Photo Credit: Vancouver Canucks / Twitter

How Did Josh Leivo End Up Being Available For So Little?

On Monday, December 3, 2018, the Toronto Maple Leafs traded Josh Leivo to the Vancouver Canucks in exchange for Michael Carcone. While Carcone was in the midst of another solid season for Utica, many fans were left wondering how Jim Benning had winkled Kyle Dubas into trading an NHLer—and a former highly-rated prospect—for a career AHL player.

This is how.


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Josh Leivo’s Ranking As A Prospect Over The Years

Josh Leivo was drafted by the Toronto Maple Leafs in the third round of the 2011 NHL Entry Draft, at 86th overall. The 2010/11 OHL regular season saw Leivo put up just 30 points in 64 games for the Sudbury Wolves—but then he exploded for 13 points in eight playoff games, explaining his somewhat lofty draft position.

Leivo’s offensive eruption continued in his Draft+1 season—also with the Wolves—as he put up 73 points in 66 games and earned a late one-game audition with the Toronto Marlies. Despite this success, Leivo was ranked as the 19th best Maple Leaf prospect by HockeysFuture in 2012.

He continued to pile up the points in the 2012/13 OHL season, though a trade from Sudbury to the Kitchener Rangers partway through the year slowed him down some. He still managed to finish with 73 points in 63 games, with 12 more to follow over ten playoff games. After all that junior action, Leivo earned a lengthier pro audition—playing four regular season games for the Marlies and three more in the playoffs, and finishing with a respectable three points. Predictably, Leivo skyrocketed up the Maple Leafs’ prospect rankings, with HockeysFuture having him at eighth overall by early 2013.


Leivo At The Pro Level 

The 2013/14 season is when Leivo really made his presence felt in the Toronto organization. Building on his previous auditions with the team, Leivo took the Marlies and the AHL by storm. He finished fourth in team scoring with an impressive rookie total of 42 points in 59 games, and he played his first seven NHL games while scoring two points in the process. With some legitimate pro success under his belt, Leivo again leapfrogged other prospects in the Leafs system—by the fall of 2014 HockeysFuture had him at second overall, with William Nylander taking the top spot. 

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It’s probably fair to say that 2014 is the year in which Leivo’s stock within the Maple Leafs’ organization hit its peak. After the 2014/15 season, he’d plummeted in most rankings of Toronto’s prospect cupboard—dropping from second to eighth overall in Sportsnet’s estimation. Leivo’s production with the Marlies did regress to just 32 points in 51 games after a 9-game stint in the big league resulted in a single goal, but his sophomore slump isn’t the only reason his stock dropped.

At this point in Leivo’s career, the Toronto Maple Leafs began a youth movement in earnest. As Leivo was surpassed by younger prospects at the AHL level like Nylander, Connor Brown, and Brendan Leipsic, the Leafs added players like Mitch Marner, Travis Dermott, and Jeremy Bracco in the 2015 Entry Draft. The prospect cupboard was starting to get full, and Leivo was already starting to be squeezed out—but Toronto’s lack of depth at the NHL level would soon create an opportunity for Leivo to move up to the big leagues.

The 2015/16 season saw Leivo bounce back nicely, racking up 48 points in 51 regular season games and then 12 more in 15 playoff games as the Marlies made a decent run. Leivo also received his longest and most successful NHL audition yet with 12 games and an impressive five goals—but no assists to go along with them.


Why Couldn’t He Crack The Maple Leafs?

After that, Leivo was pretty much a full-time NHLer—in terms of his roster spot, that is. As the Leafs continued to add younger prospects to their system, Leivo’s development became less of a priority. A number of players with greater potential—including Marner, Nylander, Brown, Kasperi Kapanen, and Auston Matthews—appeared on the scene as a cavalcade of rookies. As a result, Leivo spent most of the 2016/17 and 2017/18 seasons in the Toronto pressbox as a healthy scratch, playing just 29 games total, and the loss of his waiver eligibility in 2017 meant he couldn’t be freely sent down. Leivo was in a tough place.

Although he still signed an extension with the team by November of 2017, by February of 2018 Leivo was asking for a trade. Leafs GM Kyle Dubas elected to hang on to Leivo and make a handshake agreement instead. Dubas later reflected that “I gave them my word that if there was a situation coming up where he would not be in the lineup night in and night out, we would avoid that and we would try to find a spot for him where he would have a great opportunity.”

