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Bill Armstrong got an early start on the NHL trade deadline. The Coyotes general manager shipped impending free-agent defenseman Ilya Lyubushkin and impending free-agent forward Ryan Dzingel to the Toronto Maple Leafs on Saturday evening in exchange for forward Nick Ritchie and a conditional draft pick.
There was no salary retained in the deal. As for the pick, the Coyotes will choose either Toronto’s third-round pick in 2023 or a second-round pick in 2025.
“It gives us an option that if a player is there or we think it’s a strong draft, we can go with a third round pick,” Armstrong said. “But if we think that we want to wait and use that pick later on, maybe to package a whole bunch of picks together to acquire a player, it gives us an option.”
Ritchie, 26, is under contract through the 2022-23 season. He carries a cap hit of $2.5 million but an actual salary next season of $3.3 million. Armstrong said the Coyotes tried to acquire Ritchie this summer but lost out to Toronto. Ritchie played 33 games for the Maple Leafs this year, but Toronto waived him in January and assigned him to the team’s AHL affiliate in February.
“We’re gonna put him in a good situation,” Armstrong said. “He’s got to dig in and just be a consistent hard player to play against every single night. If he does that, good things will happen for him.
“Nick Ritchie helps us. He makes us a bigger, stronger, tougher team. He’s shown in the past that he can add secondary scoring. I knew him back from the day when he was a powerhouse playing for the Peterborough Petes and got drafted fairly high in the NHL Draft (10th overall in 2014). He’s had some learning curves about what it takes to play in the National Hockey League. It’s a hard league and you’ve got to play hard every single shift. We need secondary scoring, we need another big body in our lineup and he brings that, and he also has a tricky element where he can protect his teammates and also himself. That’s a bonus for us to have.”
That said, this deal was mainly about acquiring another draft asset. This will continue to be Armstrong’s modus operandi at the trade deadline as he looks to build a deep and sustainable foundation through the draft.
“We’ve always been a club (at least) right now that has tried to generate assets,” Armstrong said. “We’re not going to hide behind anything. If we can gain more assets, we’re going to do that. That’s been our whole game plan since the time I’ve come in, since the time we moved Derek Stepan is to gain assets and get to the draft and take advantage of those draft picks.”
Lyubushkin has played four seasons for the Coyotes since they signed him as a free agent out of the KHL and Yarsoslavl Lokomotiv in 2018, in the wake of that team’s tragedy. He had one goal and 19 points in his Arizona tenure. The Coyotes signed Dzingel this summer to a one-year, $1.1 million deal.
For Toronto, Lybushkin will add defensive depth for the playoffs with his size, his right-handed shot, his physical game and better than average mobility. Toronto waived Dzingel the following day and San Jose claimed him.
Lyubushkin became a fan favorite in Arizona, both for his big hits and for his easy smile. He was well liked in the dressing room and by media, despite the language barrier.
“Boosh is a heart-and-soul player who played hard and laid it on the line for us,” coach André Tourigny said. “He doesn’t have a bad day. He showed up every day to work. He’s a great guy and I think Leafs nation will like his work ethic and his commitment to his team.”
Top photo: Nick Ritchie (Getty Images)
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