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Leafs bid farewell to Winnik

by David Alter / Toronto Maple Leafs

Throughout the season, there hasn’t been a more versatile player than Daniel Winnik.

With the Maple Leafs, Winnik crossed the 500 NHL game mark, a personal victory to his doubters who never thought he’d play in the NHL, given he was selected in the 9th round of the 2004 NHL Draft.

During the off-season, Winnik had to prove his worth again. Finding no takers for his services at the start of free agency. While ready to perhaps go the tryout route, it never got that far, signing a one-year deal in late July.

He was the cornerstone for what the team was hoping to accomplish this season, a veteran forward who can lead the way and be the model for how the Leafs wanted to shape their club. He was a large reason for the Leafs’ above average penalty kill (82.1%).

But the circumstances changed in 2015, when the Leafs weren’t generating the results necessary to justify keeping a much sought after asset.

“He played very well not just over the last couple weeks, but he played well from the get-go when he came here and did everything we asked him to do. He fit in well with every line he played on, was a very good penalty killer for us, and teams recognize that,” said Leafs GM Dave Nonis of Winnik. “There was interest in Daniel of varying levels. I think that some teams were obviously more interested than others and pushed harder. Some were kicking tires and trying to get a bargain. But his play put him in a position where he was wanted and it put us in a position to get some quality assets back."

The Maple Leafs acquired forward Zach Sill from the Penguins in addition to a fourth-round pick in this year’s draft and a second-rounder in 2016. Add this to a haul that has seen acquire the Predators first round pick in this year’s draft, forward prospect Brendan Leipsic and veteran centre Olli Jokinen.

Nonis has never been a seller before, and is reaping some of the benefits that come with it.

"Pittsburgh was coming pretty hard for the last 10 days or so, pushing to try to get the deal done for Daniel. Their offer continued to improve over the last 48 hours,” said Nonis. “It was our feeling that the offer they were presenting was very fair. We felt it was probably what it was going to be on Monday, didn't think it was going to be better than that. You're risking injury to the player or the team looking elsewhere to try to fill the holes that they're trying to fill. Once you get to an offer that you think is fair and what you're looking for, there wasn't a reason to wait. If we felt that the offer wasn't fair and that there was going to be more coming, then we would've waited. But we're happy with the return and I think Pittsburgh's got a good player for their playoff push."

Sill has played 62 NHL games, all with the Pittsburgh Penguins. He’s a player that has a lot to prove in what is his final year of his current contract. How he fits into the Leafs going forward will be determined over the course of the next 20 games.

"We'll find out. He hasn't played a ton in Pittsburgh. For him it was important that he gets a chance, and he was excited about that,” Nonis added. “For him he's going to have to come in and earn his ice and to see if there's a long-term fit. You don't know until the guy gets here, but he has played in this league before where he's put up I think 20 or 30 games where he's been a fairly consistent player for them. He needs to come in here now and try to earn his ice."

The NHL trade deadline is March 2nd at 3pm.

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