Leafs Need Help On Defence

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We are still 6 weeks away from the NHL trade deadline. So much can happen between now and March 21st when no further trades can be made after 3pm Eastern. 
Everyone in the NHL world pretty much knows what the Toronto Maple Leafs are looking for and targeting to help their team improve. 
A defenceman who can play in the top 4 and partner with left side defenceman Jake Muzzin is pretty well imperative for the Leafs if they wish to have any success in the playoffs. Some more depth could help too but a partner for Muzzin is most important. 
Despite recent comments from GM Kyle Dubas, not really divulging or identifying a particular type of player or position they need to fill, and showing confidence in what they currently have, it’s pretty evident that its defence where they need to add no matter what the GM says publicly. 
Yes, the Leafs currently are a very good team. Probably among the 5-8 best teams in the NHL. Their talent level, their record and the way they have succeeded so far this regular season (and last regular season for that matter) has proven they are a pretty successful (regular season) team. But there is a pretty big hole on defence and it needs filling. 
The trio of Justin Holl, Travis Dermott and Timothy Liljegren are not good enough to help this team all as regulars. 
Holl has been in the top 4 the last couple seasons and he’s shown he isn’t capable of stepping up and handling that job with consistency. When Muzzin has gone down (through injury or poor play) so has Holl. He is more suited for a 3rd pairing role at best.
Dermott has been around the longest but has succeeded the least. He has been flipped around on both sides of the blue line with little success. He lacks consistency from game to game and is mistake prone, especially when the pressure ramps up. He is really no more than a depth defenceman who probably shouldn’t even play 10 minutes a game when it matters.
Liljegren is in his first full season in the NHL, so he gets a bit of leeway in terms of criticism. But he needs more time to grow. He is good enough to play in the NHL, but he may be, at best, able to step in for short bursts if there are a few absences during the playoffs, not such an important task as a starter. Hard to force a rookie when it’s really must win for Toronto.
With Rasmus Sandin also on defence, there is already one player on the blueline who needs to be insulated. The Leafs cannot go with 3 guys who they have to protect out there. 
The intensity is higher, the physicality is greater and the space is limited on the ice. The Leafs need at least one more guy who can help the team with their playoff push. 
While the nucleus of the team is still young, losses in each of the last 5 first round matches rapidly increases the urgency for this team to actually have some playoff success. Yes, they will likely face a premium opponent which will already ramp up the adversity they face, but they have to deliver this year like no other and so cannot waste any further opportunities.
This doesn’t mean sell all the farm, in terms of assets to trade and any flexibility going forward. But it does mean that they have to think about the now moreso than a few years from now and have to fill in this huge hole on defence without hesitation. 
There are certainly players available. Certainly players on expiring contracts will be talked about, especially if there is no sign that they will be re-signed by their respective teams. However even their GM has mentioned recently there is a preference for players who have term on their current deals.
We have seen a pretty wide divide in terms of playoff teams, and non-playoff teams. This is especially true in the Eastern Conference. 
Boston is currently 8th but has 4 games in hand and a 7 point lead on the 9th place Red Wings. Those behind Detroit are quite a ways behind them, nevermind Boston. So that’s 8 teams right there with some players likely made available. 
The West is closer for the last wildcard spot, and spots in the Pacific Division still sort of up for grabs. So the next several weeks need to play out to further determine the haves and have-nots. But, there are some intriguing players in that conference too that will certainly draw interest if they are available. 
So who could the Leafs acquire? Here is a defenceman from each team that could possibly help the Leafs fill one, many or all of these criteria:
– Has a pretty reasonable chance to be acquired (as in not Hedman, Fox or Makar)- Is rumoured to be available (Pending UFA rental or player team wants to move)- Right handed shot (or at the very least ability to play regularly on the right side)- Has size (and maybe some willingness to use it)- Is signed through next season or still under club control (still a RFA)- Can fill a top 4 role right now or – Can fill a bottom pair role right now or – Can add organizational depth (should the team move an existing defenceman)
Obviously some candidates are better than others, but there is some creativity that the Leafs will have to use to make all the pieces fit to create the needed mix that would give them the best chance at some playoff success. 
