This is the second part of a series on defensemen who could fit within the Leafs top-four for next season. If you would like to read part one, you can find it here. To determine who made the list I looked through CorsiRelQoC's of the past year (and sometimes further back) in order to determine if the player had played difficult minutes on their team. From there I considered CorsiRel and CorsiON as well as Zone Start Percentage to see how the player fared against the tough competition. These players all played well in shutdown roles and are, to varying degrees, conceivable targets whether it be by free agency or trade.
5. Johnny Oduya: 31 years old, 6' 0", 190 lbs, Cap hit of $3.38 million
Johnny Oduya is the second Blackhawk defender to make the list, and of the two is probably the more available. Oduya is a smooth skating player, who is more defensive in nature than a lot of players in his mould. He is smart, and can play as a shutdown defender with far more proficiency than he is given credit for. His offensive contributions are limited (12 points in 48 games this year) but he could play on the powerplay in a pinch.
Oduya's possession numbers are very impressive, as he sported the best CorsiRel and CorsiON of any Chicago defenseman who played 30+ games, with a 1.8 and 9.03 in those categories respectively. His CorsiRelQoC was also second on the Chicago blueline, with a score of 1.105 and an Offensive Zone Start % of 50.9% – one of the highest on the list. Oduya's possession numbers suggest that he played effectively against top competition night-in night-out. His high Offensive Zone Start % can be attributed to usage as well as Chicago's depth at blueline (Niklas Hjalmarsson had the lowest Offensive Zone Start % of 48%, which when compared to some other defensemen is really quite manageable). It seems likely that given Chicago's top-four is amongst – if not the – best in the league, Joel Quennville was able to rotate zone starts effectively.
Given his possession numbers, it seems fair to expect Oduya to be able to play heavy minutes in Toronto. Whether he would be paired with Dion Phaneuf or someone like Cody Franson instead remains to be seen, but regardless, he would definitely help lessen the burden on Phaneuf and Gunnarsson. Oduya's price would probably be at or around the same as when he was acquired by Chicago (a 2nd and 3rd round pick). Given his age, and Chicago's cap situation, he could very well be made available for less, especially if Toronto were willing to take on some dead weight (i.e. Steve Montador). Oduya's contract runs two more years, which would give the Leafs ample time to develop some of their defensive prospects while also remaining competitive for a playoff spot.
Overall, Oduya would be a welcome addition to Toronto's blueline, however, given his lack of physical edge he may not be an attractive option to Dave Nonis and Randy Carlyle. If Carlyle and Nonis want to prioritize physicality that is fine by all means, provided they look at accomplished defensemen rather than overrated pilons. While Oduya is unlikely to be priority #1 this offseason he is definitely someone the Leafs should inquire about as he provides a solid veteran defensive presence at a moderate price.
6. Jordan Leopold: 32 years old, 6' 1", 206 lbs, UFA, Cap hit last year of $3 million
Jordan Leopold is another solid veteran option on defense, and should be target #1 for the Maple Leafs amongst this years UFA crop. Leopold is a smart and smooth skating defenseman who is usually accompanied by those great descriptors of "makes a good first pass" and "positionally sound"; he is in many respects, the definition of the cerebral veteran.
On offense Leopold had a rocky season putting up only 10 points in 39 games. However, he is only two seasons removed from a 35 point campaign (on pace for 40 points had he played the whole season) and could be expected to add occasional offense, or play on the powerplay if needed.
As for possession, Leopold's numbers are solid, even though he spent the majority of the season on a very bad Buffalo team before moving to the very good St. Louis Blues. Leopold has a CorsiRelQoC of 1.014 on the year (which I'd wager was higher before he was traded to St. Louis) and an Offensive Zone Start % of 52.7%, the highest of the defensemen I've previewed. The minutes Leopold played were difficult, although hardly in the league of a Zbynek Michálek or a Niklas Hjalmarsson. What is more impressive about Leopold is that his CorsiRel and CorsiON are really quite good, with a 0.5 and -4.12 respectively. Those numbers suggest that Leopold could definitely handle top-four minutes on any team in the league, let alone the Maple Leafs.
The other plus for Leopold is that, unlike Hainsey, he isn't coming off a huge deal. It seems that Leopold could certainly be had for something in the neighbourhood of $9 million over 3 years. In terms of bang for your buck, Leopold is one of the best UFA options out there. The fact that Leopold could be acquired on a more short-term deal is definitely a plus for the Leafs, who, as aforementioned, have a tonne of young defensemen who will be NHL ready in 2-3 years.
