Analysis: Maple Leafs Trade for Alex Galchenyuk

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The Toronto Maple Leafs have announced that they’ve acquired forward Alex Galchenyuk from the Carolina Hurricanes in exchange for prospect Yegor Korshkov and AHL veteran David Warsofsky.

For such a seemingly minor trade, there’s a lot that goes into this. Let’s get into it.

Alex Galchenyuk: Toronto’s Latest Project

Alex Galchenyuk has had what can only be described as a tough few seasons. Drafted 3rd overall in 2012 by the Montreal Canadiens, Galchenyuk was a very highly-touted prospect out of Sarnia of the OHL. He missed most of his draft year after a brutal knee injury, yet he was still the second forward off the board in 2012 (behind OHL teammate Nail Yakupov).

Even after that injury, Galchenyuk torched the OHL, leading the league in his D+1 year in points per game in a season where he also scored 27 points in 48 games in a shortened NHL season. He blew any other U19 NHLers out of the water, the next most successful player being 12th overall pick Mikhail Grigorenko with 5 points in 23 games.

Before long, it looked like the Montreal Canadiens had a budding star in their hands. Galchenyuk would become a consistent 40-50 point scorer within the next few years. “Chucky” had scored 30 goals in a season before he’d even turned 25.

After a 50-point season that involved some injuries, Canadiens GM Marc Bergevin did the almost unthinkable.

Bergevin swapped Galchenyuk in exchange for the Arizona Coyotes’ Max Domi.

The trade looked like a steal for Arizona. They’d acquired a 50-point player in exchange for a younger player that was struggling to replicate the success he had in his rookie season.

And then Max Domi scored 70 points as a member of the Montreal Canadiens.

Galchenyuk only scored 41, but on a team led in points by Clayton Keller with 47, it became clear that the Coyotes had a big offense problem.

So the Coyotes dealt Galchenyuk and top prospect Pierre-Olivier Joseph to Pittsburgh in exchange for Phil Kessel.

Kessel scored 92 points just two seasons prior and was still coming off an 82-point season. The man had already proven he could carry a struggling team in the Toronto Maple Leafs for most of his prime. The move was almost a no-brainer for the Coyotes, who desperately needed offense, and fast.

It didn’t work, but that’s unrelated. Back in Pittsburgh, the Penguins weren’t seeing great returns on Galchenyuk. He wasn’t clicking with two superstars in Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin and was producing at a career-low rate.

So they traded him. That’s a recurring theme here. Galchenyuk was alright in Minnesota… until he completely disappeared in the playoffs.

The Ottawa Senators decided to give him a shot. After all, they weren’t contending, and they wanted some bodies to act as a stopgap for some of their younger guys. Maybe putting him with stars wasn’t the solution, but it was simply giving him a bigger role!

It didn’t work. The Ottawa Senators shipped him out after he scored a singular goal in 8 games. Carolina set their target on Cedric Paquette of the Senators and managed to get Galchenyuk as a throw-in in exchange for Ryan Dzingel.

And then they told him to stay home, something that they’d also done with Anton Forsberg after Edmonton waived him earlier in the season.

Now, he’s in Toronto.

A New Plan

The Coyotes bet on Galchenyuk progressing. The Penguins thought he needed a boost from a superstar. The Wild just kind of threw him in and hoped for the best. The Senators did the same, thinking that he just needed to be the star of his line. The Hurricanes… just wanted to get some assets out of him.

Most of those teams have one thing in common. They kind of just threw Galchenyuk in their lineup and prayed he’d succeed.

As easy it is to joke about how the Leafs are next on the Alex Galchenyuk road trip, the Toronto Maple Leafs have a different plan.

Even though Galchenyuk hasn’t been able to replicate his success in Montreal, maybe there’s a solution that doesn’t involve the Penguins’ plan of “Crosby and Inshallah”.

Instead, what if this move wasn’t a depth move at all?

The Toronto Maple Leafs have obviously done their research, and it doesn’t take a million-dollar front office to tell you that Alex Galchenyuk has not been good.

Instead, I think this could be a passion project for the Leafs’ notably stellar player development staff.

In fact, I’m willing to say that maybe this move wasn’t a push from the usual guys in the front office, but maybe it’s the result of the team’s player development staff seeing something big in Alex Galchenyuk.