With the cap (or lack of cap space), the assets (or lack thereof) they have available, the demand and perhaps lack of supply around the NHL, the other contenders trying to look for the same types of players, there are many factors that will get in the way of the Leafs acquiring someone. But, the need is there and the cost may be relatively high. 
The Leafs do have options though should they choose to explore it. Here they are: 
Josh Manson – Anaheim – He is probably the most wished for player if Leaf Nation was polled. He offers many of the elements the Leafs need. Right-handed shot, size, toughness, fast, able to play top 4 minutes. He is a defensive defenceman but in 2018 he did manage to score 37 points in a full season, showing some ability to provide some offence. 
There are some issues though. Does he want to come to Canada? Probably not thanks to the covid situation here. Does he even want to leave Anaheim for anywhere? I am sure the Ducks would love to keep him, but they have other decisions to make like re-signing Hampus Lindholm and Rickard Rakell among others. And, the Ducks are a playoff team, so are they even interested in selling off? Probably not all of their pending free agents.  In the end, Manson would probably be the best fit among what the Leafs need to round out their team. 
Jakob Chychrun – Arizona –  The Coyotes are in full scorched earth, rebuild mode, so they are selling off, whatever they believe would, will help them move the franchise forward. Chychrun is an offensive defenceman. He had 18 goals last year. The skill, the promise, the potential of what he could bring for years to come is attractive to probably every team in the NHL.
He isn’t necessarily what the Leafs need, and really, the Leafs probably cannot put together the kind of package to acquire him, without gutting into the team’s core group of players. It is surprising he is available, and while the Leafs have stated they would like to find players with term, Chychrun may be out of their price range. 
Connor Clifton – Boston – Its very unlikely the Leafs and Bruins deal but Clifton is a gritty, hard working defenceman at a cheap price. He isn’t big, but would add nice depth and experience to the blueline and he would be the type of player to add should they move on from some of the current players they have in place.
Again, the likelihood of Toronto and Boston dealing isn’t high, but as a RHD and someone with grit and defence defensively, he might be better than some of the current Leaf options right now. He would solely be for a 3rd pairing or to add further depth. He wouldn’t be a top 4 option which they need more. 
Colin Miller – Buffalo – Miller is former Soo Greyhound, who played on Kyle Dubas built teams there, is someone the Leafs would be familiar with in that regard. He is a puck moving RHD who has experience playing in the top 4 on a good team having done so in Vegas. He is capable of playing lots of minutes and could be a nice contrast for Muzzin. 
Miller is currently hurt however. He is out approximately another 4 weeks maybe which would not give much time for a much further assessment should he be available. But, because the Leafs brass is familiar with him, he may be an interesting add if it happens as it may not break the bank to acquire his services, even from a division rival like Buffalo.
Nikita Zadorov – Calgary – The big Flames blueliner shoots left, but has played the right side often so that wouldn’t be a huge issue. He has the size and physical presence that many teams covet and the Leafs could use since they lack those elements significantly. He is currently playing 3rd pair minutes for the Flames.
He is a rental, and may cost similar to what the Jackets got for David Savard last year. Is that worth it? Hard to say but he is a type of player Toronto does not have and while he is a 3rd pairing player for Calgary, he could probably offer more in Toronto based on what Toronto has to offer currently on their defence. 
Brendan Smith – Carolina – A veteran, versatile defenceman (who can play forward), Smith would help add depth. He’d add a bit of grit and experience to the 3rd pair and while he does shoot left-handed, he is versatile enough to handle the right side. 
Carolina likely values him as much as the Leafs would want a player such as him to add depth. As a contending team, Carolina likely isn’t going to want to part with depth they need and for Toronto, there may be better options to help fill needs on D.
Calvin De Haan – Chicago – De Haan was someone the Leafs had interest signing a few years ago before he joined Carolina. He is an experienced puck moving defenceman who has been asked more in recent years to play a more shutdown, defensive game. He could add elements of skill, which fits the Leafs style, but be smart on defence. Kind of another TJ Brodie type. 
