Is It Realistic For The Maple Leafs To Land a Top Defenseman?

October 14th, 2017 No Comments

Can the Maple Leafs land that coveted top-tier defenseman?

When you consider the landscape of trade partners the Maple Leafs will consider, the pickings look to be somewhat bleak with regards to landing that coveted top-flight Defenseman.

Let’s face it, top defensemen are tough to come by, meaning if the Maple Leafs want to land a top defenseman, they are going to have to give up a player and/or draft picks of considerable value to get a deal done.

Looking at the 2018 NHL Unrestricted Free Agent List there are a few defenseman that may be on the move on or before the trade deadline. Names like Zdeno Chara, Mike Green, Tobias Enstrom, John Carlson, Jack Johnson and Calvin de Hann look to be amongst the best available, but none of them are without their fair share of blemishes (age, salary, declining skills, etc.).

With that in mind, are any of those defenseman worth giving up a kings ransom for what could end up being a rental situation? Not really.

Of course, the Leafs could decide to make a lesser move, adding to their defensive depth in the form of an Alexei Emelin, Jason Garrison, Brayden McNabb or Josh Georges. In the end, this may be the Leafs best bet as the price for a premium defender may be too much for Toronto Maple Leafs general manager Lou Lamoriello to consider at this time.

And what of the possibility of landing a top defender currently under a short or long-term contract from an NHL team?

The Detroit Red Wings look to be in rebuild mode and may be willing to move the likes of defenseman Niklas Kronwall. Kronwall (36) has a modified NTC and is signed through 2018-19 at an AVV of $4.75 million. He knows Maple Leafs head coach Mike Babcock’s system and may be motivated to be on a contender. Health (knee) has been an issue for Kronwall, playing in just 57 games last season and 64 in 2015-2016. Kronwall can still think the game at an elite level, but is his health too much of a concern for the Maple Leafs to bring into the fold?

With the Montreal Canadiens looking miles away from being a Stanley Cup contender, many Montreal Canadien fans are calling for a number of heads to roll out of the Bell Centre.

Coming off a season in which he scored 17 goals and added 25 assists (42 points), Weber hasn’t really missed a beat on the score sheet, but many experts are questioning his ability to keep up with today’s young/fast talent. Would a move for Weber (who is signed through 2025-2026 at an AVV of $7,857,143) make any sense for the Leafs when they will have to pony up huge money for the likes of Austin Matthews, Mitch Marner and William Nylander sooner rather than later?

Many believe the trio of Matthews, Marner and Nylander will cost the Maple Leafs upwards of $25 million per season. Add Weber into the mix and you are projecting a cost of nearly $33 million AVV for four players. Not realistic!

A quick review of The Hockey News Top 25 Defensemen list reveals very few (if any) defensemen that NHL teams are looking to move. Erik Karlsson, Victor Hedman, Brent Burns, Ryan Suter, Duncan Keith…These are franchise players that will not be moved unless hell freezes over!

What would it take to land Dustin Byfuglien from the Winnipeg Jets? Would the Los Angeles Kings ever consider moving Drew Doughty? Do the Anaheim Ducks really want to move Cam Fowler? Is Ryan McDonagh available from the New York Rangers? Would the Nashville Predators move Roman Josi in favor of a top-six forward like Nylander? Would the Leafs even make that kind of move?

One thing is for sure, once you break it all down and consider the possibilities, the likelihood of the Maple Leafs landing that coveted top-tier defenseman is slim. And, if they do pull off that kind of move, the price will be steep, both in terms of the players going back to their trading partner and the potential cap hit they will have to absorb.

Sorry Leaf fans, if Toronto is going to improve their defense the most likely scenario is that improvement will have to come from within. That means Jake Gardiner, Morgan Rielly, and Nikita Zaitsev will have to improve their overall games. Gardiner made great strides last season, while Reilly is widely believed to have the talent to be a dominant top-pairing defenseman. Zaitsev is already showing signs of improvement this season, so it’s not out of the realm of possibilities that the Leafs defense is much improved by the trade deadline.

Failing that, the Leafs will look to make a depth move, acquiring a top-four defensemen to give them added depth and possibly a quality special teams defenseman that can help fill the void defensively and/or on the penalty kill.

 

Verdict- Possible, but very unlikely.

Reality- The Maple Leafs make a depth move for a top-four defenseman at the deadline.

 

 

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