That reminded me of something I saw Jack Han, author of Hockey Tactics 2020 and former Leafs development staff member/Marlies assistant coach, tweet out a while ago. It’s also something he reposted after this trade.

No, I’m not saying Galchenyuk’s failures are the result of this specific action. Instead, I think Han does a great job of highlighting one of what appears to be many adjustable points that are potentially holding Galchenyuk back from what his potential once appeared to be.

Alex Galchenyuk is this player development team’s biggest project yet. If the Toronto Maple Leafs manage to succeed in their quest to “fix” Galchenyuk, I think they’ve unlocked an absolute gem.

If not… oh well! On to the next!

Where Will We See Him?

I do not think we see Alex Galchenyuk in the NHL any time soon. He doesn’t need to quarantine (he never left Canada) but, nonetheless, we won’t see him there yet.

If the Leafs did want to see him in the NHL immediately, he would’ve been claimed off waivers.

Instead, this move likely has no impact on this roster for the immediate future. Maybe they’ll make the most out of his temporary waiver ineligibility to get him in some NHL and AHL games after a while, but I think he sticks on the taxi squad.

I want to consider the remainder of the season almost like a trial run for Galchenyuk and the Leafs. Galchenyuk is a free agent at the end of this deal, as he turned 27 this month.

If the Leafs and Galchenyuk think something is there, I expect him to sign a cost-friendly deal for around the next two years.

If not… he walks! However, if Galchenyuk doesn’t succeed after working in Toronto and then chooses to walk, he risks never returning to the NHL after reaching his 7th NHL organization in four years.

There’s a lot at stake for Galchenyuk here, and this may be his best bet at ever becoming an everyday NHLer again.

Issues With Alex Galchenyuk

The most glaring issue to me is his knee. It just keeps getting injured, and the fear with knee injuries is always that it’ll be career-altering. That will be step number one for Toronto.

Everything else… is a mystery to me.

There’s so much going on with Alex Galchenyuk.

The Leafs love acquiring players with hockey IQ, but with Alex Galchenyuk, that’s notably a weak point for him.

A notable point that the Leafs (more specifically, Barb Underhill) will need to focus on is his skating.

It’s possible we barely see Galchenyuk in the NHL this year at all while he works with development staff. The team may be wise to treat him more like a prospect than a depth player.

The Players Going the Other Way

Of course, with every promising acquisition comes a promising departure. Maybe Issac Newton’s third law wasn’t addressing NHL trades, but the idea of every action causing a reaction applies here.

Yegor Korshkov

To say Yegor Korshkov’s time in the Leafs organization was tumultuous would be underselling it.

In 2015-16, the Leafs were bad. That’s all I’ll leave it at.

With the 1st overall pick in the 2016 NHL Entry Draft, the Toronto Maple Leafs selected Auston Matthews. Pretty decent player.

The Toronto Maple Leafs had the opportunity to follow that up with another amazing pick at 31st overall. The obvious pick? The Erie Otters’ Alex DeBrincat. The undersized forward had already fallen harder than expected. Noted draft guru Mark Hunter was an OHL guy, Alex DeBrincat scored 100 points in the OHL in his draft year. Seems like a match made in heaven, right?

Even if they didn’t pick DeBrincat, looking back, there were some good names picked in the same round.

Noted future star goaltender Carter Hart, rising young defenseman Samuel Girard, Jordan Kyrou (who’s on a 71-point pace so far this season). It’s kind of hard to miss there, just shoot at a dartboard.

Instead, they went completely off the board, picking a double-overager from Russia… at 31st overall.

Some rankings put Korshkov as high as 45th overall at the time, but the reality is, the Leafs didn’t really need to worry about not being able to grab him lower. The only projected competition at the time was the Winnipeg Jets… who didn’t end up picking until 79th overall (the Leafs had three more picks until then).

Nonetheless, Korshkov remained an interesting option, and right before he turned 23, Korshkov came to Canada after some rough seasons in the KHL due to injury. Injury struck Korshkov in the AHL, as a leg laceration turned into an infection that needed surgery.

Nonetheless, he scored 16 goals in 44 AHL games and scored in his lone NHL game.

Why Did He Leave?

This is a very important piece of this trade. I believe that Yegor Korshkov’s interest in returning to Toronto continued to thin over the last season or so.

@LNNInstagram, who also runs leafsnationnews on Instagram, tweeted that when asked about returning to Toronto, Korshkov wasn’t quite sure.

