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Josh Manson is not the best defenceman on the Ducks

But he might be the best choice for the Leafs.

Anaheim Ducks v Nashville Predators - Game Four
Josh Manson asks why that guy was even trying.
Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

Have you heard that the Toronto Maple Leafs need to find a defenceman? It’s true. And a right-shooting defensively focused guy seems like the right fit.

Fulemin looked at the idea of trading for Chris Tanev, which he liked, and then he looked at a completely different kind of player in Sami Vatanen, who he was less sold on.

I’m not sold on Vatanen at all. And the fact that the men of Insider Trading are talking him up like he is the only defender the Ducks will be interested in moving is interesting. Is that truth or the part of the truth they’ve heard from sources and can report?

“Teams are lining up for Vatanen,” Pierre LeBrun said. And he also said that Josh Manson would not be exposed at the expansion draft. He said, “He’ll be an Anaheim Duck through that process.” Which is interesting phrasing, and Ducks fans have taken that to mean Manson isn’t on the trading block. But that’s not exactly what that means.

It would be very foolish and inept management if the Ducks simply throw up their hands and fail to solve their protection issues. I don’t think anyone expects that. They also have a surplus of defenders; defenders are valuable, and they will move at least one. But they might not stop at one.

They might hold onto Manson for the rest of his career, but no player outside a very short list is ever untouchable in trade talks, so we can examine the idea of acquiring Josh Manson and have it be, if not the most likely trade, at least possible.

I want it to be possible.

Manson is not the best defender on the Ducks. But look away from Hampus Lindholm, who the Ducks really would not trade, and ignore those hot young prospects who are already NHLers in Brandon Montour and Shea Therodore because they would cost too much. And forget Sami Vatanen who seems to be in decline, injured, and not very good at defence. Look instead at the man who quietly, effectively and painfully dealt with the Nashville Predators more effectively than anyone on the Pittsburgh Penguins is managing.

The basics

Manson turns 26 this October, and he’s under contract for the coming season at a bargain rate of $825,000. He’s still an RFA when that contract is up, so the opportunity to lock him up to a term that buys UFA years while he’s an RFA is part of his appeal. He will be eligible for arbitration, however.

He is a righty, which is why we’re talking about him, and he is the standard large but not lumbering size you want in a defender. At six feet, three inches, he has reach to defend, and at over 200 pounds, he has the size to make you pay for trying to forecheck your way to a scoring chance. Pay with the puck that is. The point of size is to win control of the puck from the other team.

Aside from Roman Polak, the Leafs don’t have a defender that fits that bill at all.

This past season, Manson had a Score and Venue Adjusted Corsi For percentage of 54. (All numbers are from Natural Stat Trick.) His Corsi Against per 60 minutes was the lowest on the Ducks. His CA60 was the 11th best in the league for defenders who played at least 400 minutes. His shots for and against were almost identical to Drew Doughty’s.

He doesn’t score. You saw that coming, right? He had 17 points this season with five goals. Which is better than Roman Polak.

Josh Manson via Elite Prospects

Season Team League GP G A TP PIM Playoffs GP G A TP PIM
Season Team League GP G A TP PIM Playoffs GP G A TP PIM
2007-2008 Prince Albert Mintos SMHL 42 4 6 10 73 Playoffs 8 2 0 2 0
2008-2009 Prince Albert Mintos SMHL 40 19 16 35 64 Playoffs 3 1 0 1 4
Flin Flon Bombers SJHL 2 0 0 0 0
2009-2010 Salmon Arm Silverbacks BCHL 54 10 14 24 75 Playoffs 6 1 0 1 15
2010-2011 Salmon Arm Silverbacks BCHL 57 12 35 47 80 Playoffs 14 2 7 9 15
2011-2012 Northeastern Univ. NCAA 33 0 4 4 48
2012-2013 Northeastern Univ. NCAA 33 3 4 7 45
2013-2014 Northeastern Univ. NCAA 33 3 7 10 65
Norfolk Admirals AHL 9 1 0 1 26 Playoffs 10 1 0 1 6
2014-2015 Anaheim Ducks NHL 28 0 3 3 31
Norfolk Admirals AHL 36 3 9 12 47
2015-2016 Anaheim Ducks NHL 71 5 10 15 74 Playoffs 1 0 0 0 0
2016-2017 Anaheim Ducks NHL 82 5 12 17 82 Playoffs 17 0 3 3 20
2017-2018 Anaheim Ducks NHL - - - - -

The comparisons

This one isn’t fair. Polak is a third pairing guy, and while the Leafs overused him and the Ducks didn’t need Manson on the ice as much as the Leafs would, in every other way, bar first assists, Manson is far superior. Perfect 10 on shot suppression makes me just want him for that, and forget the rest.

