Toronto Maple Leafs trade Nick Ritchie to Arizona Coyotes for Ilya Lyubushkin and forward Ryan Dzingel

In a late-night trade Saturday, the Toronto Maple Leafs sent forward Nick Ritchie and a conditional draft pick to Arizona in exchange for defenseman Ilya Lyubushkin and forward Ryan Dzingel. The Coyotes will have their pick of the Leafs’ 2023 third-round pick, or the 2025 second-round pick.

“We are thrilled to have Nick join our team,” Coyotes general manager Bill Armstrong said. “He’s a big, tough and strong winger who will add depth and physicality to our attacking group. We thank Ilya and Ryan for all their contributions to our club and wish them the best for the future.”

It was the first step either team has taken in the buildup to the NHL’s March 21 trade deadline. Lyubushkin and Dzingel are unrestricted free agents this summer, and with no salary deductions, Toronto is outside of Ritchie’s $2.5 million cap reached now and next season.

Ritchie was the centerpiece of this trade, however, a winger who needs the fresh start that Arizona can provide. A native of the Greater Toronto Area, Ritchie was Anaheim’s 10th overall pick in the 2014 NHL Draft and signed a two-year, $5 million deal with Toronto in July after becoming an unrestricted free agent. when the Boston Bruins failed to give him a qualifying offer.

Leafs coach Sheldon Keefe started this season with Ritchie on Toronto’s first line, playing alongside Auston Matthews. Ritchie has never clicked there, or anywhere else, recording just two goals and nine points in 33 games this season.

Despite numerous opportunities, Ritchie eventually fell so far down the lineup that on January 6, Toronto placed him on waivers. Ritchie was cleared and reassigned first to the Leafs taxi team, then more recently to the Toronto Marlies of the American Hockey League. He appeared in two AHL games and scored one goal, before Saturday’s trade news, but Ritchie clearly wasn’t happy with his position in the Leafs organization.

“I think there are a number of things,” Ritchie told reporters Thursday of what went wrong in Toronto. “I probably don’t have enough time to dwell on it. I’m just playing. And we’ll see how it goes.”

Given Ritchie’s salary, the cap-strapped Leafs were looking for new potential touchdown spots ahead of the deadline. They have found the right partner.

Lyubushkin, 27, is in his fourth NHL season after coming to North America ahead of the 2018-19 KHL season. He was never drafted and signed a one-year free agent contract with Arizona in May 2018. Lyubushkin has since played 180 NHL games with one goal and 19 points.

In Toronto, Lyubushkin adds depth to a blue line that relies heavily on contributions from young players like Timothy Liljegren and Rasmus Sandin. He’s also on a reasonable one-year, $1.35 million contract.

Dzingel, 29, signed a one-year, $1.1 million free agent contract in July. He has four goals and seven points in 26 games this season.

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