Not sure how the cap hit would fit even if he is an expiring contract. Yes, most of the names on this list would fall into that category, but would De Haan be someone you re-arrange your cap scale for? He is certainly available as the Hawks are going nowhere, but while there may be some interest, not sure if he tops the Leafs list. 
Kurtis MacDermid – Colorado – A big, tough stay at home defenceman who’d add that element for Toronto in a depth or 3rd pair role. He could help, but he like others is another LHD where they may prefer someone who shoots righthanded. 
He is a depth D, so while a priority should they move a defenceman out, Colorado is another contending team so they are probably looking to keep a player such as him for themselves. 
Dean Kukan – Columbus – Another in a string of defenceman who can provide depth on an expiring contract. Kukan is definitely someone who could help in that regard. 
The bottom line question is, are these players better than Dermott? All these depth players, that is basically who they’d be replacing. If the price can be cheaper than $1.5 million, certainly that would be worth exploring as in the end, Dermott hasn’t really delivered and cannot really be counted on when it matters. 
John Klingberg – Dallas – Well he’d definitely a big ticket and probably the top defenceman on the market. Klingberg is an offensive defenceman who can log significant minutes and can play in all situations. He has been a horse for the Stars for years and would be a huge add for Toronto.
See Chychrun. Can the Leafs spend the assets and fit the cap hit in for this rental? That is hard to say. It seems almost improbable that he would be retained and re-signed beyond this season. The reason being the Leafs are already in it with the cap. It would also be hard to see Toronto having the assets Dallas would be looking for as well. 
Troy Stecher – Detroit – Another in a long line of experienced, depth defenceman that Toronto could acquire. Stecher is small in stature but is a sound, defensive defenceman who was a good help for Owen Power when they paired together at the World Championships last year. He would be a quality 3rd pair blueliner. 
The issue is size, or lack thereof. He would add nice depth and may be an upgrade on what Toronto has. But he is really small and his would be partner would likely be Sandin who is also small. Not the best fit maybe. 
William Langesson – Edmonton – He’d be someone to add organizational depth at best. He would join guys like Carl Dahlstrom and Alex Biega if it came to a next man up scenario. He would likely cost very little to acquire and is under control for a couple seasons due to his RFA status. 
The Leafs have bigger needs and more important things to spend their limited assets on so they would likely look into a different direction. But, in the end, sometimes you can never have too many D. 
Markus Nutivaara – Florida – Nutivaara would be a nice fit in terms of the style he plays that could mesh well with how the Leafs play currently. Mobile, able to generate offence, he may not be needed in that regard, but that is kinda how Toronto defends by moving the puck fast and getting it out of trouble. 
Not sure how much help Nutivaara would be resolving their RHD problems, but he has played that side. The biggest issue though is injuries. He has only suited up for 1 game and is on LTIR for the division leading Panthers. No certainly he is able to play and less certainty on the Panthers trading him. 
Olli Maatta – Los Angeles – Another rental, another LHD who is capable of playing the right side, another solid, stay at home defenceman who could help upgrade Toronto’s depth woes. 
High price point and being left-handed, that likely means Toronto would look elsewhere to fill their needs. But it doesn’t seem Maatta would cost much in terms of trade assets. It would only be finding someone who could retain some of that salary for the balance of 2022. 
Calen Addison – Minnesota – This would be an eye towards the future and the 21 year old Addison would fit the mold of the kind of defenceman Toronto often looks for. Someone with skill, who can skate, who can make good passes. Its not hard to like the potential. 
Bigger fish to fry. They have some young D and it would be nice to add to that considering the Leafs could use young D that won’t cost much salary to help their cap issues. But right now Toronto is in need help now mode, so while the player is nice, the timing isn’t quite right. 
Ben Chiarot – Montreal – Everyone knows Chiarot is available and will be traded at the deadline. Toronto it was rumoured had interest in his services before he signed with Montreal. He is big and can play physical and played a key role along side Shea Weber in helping Montreal to the finals last year. He definitely can help.