This lines up pretty well with what’s been rumoured and reported about Korshkov previously.

Think about it like this. If you’re Yegor Korshkov and you’re earning pretty good money starring in your home country, why are you bothering with the Leafs? Korshkov is already a great player in the KHL, and the Leafs won’t even guarantee him an NHL spot. What’s the point of toiling away in the AHL?

It goes even deeper than that, though. In an interview with Sportbox.ru, Korshkov confirmed two things.

  1. He didn’t just want to be a reserve player and requested to be loaned back to Lokomotiv Yaroslavl of the KHL.
  2. The Leafs had actually offered him a three-month loan initially, likely with the hopes of bringing Korshkov back to North America to start the NHL/AHL season (which wouldn’t end up starting until later).
    Instead, it was Korshkov’s camp that negotiated a full season loan, saying that they’d then go from there.

Keep in mind, this is well before free agency. By that point, the only depth player they’d signed was Alexander Barabanov months prior.

No Wayne Simmonds, no Joe Thornton, no Jimmy Vesey, and no Travis Boyd.

I’m not an insider, but I suspect that’s when both parties knew the end was coming along for Korshkov’s time as a Toronto Maple Leaf.

Yegor Korshkov will be 25 and an RFA by the time he’s even able to return to North America.

Will the Carolina Hurricanes be able to offer him more than what the Leafs had in terms of a roster spot? The team’s top-9 is pretty set, with the only pending UFA being Brock McGinn. Will Korshkov even come back to North America if he’s not given a good enough role?

The Carolina Hurricanes and Yegor Korshkov have two more seasons to figure that out before A. His rights expire if not signed or B. He’s eligible to be a UFA.

Korshkov is a promising player, but with his peak being a third-line secondary scorer, along with the increasing risk of him just not returning, the Leafs probably didn’t lose as big of an asset as one would think.

I’m not going to sit here and pretend that Yegor Korshkov is bad like I’ve seen others say. I honestly do think he can be a third liner on an NHL roster right now, and I think that potential will continue to be there.

However, it sounds like the time had come.

David Warsofsky

David Warsofsky is probably the player that brought these two teams together.

When Warsofsky was traded in the Kasperi Kapanen trade, I noted that this was probably an attempt from the Penguins to get rid of Warsofsky’s $400,000 AHL salary.

The Leafs didn’t have a problem with it, and it’s not why he’s being shipped out.

The truth is, the Toronto Marlies are just stacked at defense.

They have Rasmus Sandin (injured in the team’s opening game) and Timothy Liljegren, both guys who should be in the NHL. They have Calle Rosen, who’s been a phenomenal AHLer, not to mention Teemu Kivihalme, who’s been a very solid presence. They also already have prospects like Kristians Rubins, Mac Hollowell, and Joseph Duszak, all guys with NHL potential. It’s so crowded that they have Duszak playing the wing instead!

The team just didn’t have space for the AHL veteran, who’s been an amazing offensive defenseman in the AHL (not so much on the defensive end) throughout his career.

On the other hand, the Chicago Wolves, who recently became the Hurricanes’ AHL affiliate, employ a man by the name of Ryan Warsofsky as their head coach. Does that last name sound familiar?

If the Leafs were going to trade Warsofsky, what better than to trade him to a team coached by his older brother.

The Wolves are already 4-0. This move strengthens their roster even more.

I just thought that was a nice tidbit from this deal.

Moving Forward

This deal, in all likelihood, could just be nothing.

However, both sides have the potential to score big in this deal.

The Leafs are betting on their top-notch development staff to be the ones to finally bring something out of Alex Galchenyuk.

The Hurricanes get a safer asset here in Yegor Korshkov, their return mostly lies in getting Korshkov to come to Carolina.

It’s a smart deal from the Carolina Hurricanes, who get assets after acquiring their target, Cedric Paquette, from Ottawa.

However, I’m very intrigued to see how these teams handle the aftermath of this deal.

The Toronto Maple Leafs next play against the Ottawa Senators on February 17th at 7pm EST.

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Spencer White is an Editor of Hockey at Overtime Heroics. He writes about hockey, covering the Toronto Maple Leafs, Toronto Marlies, Newfoundland Growlers, and the Toronto Six. You can find him on Twitter at @FreeNylander, @MagicianMarner, and @LeafsMoves.