Jordan Leopold would provide a solid option in the top-four, who could help take the burden off Dion Phaneuf and Carl Gunnarsson, while also mentoring some of the younger players in the system (Franson, Gardiner, Rielly). The downside to signing Jordan Leopold is his injury history, which has kept him from playing a full season since 2009. That being said, none of the injuries have been incredibly serious and the only times he has played less than 60 games in a full NHL season are his injury-riddled years with the Colorado Avalanche, which are now six years in the rearview. Suffice to say that, should trades yield nothing, Jordan Leopold should be pursued by the Toronto Maple Leafs once free agency opens.
7. Stephane Robidas: 36 years old, 5' 11", 196 lbs, Cap hit of $3.3 million
Stephane Robidas is the definition of the short-term solution for the Leafs' D. At 36 years old, he has one year left on his contract that pays him $3.3 million and seems one of the most likely candidates on the Dallas Stars to move, especially since the signing of Sergei Gonchar to a
fucking ridiculous generous amount of $10 million over two years.
Of the defensemen I've looked at, Robidas certainly offers the most physicality, totalling 136 hits last year despite his relatively small stature. He is a very solid defensemen, and doesn't have one particular weakness that stands out. He is a good skater who can contribute offensively (although his offensive prowess has diminished in recent years) and despite his age can log big minutes in a shut-down role.
Possession wise, Robidas is very strong. His CorsiRelQoC of 1.634 is one of the higher totals in the NHL and amongst players with comparable QoC stats, his CorsiRel of -3.4 and CorsiON of -4.87 are quite respectable, especially when you consider that his Offensive Zone Start % of 43% is one of the lowest totals amongst comparable defensemen and that he played on a mediocre possession team in Dallas. Suffice to say that Robidas could, barring a massive regression, play one year in Toronto in a similar role.
As for price, one would expect Robidas could be acquired for something at or around a second round pick and maybe a second-tier prospect as well. Dallas will want a decent return given that they are not in any cap trouble next year and that Robidas was a top-pairing defenseman for them this season, however they are foolish to expect anything ridiculous, given that there are younger options out there and that Robidas is a UFA next year, and not terribly likely to re-sign. I would like to see Toronto look into acquiring Robidas, as a veteran locker-room presence would be more than welcome. With that being said, I feel obliged to add that Robidas is also far from my favourite option. The attractive elements are the length of contract, his cap hit, and his ability, but given his age, I wouldn't mind seeing Toronto add someone with the potential to play multiple years on the blue-line.
8. Mark Fayne: 26 years old, 6' 3", 215 lbs, Cap hit of $1.3 million
First off, glove tap to SmoulderingGoodTime for pointing this guy out to me. Out of the players on the list, Mark Fayne would almost certainly be the cheapest to acquire, and could quite possibly be the best possession player on the list. He's young, and spent some the year in New Jersey as a healthy scratch (although he still logged 31 games). It seems a bit bizarre to see a player who is a healthy scratch so often, but still has been used in a shut-down role consistently by the Devils coaching staff. Suffice to say that it's quite possible Fayne could be available by trade and the Leafs should take a good hard look at him.
Fayne is big, smooth skating and has offensive upside that hasn't quite shown yet. Whether or not he ever learns to produce points remains to be seen, he has been leaned on heavily as a shutdown player, and has had limited time on the powerplay, which may very well be a reason why he hasn't yet produced consistently. As for size, Fayne is big but reluctant to engage physically. He, like Carl Gunnarsson, tends to prefer to use positioning to box other players out. I daresay that if he came to Toronto, coach Carlyle would doubtlessly try to get more snarl from his game a la Cody Franson.
I mentioned Fayne's possession numbers before, and frankly, they're staggering. Amongst defensemen who played over thirty games this past season and had a CorsiRelQoC greater than 0.7 Fayne has the second best CorsiRel – 6.6 (tied with Dan Hamhuis) – and the second best CorsiON – 14.76 – all the while playing a respectable 0.783 CorsiRelQoC and an Offensive Zone Start % of 46.5%. While many players who are in tough defensive positions have possession numbers that suggest they should be moved into a lighter load, Fayne's show a player who could possibly do quite well in a tougher role.
Mark Fayne represents some of the best bang for your buck in league if you look at defensive possession metrics. The cost to acquire him would probably be quite low (I'd guesstimate his value to be around a 3rd round pick) and even in a worst case scenario where Fayne absolutely sucks in Toronto, you let him walk after one year on a cheap contract. Mark Fayne should definitely be looked at as a trade target as he seems to be exactly the type of player who could develop into a very solid contributor further on down the line. He's a buy low sell high type of guy that I think the Leafs should take a chance on.
This concludes the series on possible defensive targets, hope you guys enjoyed and as always I'm happy to hear any feedback, suggestions, potential targets you feel deserve some attention. Cheers!