There may be so many suitors for Chiarot that likely may be willing to pay a much higher price than Toronto. Ideally Toronto gets someone who is right handed and use to playing that side. Not sure on the experience Chiarot has in that regard. Price will be high for this pure rental but not shocked there is interest. 
Phillippe Myers – Nashville – Another on the depth scale, but he has some intrigue. Myers is righthanded, he is a good skater and has great size. He hasn’t been used a lot by the Preds but would upgrade the Leafs depth and has some potential for greater use. He also has some term left on his deal. 
Seems unlikely Toronto would move towards potential to fill such an important need, but, with all those other considerations mentioned earlier, sometimes you have to get creative. Wouldn’t be the flashiest or most popular add, but there is some talent here that Toronto could unlock. 
Damon Severson – New Jersey – A solid, veteran, top 4 blueliner who can log a lot of minutes. He is more an offensive player but he can play a lot and would add a nice contrast in styles with Muzzin. He is also locked up long term, so if they could fit in that kind of salary, he’d help now and beyond. 
The Leafs recently played Jersey and Severson was embarrassed on a few goals. He isn’t a steady, defensive presence, but is an upgrade on Holl, Dermott and others. Would they accept paying a high price and playing him big minutes knowing he may be a bit mistake prone? Toronto might have enough of those players as is?
Scott Mayfield – NY Islanders – There is a lot to like about Mayfield. He is big, he is physical, he is willing to use his size, he has a great reach and is a classic defensive defenceman that Toronto could use. He is a good skater for his size so that could help say playing with the slowing down Muzzin. He has vaulted into a top 3 role in NY thanks to injuries this year. 
The Isles are kinda, sorta but not really out of it. Would they give him up? He has a great contract and is signed for one more year. He has helped their identity. There isn’t much offence there, so how big a price would it be to acquire a player with term and a good price? Would Toronto overpay? He’s not your prototypical Toronto D, but that may be a good thing. Its what Toronto needs. 
Libor Hajek – NY Rangers – Hajek is another player with an eye towards the future. The Leafs have accumulated a few Czechia players in recent years and he could be a nice fit in future years. He is still pretty young and has some nice skill. 
Like Addison, timing may be not right. Won’t be a player to help at the deadline except to add depth if someone leaves. Dubas is always trying to cover all bases so there would be no negative adding help for the defence no matter when its for. 
Josh Brown – Ottawa – Big, stay at home, depth defenceman. Brown would kinda fill that role Zach Bogosian had, or at least fill that spot the closest to be like Bogosian. A player on a cheap, expiring contract, he could be had likely for not much.
If Brown came in, someone like Holl or Dermott would likely have to go. The difference in dollars and cents would help Toronto and they’d still have experienced depth. Seems like a fit, but in a perfect world as a co-sixth D option, not as someone to roll into the top 4.
Rasmus Ristolainen – Philadelphia – Ristolainen has a lot of elements that Toronto could use. He has size, he is physical, but he also has enough offensive skill to not be a detriment in that regard. The Leafs want to be skilled and to defend that way and this talent could fit into that scheme. 
He is expensive though and there would be a lot of cap movement to fit Ristolainen under the umbrella. He would fetch too a decent rental cost for Philly. Many teams may have interest as well should he be available. Hard to see why he wouldn’t with where the Flyers are currently. 
Jusso Riikola – Pittsburgh – Seems to fit the mold of what Toronto likes. Skilled blueliner and so he could add some experienced depth.
But, this isn’t who Toronto needs and he isn’t an upgrade on who they have now. strictly depth only and likely would cost next to nothing to acquire. 
Nicolas Meloche – San Jose – A big stay at home defenceman who’d add some depth as a right side defenceman. Similar elements to Brown, but he is a RFA and thus the team would have some control the next few years. 
Meloche would best fit as a depth piece and likely shouldn’t play a lot for a good team. But all types of defence should be considered at this time and he is making league minimum, so the cost burden would be attractive to Toronto. 
Mark Giordano – Seattle – At the opposite spectrum to cheap is Giordano. At almost $7 mil, on an expiring contract, plenty of moving parts and cap retention would be needed to acquire Gio. But, here is a very experienced, skilled, smart blueliner who’d help most teams, even at his advanced age.