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As the 2017/18 season opened, Josh Leivo was the major beneficiary of the #NylanderWatch, sliding into the roster spot that Nylander had vacated. Leivo dressed for 27 games through October and November—nearly doubling his career total in the process—though he didn’t receive much opportunity from Mike Babcock at just over ten minutes of average icetime.

With Nylander finally putting pen to paper on November 30, the writing was on the wall for Josh Leivo and the Toronto Maple Leafs. True to his word, it seems as though Dubas flipped Leivo to the first team that asked about him, and that lucky caller was Jim Benning.

And that’s the long-and-short of how Josh Leivo went from being the second-highest rated Toronto Maple Leafs prospect to being traded for a player most Vancouver Canucks fans didn’t know existed.


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Can He Still Succeed In Vancouver?

Josh Leivo’s development path as a prospect for the Toronto Maple Leafs was normal—even above expectations at times—until he started to become a regular pressbox fixture. Those circumstances—combined with an ongoing influx of new forwards—conspired to keep Leivo out of the lineup and stall his development. In short, Leivo was pushed off of the Toronto roster by younger, better wingers.

Fortunately, that’s not going to be as much of a factor with the Canucks—and that’s putting it mildly. Bo Horvat has been flanked by the likes of Tim Schaller and Sam Gagner thus far in the 2018/19 season, which means that Leivo should receive an immediate top-six opportunity in Vancouver—something he never really got in Toronto. And if his Tuesday debut with the team is any indication, it’s an opportunity that he intends to make the most of.

  • Steve Dangle had Leivo as the second-best prospect in the Leafs’ system in an article for Leafs Nation back at the start of 2012/2013 I think. Possibly 2013/2014.

    It’s amusing that the Canucks essentially swapped one former Leafs prospect who couldn’t quite crack the NHL (Leipsic) for another (Leivo). It’ll be fun to see what Leivo’s capable of with more ice time though – he could end up being a very solid middle-six player. Fingers crossed.

    • North Van Halen

      I’m not sure we can characterize him as that yet but it sure seems hes going to need a little time getting used to playing with Petey & Brock. There were a couple of times he could have either made, or dished the puck to Petey for, controlled entries and he dumped it in instead.
      He’ll need to be more aware of who he’s playing with and look to dish instead of dump if he’s going to get a lasting run with those guys.

  • M Bossy

    Even though Toronto had to move Leivo, I still think Benning did a good job here and deserves credit. I honestly think that if this was the other way around, Benning would’ve been destroyed for getting fleeced. (see: Vanek/Motte).
    Anyways, good article.

    • The “Benning got fleeced on Vanek” narrative was invalid right out of the gate and continues to be validated by Motte’s play. Benning turned a UFA (Vanek) into a young roster player who, although a 4th liner / penalty killer, has contributed more effort and scoring (including 2 shorthanded goals) on a nightly basis than most of the veterans.

      In this case, Benning turned another free agent with little prospect of playing in the NHL into another young roster player, one with Top 9 potential. Dubas didn’t get fleeced but he’s certainly experiencing an anticipated downside to signing Tavares.

      • How does this have anything to do with Tavares?

        Dubas recouped something for Leivo. The Canucks lost Leipsic on waivers for nothing. The anticipated downside of signing Jay Beagle?

        Dubas did well to recoup anything for a player who wasn’t good enough to regularly play on a deep Toronto team and would otherwise have been lost on waivers.

        • Here’s my take on the situation: Signing Tavares put a ton of pressure on Dubas with regards to the salary cap. Nylander can see how much Tavares is making and how much Marner and Matthews will make (based on the chatter from talking heads). Nylander doesn’t want to be the guy getting the least because his contract is up first. Leivo getting traded in such a hasty manner (literally hours to make a roster deadline) is a direct result of the holdout, which could have been avoided in my opinion. If Nylander was signed and playing from the start of the season, there would have not been a need to dump Leivo and Dubas probably could have gotten more for him.

          Dubas has a track record as being an exceptional GM based on his work with the Greyhounds. But I’m not ready to buy into the hype, I’m still skeptical until he demonstrates more savvy NHL level transactions. It’s like John Chayka, he had a reputation as a whiz kid yet his team sucks. Dubas created the salary imbalance and I’d like to see how he resolves it while making Toronto a legit, balanced cup competitor.

        • DJ_44

          The Canucks lost Leipsic on waivers for nothing.

