In a late-night trade on Saturday, the Toronto Maple Leafs sent forward Nick Ritchie and a conditional draft choice to Arizona in exchange for defender Ilya Lyubushkin and forward Ryan Dzingel. The Coyotes will have their pick of the Leafs’ third-round choice in 2023, or second-round pick in 2025.
“We are excited to have Nick join our roster,” said Coyotes’ general manager Bill Armstrong. “He is a big, tough, strong winger who will add depth and physicality to our forward group. We thank Ilya and Ryan for all their contributions to our club and wish them all the best in the future.”
This was the first move either team has made in the ramp up towards the NHL’s March 21 trade deadline. Both Lyubushkin and Dzingel are unrestricted free agents this summer, and with no salary retained, Toronto is out from under Ritchie’s $ 2.5 million cap hit now and next season.
Ritchie was the centerpiece of this transaction though, a winger in need of the fresh start Arizona can provide. A native of the Greater Toronto area, Ritchie was the 10th overall pick by Anaheim in the 2014 NHL Entry Draft and inked a two-year, $ 5 million deal with Toronto in July after becoming an unrestricted free agent when the Boston Bruins did not give him a qualifying offer.
Leafs’ coach Sheldon Keefe started this season with Ritchie on Toronto’s top line, playing alongside Auston Matthews. Ritchie never clicked there, or anywhere else, recording just two goals and nine points in 33 games this season.
Despite ample opportunity, Ritchie eventually fell so far down the lineup that, on Jan. 6, Toronto placed him on waivers. Ritchie cleared and was reassigned first to the Leafs’ taxi squad and then more recently to the American Hockey League’s Toronto Marlies. He appeared in two AHL games and scored one goal, prior to the trade news on Saturday, but Ritchie was clearly not pleased with his standing in the Leafs’ organization.
“I think there’s a number of things,” Ritchie told reporters on Thursday about what had gone wrong in Toronto. “I probably do not have enough time to get into that. I’m just down here playing. And we’ll see how it plays out.”
Given Ritchie’s salary, the cap-strapped Leafs were looking for potential new landing spots ahead of the deadline. They found the right partner.
Lyubushkin, 27, is in his fourth NHL season after coming to North America ahead of the 2018-19 season from the KHL. He was never drafted and signed a one-year, free-agent contract with Arizona in May 2018. Lyubushkin has since appeared in 180 NHL games with one goal and 19 points.
In Toronto, Lyubushkin adds some depth to a blueline that’s relied heavily on contributions from young players like Timothy Liljegren and Rasmus Sandin. He’s also on a reasonable one-year, $ 1.35 million deal.
Dzingel, 29, is on a one-year, $ 1.1 million free-agent contract signed in July. He’s registered four goals and seven points in 26 games this season.