He compares favourably to Tanev too. Tanev is currently making just under four and a half million per year.

The cost

There’s a lot of costs involved in getting Manson. First, there’s the trade cost. And what that would be will depend on how genuine the Ducks desire is to hold onto him. The Ducks have to make some move to solve their expansion draft situation. And they need defenders to put on the ice on opening day, since they have two with injuries.

They might be interested in moving Manson since, after the coming year, they’ll need to pay him real money and they have a lot of defence depth. They also have the medical reports on their guys who just had surgery, so they have a real timeline on their return, not the one everyone else is guessing from.

But the less they want to trade him, and the more they want to move Vatanen, the better the price becomes on one and not the other.

Trading James van Riemsdyk for Manson sounds great, but then the Ducks still have that expansion draft mess and they might need to buyout Bieksa to fix it, and his is a 35-plus contract, so there is no cap savings in buying him out. So do they want another big contract to add to their pile of big contracts for guys over 30? Meanwhile, back on the Leafs, there’s a hole on left wing that’s difficult to fill.

The Ducks look to me like a team that need young talent that can score. And to get Manson for that, you have to give up a good one (no, not Nylander) or two, and likely a pick.

The pick though? Would it take the first and a prospect(s) to get him? Defence is the one thing everyone wants. You can, if you like, calculate the worth of Manson in some way, judge his future point share or something and assign a value, and you still haven’t figured out what he’ll cost. He’ll cost, if he’s available, what the seller wants in return, and more of whatever that is than Buffalo, Colorado, the Rangers, the Lightning and any number of other teams will pay.

That’s the first cost. The second cost is paid this time next summer.

The future contract

Manson will be an RFA next summer, and he’s not signing another two-year deal for under a million. If he comes to the Leafs and is played as a top four defender, he’ll get paid like one. So all of the current top four guys are in the four to five million range, and he would be too.

A five by five deal seems like the range you’d have to pay. The term might have to go up to keep the cap hit down. So, what Tanev already makes, in other words, but with more term.

If the Leafs acquire Manson, that future cost has to fit with what they will be paying all their other RFAs as they come out of bargain price range too. What might be a motive for Anaheim to move him, is also a reason for the Leafs to be sure he’s the guy they want.

Is he the right guy?

He’s a perfect fit, more perfecter than Tanev in some ways. He is every bit of the hard-hitting tough guy that Polak is, but he’s also good at driving play in the right direction. He has the right end-goal when he uses his size and strength, keeping the puck out of his own net and sending it up-ice where it belongs.

Manson’s biggest detriment is his high penalty minutes, but penalty taking is sometimes team based, so you have to consider who his coach was this year. Of his 26 minors, six were for hooking and four for tripping, and that’s a small red flag that he’s taking chasing the play penalties, but not a lot of them. The bulk of his penalty minutes were six fighting majors, which is less than half of Matt Martin’s, and he doesn’t take roughing minors.

Manson’s second biggest detriment is that he doesn’t score. But considering he’d be paired with either Jake Gardiner or Mogan Rielly, that seems like it’s not a problem unless you believe every player on your team should be scoring goals all the time.

The third detriment is more of a caveat on his stats. He played with Lindholm a lot. It’s something to consider. He might not reproduce quite such an exalted Corsi stat paired with Rielly, for example. But he also had that coach, and played that coach’s system, so what would Mike Babcock make of him?

Is he worth it?

Depends on the cost.

When Lou Lamoriello spoke to TSN a few days ago, he discussed upgrading on defence:

You never fill something by making another hole.

He also claimed the Leafs are comfortable with their defence as it stands, considering their prospects and the signing of Calle Rosén and Andreas Borgman. Comfortable doesn’t mean satisfied. It just means they’ll live with it if they have to. They likely can live with it. But the other thing both Babcock and Lamoriello have said over and over is that they need to get better all over their lineup.

Ideally, the Leafs want to get better on defence without losing elsewhere in the existing lineup — making a hole. If they go for someone like Manson who is not adding goals, they need to not give away goals to get him if possible. I’m on record as not being in favour of moving van Riemsdyk until there is a replacement in place, ready to step in, and I don’t think that’s Brendan Leipsic.

So is Josh Manson worth a couple of younger winger prospects and maybe a pick of some kind? Is he then worth the term he’d require to sign a deal next summer? I think so. But the deal would be the decider.

The prospects have to be players the Leafs can afford to lose, and the overall impact now, not just in the future, has to be a better team.