it was now or never. The Leafs aren’t out of the playoff hunt in the slightest and Dubas’ move for Campbell ensures this.
Campbell joins the Leafs having played in 20 games this season, posting an 8-10-2 record on the awful Kings this season. Despite the team’s play, he still posted a 2.85 GAA and a 0.900 S% this season. At 27-years old, Campbell seemingly passed up the likes of Jonathan Quick in LA, who the Kings are committed to, so was delt to acquire assets in a rebuild. It’s a big upgrade for the Leafs, who have a goalie, now, who will act as a solid backup while actually pushing Anderson for games down the stretch.
An olive branch to those who want more grit, truculence, and abject violence in this Leafs team. After watching Zach Hyman get served by Jacob Trouba and John Tavares try his bet to get physical at the end of the Rangers game, Kyle Clifford is a welcomed addition to this Leafs team which is far more “speed and skill” than it is “physical and violent.”
This graphic from TSN’s First Up with Lansberg and Colaiacovo tells the tale pretty well. Kyle Clifford brings the physical edge to the bottom unit the Leafs have needed for quite some time. He’ll keep the opponents on their toes like a Ryan Reeves or Zach Kassian, he’ll chip in with some offensive talent, and he’ll provide a different element to team play.
As mentioned, he can add some offense, albeit in a limited sense. This season, Clifford has scored six goals and added eight assists in 52 games. This isn’t ‘Rocket Richard’ level of production, but it makes the addition of a bruiser, not a net loss when it comes to offensive production, too.
Dubas patiently allowed Trevor Moore to come back from his lengthy concussion layoff and gave him five games to make an impact. Moore failed to score and had a -2 rating over this stretch, matching his slumping season where he’s scored just three goals and two assists this year.
Moore is a hard worker, small, skilled forward who is destined for a role on the bottom-six, with upside to move up the lineup in a pinch. Unfortunately for him, the Leafs have many players who fit this model and also have Jeremy Bracco and Nick Robertson who look to fill this position in the future. Dubas’ decision to move on from Moore at an instant to get Clifford in the deal shows his willingness to overlook history and fond feelings to improve the team, while also sending Moore back to California, where he’s from, to ease the move as a silver lining.
Overall, the Leafs received a better backup goalie with the potential to sign him for future seasons and added a physical, player-protecting enforcer all for the cost of Trevor Moore, San Jose’s 3rd round pick, and a conditional third-round pick. Great value for the price paid. Kyle Dubas has done it again, bolstered the team early to gel the players, increase their impact with more time left in the season, and operating prior to the trade market being set near the deadline. Another home run for the GM.
The Leafs fended off Ryan Reeves and the Las Vegas Golden Knights to earn their third straight win to stay undefeated in November. And, while Reeves decided to leave the Buds’ stars alone, will and should Kyle Dubas bring in the linked-to enforcer a lot of people think they need?
Kyle Clifford – the enforcer the Leafs ‘need’?
With the LA Kings passing through town the trade rumor popped up – are the Leafs trying to bring in Kyle Clifford to defend their young stars? Maybe it was created simply because the two teams faced off recently, but regardless the link makes sense when you examine the strikes against the Leafs.
Not since Matt Martin have the Leafs had a legitimate fighter on their team, and the younger Leafs players adored him. Martin was close with Mitch Marner above anyone else on the team, and it makes sense – Marner needs the freedom that an enforcer brings to the team to create offense by keeping the opposition in check from debilitating checks or cheap shots. The same goes for Matthews, Nylander, Rielly, Barrie, and realistically every other Leaf on the roster.
Clifford would slot in on the fourth line’s left-wing. This unit is made up of Trevor Moore, Frederick Gauthier, Dmytro Timashov, Jason Spezza, and Nick Shore, meaning that someone will lose their job indefinitely to facilitate another member of the fourth line timeshare. If the Leafs brought him in, it should be mentioned, he wouldn’t be an everyday starter. If Reeves’ Knights are in town -throw him in, if the Bruins are on the schedule next – Clifford starts, but this team build on speed and will keep that mantra alive in games where he isn’t needed.
Statistically speaking, the 28-year-old enforcer had his best offensive season in the NHL last year, RACKING UP 21 points and 96 penalty minutes in his 72 games played. You don’t trade for Clifford’s point production though, you trade for him to add some grit, truculence and to shut up the likes of Brian Burke for five seconds.
Would this be a “loss” for Kyle Dubas?
Many Dubas haters would look at a trade for Clifford as him buckling under fan-pressure and recanting on his beliefs that this Leafs team doesn’t need a physical element. On the contrary, however, I – a loud and proud Kyle Dubas supporter (go Badgers) – think this can and should be spun in a positive light should he pull the trigger on a deal.
Only Siths deal in absolutes and Kyle Dubas opening up to the folly of his current game plan for team selection would show growth and an open mind in a business full of arrogant, uncompromising executives.
If anything, Dubas has shown that he is forward-thinking and on the cutting-edge of new-age NHL ideology. What he needs to now show is that he is still connected to the now, connected to the fans and that he isn’t going to ignore history over the past few playoff runs and try to out-skate physicality.
I’m all for the Leafs being a fast, dynamic team that burns you with speed and relentless effort of grinding you down over the extent of a game. I am also a strong believer that protecting your assets on the ice and policing through players should be adopted by this team. Don’t abandon the makeup of this team, but sacrifice some game time to make your stars feel protected in-game.