Since the Toronto Maple Leafs are Stanley Cup contender, they’ll likely be active prior to the NHL’s Trade Deadline.
With the Leafs emerging as a true Stanley Cup threat, questions regarding their roster inevitably emerge as they begin to gear up for a playoff run. For true contenders, with this being the first year the Leafs can unequivocally declare themselves one, the trade deadline is the final opportunity to address their roster questions. For teams like Tampa Bay and Winnipeg, finding spots to improve requires significant digging. The Leafs however, have a very publicized hole in their roster: the right side of their defense.
Ron Hainsey and Nikita Zaitsev, the two right-handed defencemen in their top 4 scheme, have been anchors for their dynamic partners. Toronto media has latched onto this deficiency, speculating numerous trades for right-handed defencemen (especially during the William Nylander hold-out). While these ideas have circulated throughout Leafs Nation, internal options from both the press box and the AHL have garnered a backing as well, so as to avoid mortgaging the future. Without further ado, here are a couple of trade candidates and internal options that may satisfy the right side.
Alex Pietrangelo/Colton Parayko – St. Louis Blues
The biggest names to circulate Leafs nation, these Blues defecemen have been subject to these rumors largely because of their struggling team. Pietrangelo, the current captain of St. Louis at 28 years old, his having a down year offensively by his standards with 15 points in 30 games. Despite this, he has maintained his impressive Corsi For (CF%) career average at 51.6. With two years remaining at a cap hit of 6.5 million, he may be the best defencemen available at this deadline.
If the best defencemen available is not him, then it is his teammate Colton Parayko. At only 25 years of age, he has emerged as a possession darling, with a CF% of 52.2 across his career. While a little down this year, his age, contract term, 5.5 cap hit makes him a great player on a deal that will only get better.
The praise for these Blues is warranted, and thus will cost a very pretty penny. With Nylander effectively off the market, it is believed that the Leafs would have to give up a package of high draft picks, and one of Kasperi Kapanen or Andreas Johnsson. Furthermore, instead of or on top including one of their young emerging forwards, one of Rasmus Sandin or Timothy Liljegren is believed to be necessary. Questions about if an investment in a defencemen of this caliber is necessary would undoubtedly emerge, with a counter-argument describing that it may be unnecessarily taking away from their strength.
Radko Gudas – Philadelphia Flyers
To quell the swelling block of Leafs Nation that demand for more grit, Flyers’ defenceman Radko Gudas could be the answer. Consistently finding himself among the hit leaders, Gudas is a good 4th/5th defeceman who can shut down opposing offensive weapons with his physical play. With a less-than-ideal CF% of 49.7 (a point above his career average), Gudas would be a relatively cheap trade option for the Leafs and could slot into the right side of the defence. Likely attainable for a package of mid-level draft picks, he could provide the Leafs with a more appropriate partner for either Gardiner or Reilly, thereby pushing one of Hainsey or Zaitsev down the lineup while providing better insurance for their dynamic partners to jump into the offense.
With two more years left at a modest cap hit of 3.35 million, he could easily fit into the Maple Leafs’ defensive scheme and provide the grit that many fans are calling for. An added bonus to his acquisition is the likely possibility that assets from the roster would not have to be used to acquire him, therefore improving the lineup without taking away from it.
With a number of trade options mentioned, it is important to address internal options as well. The advantage to going down this route is that it would require no mortgaging of the future or selling of future assets, and it may push players along a trajectory towards being mainstay NHL defencemen. Without further ado, here are a number of internal candidates to improve the right side, and one option to avoid.
For those that partook in a fantasy draft on the Yahoo servers, they found a fault in the algorithm that had Marincin as the projected 114 overall selection, ahead of players like Ryan O’Reilly and Mike Hoffman. While this was a funny mistake, could Yahoo have been onto something?
While Marincin will almost certainly remain irrelevant in fantasy, he has passed the eye test with flying colours when called upon this season. Often making clean break out passes and playing with a new-found poise, Marincin has become more than just a penalty killing specialist when he’s found his way into the lineup. While not pilling up the points, he has played well above his career CF% while suffering from a low PDO (95.4). With so many questions revolving around the right side of the defence, Marincin has shown that he could be an answer, at the very least in a more consistent platoon role.
Easily the Marlies’ best defenceman this year, Rosen is a left-handed defenceman who has truly made himself the leading candidate for a call up (following Trevor Moore‘s promotion). Scoring at just under a point-per-game pace and operating as a transition machine, Rosen could occupy a spot on the 3rd pairing’s left side, pushing Dermott up the lineup to facilitate a Reilly-Dermott or Reilly-Gardiner pairing, which in their small sample sizes, have looked dominant. With regards to small sample sizes, Rosen’s NHL tenure (lasting a mere four games last season) was impressive, operating at a 58.7 CF% while weathering an absurdly unlucky 89.0 PDO.
With his development well on track in the AHL this year, and a new 2 year 1-way contract set to kick in following this year, expect Rosen to be the 2019 version of Dermott – a late season call up who becomes a mainstay on defence.
Not Justin Holl
My heart hurts writing that header. A huge supporter of Justin Holl, the man who was scoring at a goal a game to start his NHL career, he has looked dreadful this year. That being said, can anyone blame him? He has played TWO GAMES OUT OF 42 THIS YEAR. This means that he’s been in the lineup for 4% of the Leafs’ games this year, if my math is correct (not a guarantee). Is anyone able to succeed with that kind of playing time?
I believe that giving him playing time at this point in the year, with the race for home ice advantage in the first round of the playoffs looking tight, would seem to be a case of “too little too late”. It would be irresponsible to help him repair his game in very meaningful games. While I still endorse him getting playing time in selected, lower-intensity games, he cannot be an answer this season.
This is not to say that the Leafs should cut bait with Holl. Even though he is currently enduring the Josh Leivo-treatment, we have seen the strides that can be made out of this predicament from the namesake player himself. And with the impending cap crunch and the likely departure of one or both of Hainsey and Gardiner, Holl will surely get a better shot to cracking the lineup next year, and proving that his play at the end of the 2017-18 season was not just a flash in the pan.
There you have it. Expensive trade options, a cheaper trade candidate, a press box player and a Marlies standout. There are just a few of the options for the Leafs’ defence moving forward. If the price is right on some of the most expensive players, we may see a serious movement of assets to shore up the paltry right side. But if the play of either Marincin or Rosen can inspire NHL playing time, then the focus on management of futures may entice the Leafs to stand pat at the trade deadline.
stats from NHL.com and hockey-reference.com
featured image photo credit – Josh Tessler