          The converse of this is the Canucks got Leipsic for a (free) UFA signing. They are not farther ahead or behind. The decision was made Leipsic was not going to be part of the Canucks moving forward. I think it is not out of the realm of possibilities that Leipsic may have been the player going to Toronto if he had cleared.

          In the end they gave up an UDFA in Carcone (who I kinda liked in Utica) for a Leafs second round pick.

          • Leivo was actually drafted in the 3rd round. But Leivo is more than a draft pick which is just potential, he’s proved he can play at the NHL level and is a legit roster player. Overall, he’s a 0.34 PPG and 50% Corsi/Fenwick player who was only given 10:49 TOI on average. Ironically, Leipsic put up similar numbers, let’s hope that Leivo pans out.

          • I’m not complaining at all about the loss of Leipsic. But the fact is that the Canucks got nothing and Dubas got something for two very similar situations, so I don’t understand Forever 1915’s need to throw shade at Dubas.

        • Cageyvet

          Disagree. Cuba’s should have phoned the Kings, they’re taking castoffs and could have used Leivo for a cheap price. Good move by Benning, how good I don’t know, but give me Leivo-types in the lineup over Megna, Dowd, Cramarossa, etc. Sure, the lack of depth that necessitated that was shocking, but not all Benning’s doing.

          Things are definitely improving, any time you can make an incremental gain, you take it. When will some people realize there’s no market for the players other than those we need to keep? These are the sort of moves a GM has to try and make while waiting for the rest of his draft picks to arrive.

          • Matty T

            Always great to have a kiss-of-death endorsement from the same pleb who told us

            “I love Tryamkin, and have high hopes for Pedan.” – Cageyvet

            “Pouliot is dripping offensive skill on a team begging for a dynamic point man.” Cageyvet

            keep licking them windows man, you are such a laugher.

      • Freud

        Validated by Motte’s play? Another lazy narrative not supported by the evidence.

        At 5v5 Motte is 23rd on the team in possession and sub atomic in possession relative to his teammates.

        He’s been a fixture on a PK that is 27th in the league. A quick glance last night showed him to be incapable of the basic penalty killing duty of preventing multiple, consecutive cross box passes.

        Finally, Motte will be 24 yrs old this season. He’s neither young, nor does he have any more “potential”.

  • Kanuckhotep

    TOR GM Dubai’s is going to run into serious cap issues much sooner than people think if numbers bandied about on Tim and Sid and on Prime Time Sports are accurate. Paying Matthews and Mariner next year as pundits predict apparently leaves about $26M to re sign 9 roster guys. Josh Leivo is the just the beginning in terms of Dubas unloading players. Think of the bargains two years hence available because Hogtown can’t keep all those guys for very long and better win it soon for their sake. Leivo I think was a steal considering everything.

    • Kootenaydude

      With the way things are trending. If you’re not a superstar. Quit hockey. The stars are going to take all the money leaving nothing but scraps for the rest of the team. These bottom six forwards and bottom pairing Dmen are going to be making entry level money for there entire career. Guys like Rathbone should just stay in Harvard and get a real job.

      • M Bossy

        I agree that the salaries may look pretty top-heavy in the future, but Rathbone (if he makes it), and guys like him, will make a league minimum of (probably) $700k by then. It’s still better than almost all jobs that grads will get, even Harvard ones. 😛

        • Cageyvet

          Most of these lower-level guys still make 1 million plus a year. Good luck finding “real jobs” that can compare, particularly when most of these guys are not Harvard types anyway. I’m not suggesting they lack intelligence, but these are elite salaries in the real world, whatever industry you’re in.

  • Robeerto_Dubrowski

    Sorry Stephen Roget, the reason he was available for so cheap was because the Leafs needed to clear an NHL contract to fit Nylander. Leivo got an opportunity and could not seize it in Toronto, and I doubt he can in Vancouver. He is 25, comming into his prime and could not win over Babcock. Toronto swapped a fringe NHLer for a younger AHL player, gained a spot for Nylander and added depth to their AHL club. Canucks paid exactly what Leivo was worth.

    • lolthisguy

      “Leivo got an opportunity” no he didn’t…. it’s like you did not read the article or watch hockey or have eyes. But really good observation, very insightful.

      • Robeerto_Dubrowski

        Josh Leivo played 27 games with the Leafs this season, he couldn’t move up the lineup and got moved when Nylander signed. He was also getting some PP2 time with the Leafs, didn’t show enough to stick with the team. Guess he didn’t show enough to keep him over such stars as Gauthier. But I guess I don’t watch the game. He was acquired for exactly what he was worth.