Its the dollars that the Leafs would be concerned about. Too many assets to move and too many moving parts needed likely. Dubas and the brass are very creative, but not sure Gio could fit, or even be the right fit ( he isn’t righthanded)
Robert Bortuzzo – St. Louis – A veteran, stay at home defenceman that would be in the Bogosian mold. He has filled this 3rd pairing role with St. Louis very well all these years. He is on an expiring contract so, as a rental, he could maybe be an option that could fit nice in Toronto as someone to help Sandin.
The Blues though are a playoff team so they may not have much interest in losing Bortuzzo. And if he were made available, this is the type of player that gets moved often at the deadline for a big overpay. Not sure Toronto would be one of those interested teams. 
Andrej Sustr – Tampa Bay – Another in a long line of players who’d add depth. He costs very little dollars and would cost even less in trade assets. He has NHL experience and could fill in if the need arose. 
Again, not a top priority for Toronto if they’re aiming a big hire than to just support their current depth. They need an upgrade and Sustr isn’t quite that. Interesting piece though at 6’7″. Nary a player on Toronto’s roster like that. 
Travis Hamonic – Vancouver – After being cut at camp by the Canucks after signing a free agent contract, Hamonic has been readily available since. He has 1 more year left on his deal. He at one point was a good defenceman in the league and he wasn’t that poor last year on a not-so-good Canucks team.
Not sure Toronto would want to add to its cap burden by getting a player like Hamonic who still makes $3 mil. He has been buried most of the season and seems to have lost a lot. Would require basically zero assets and much cap retention for Leafs to have any interest. 
Zach Whitecloud – Vegas – Whitecloud just signed a long term deal to stay with Vegas to 2028. At $2.75 Mil that isn’t too hefty a price tag and there is a lot to like about Whitecloud. He is a pretty good puck moving defenceman who may be able to play a higher role, but its uncertain if he is ready for that right now.
Not sold on Vegas wanting to get rid of a decent contract, at least not before any of the other bloated ones they need to move so they can fit in Jack Eichel. Whitecloud is a bit of a tweener. Could maybe play top 4, but on a good team, you may not want him to. Not sure if that is what Toronto needs more of. 
Michal Kempny – Washington – Was a key cog as John Carlson’s partner in the Cap cup run a few year ago. He hasn’t done a whole lot since except be injured. He has experience and good ability and can help when it matters.
He is a rental, so he shouldn’t cost much considering he has been buried most of the season. But yet again, Toronto can’t unfortunately freely acquire anyone without a lot of cap movement to fit the dollars in. So, Kempny might be too expensive for what he would bring. 
Dylan Demelo – Winnipeg – Another player with some term, which is good, but dollars are high so it would mean someone needing to retain some salary for it to work for Toronto. Demelo though offers some good traits that Toronto could use. 
The Jets are no good, so they may be sellers. But seems likelier Toronto looks elsewhere rather than a fairly expensive 3rd pairing defenceman. Though, Demelo could slot in nice as a shutdown partner with Muzzin. Just the dollars don’t make much sense right now for Leafs. 
Here are some player details and stats of the aforementioned players. Data from Capfriendly.com and Naturalstattrick.com. Individual stats are for all situations and the advanced metrics are for 5 on 5 play. Obviously some averages are skewed due to the limited playing time for some players. But it is worth showing stats as its not just the eye-test that teams look at now. 

Included in the numbers are the Leaf blueliners who have played this year for context to gauge where the Leaf players stand with guys the Leafs could possibly acquire.

With cap challenges that mirror many other teams across the league, there is a lot more work these days to make trades. So whatever Toronto decides to do, it will not be an easy task, especially since on the hockey side, it’s already a pretty close dogfight among some really great teams. 
But this feels like a must for Toronto. They need to add and preferably a player of significance. You have to think the Leafs are pretty well in win now mode and should be all in. Where the trade chips eventually land will be fascinating to watch.

Author: Allan Chow