It’s been a running issue since the Leafs traded Cody Franson in 2015, and even before that: when are the Leafs going to get another top-four defenceman that shoots right?
The Leafs are seemingly set on the left side; Morgan Rielly has bloomed into a solidly top-pair defender, while Jake Gardiner, despite a down year, is reliably top four. Travis Dermott and Andreas Borgman are two prospects who have impressed in early third-pair work.
The right side, on the other hand, features:
- Nikita Zaitsev, signed to the longest deal on the team with results that never seem to match his skills
- Connor Carrick, who seems totally distrusted by Mike Babcock and struggles to hold a lineup spot
- Roman Polak, whom Babcock loves for his penalty-killing, but who otherwise seems to be replacement-level or lower
- Timothy Liljegren, who is a star prospect but is still only eighteen
- Vincent LoVerde and Justin Holl, who are both career AHLers
- Igor Ozhiganov, a 25-year old KHL defender the Leafs are allegedly bringing over next year, who we’d be lucky to get more than a 7D out of
That and a couple of faint-hope prospects (Jesper Lindgren and Nicolas Mattinen), and that’s it. It’s very possible that the number of high-quality Top 4 RD who will play for the Leafs in the next three years on that list is either one or zero, depending on how good you think Zaitsev really is.
So, accordingly, the Leafs have been linked to what feels like every RHD in the NHL. So let’s survey the ones we have a chance of trading for, starting with the East.
This will give an extremely quick summary of the player, their contract, their strengths and weaknesses, my totally speculative guess at how available they ought to be, and my equally speculative guess at their price. While this will necessarily be a brief and wildly imprecise exercise, the idea is to get an idea of what’s out there.
Just once more for emphasis: this is going to involve a lot of me guessing.
Some Guys I Left Out
I did not include players who either aren’t currently Top 4 RHD or who would seem to be impossible to acquire. More precisely, I didn’t include guys I think are totally beyond getting in any kind of manageable trade—for example, the Bruins’ asking price for Charlie McAvoy would quite literally be Auston Matthews, and I don’t think the Leafs are going anywhere near the Shea Weber contract.
One guy I left out, that I think some would love to see included: Brett Pesce. He’s wonderful, but he’s a top-drawer defensive defenceman who is 23 and who the Hurricanes just signed to a six-year extension. I think another Hurricanes RHD is a more likely trade candidate.
I generally avoided guys who just signed big deals—e.g. Kevin Shattenkirk—unless I had some reason to think they may have fallen from favour lately.
Good? No? Well, whatever, here we go.
Brandon Carlo, Boston Bruins
6’5”, 203 lbs.
Signed for two seasons at $789,167 AAV
Strengths: He’s extremely tall; good raw fancy stats this year (on a stacked team); still very young; potentially a physical monster as he fills out his frame; seems to be an effective penalty-killing defenceman
Weaknesses: Not so great relative to his teammates; struggled with shot suppression last year; may be overrated given he looks the part of a shutdown guy
Availability: 1/10. Charlie McAvoy is clearly ahead of him on the right side but the Bruins still almost certainly want to hold onto Carlo.
Mike Green, Detroit Red Wings
6’1”, 207 lbs.
Signed for this season at $6M AAV
Strengths: Previously was a good CF% player, though not so much this year; excellent powerplay quarterback; still a very agile skater
Weaknesses: His defence is famously sloppy; misses 8-12 games every year with injury; he can’t realistically be used on a hard-minutes pairing at EV; the Leafs don’t need a powerplay QB; he’s just a rental
Availability: 10/10. If Ken Holland doesn’t shop Mike Green he’s on drugs.
Price: However high the bidding war goes. Pick and a prospect would be my guess; he’s a poor man’s Kevin Shattenkirk, and Shattenkirk pulled a decent prospect, an AHLer, a first, and a complex conditional pick that wound up not being triggered. Something like a 2nd and Kerby Rychel wouldn’t shock me, but GMs get crazy.
Mark Pysyk, Florida Panthers
6’1”, 200 lbs.
Signed for three seasons at $2.73M AAV
Strengths: Lovely shot suppression; “steady” puck-mover; can skate
Weaknesses: Doesn’t score much or generate a lot on the offensive end; has had middling results with an offensive defenceman in Keith Yandle
Availability: 4/10. Maybe if we tell Dale Tallon his fancy stats are good we can get him cheap, but he seems like a decently reliable second-pair guy who’s signed to a reasonable deal. The Panthers don’t really have a reason to deal him.
Price: Middling-high, for that reason, but the Panthers could really use some F depth (since they gave a bunch of theirs away), so conceivably there’s a fit with the Leafs.
Jeff Petry, Montreal Canadiens
6’3”, 204 lbs.
Signed for four years at $5.5M AAV
Strengths: Rangy, excellent fancy stat player; effective penalty-killer; can breakout the puck
Weaknesses: Not young and not cheap; one of those guys who may be a little overrated by his fancy stats, although he looks pretty good regardless
Availability: 4/10. I mean, Marc Bergevin is insane, so who knows, but the Habs probably don’t want to lose him and they also wouldn’t want to lose him to us. He also would have to waive an NMC (it drops to a partial NTC in the summer, FWIW.)
Price: High and probably a guy who is, or is imminently to be, a roster player. The Habs also desperately need centres, which means we don’t make a lot of sense unless they mistake Gauthier for a good one because he’s French.
Jake Dotchin, Tampa Bay Lightning
Justin Faulk, Carolina Hurricanes
6’0”, 215 lbs.
Signed for three years at $4.83M AAV
Strengths: Very productive offensive defenceman, good skater, another powerplay star with lots of goals for a defenceman; he was an All-Star a bunch of times because Carolina had to send somebody
Weaknesses: He’s a bunch of things the Leafs don’t need quite so much; he plays second-pair competition while Pesce and Slavin take the toughs
Availability: 4/10. The Canes would be trading their captain, but they’re stacked on defence and presumably will at some point try to upgrade their forwards. However, like most teams, they still have more depth on the left side than the right. I doubt they’re in any hurry to move him.
Price: High. Not the moon and the stars, but Faulk is well-thought of and I would guess that a team more in need of an offensive defenceman than us would outbid us.
David Savard, Columbus Blue Jackets
6’2”, 227 lbs.
Signed for four years at $4.25M AAV
Strengths: He randomly seemed to improve a bunch last season, like the Jackets as a group; some of his problems might be Jack Johnson’s fault; can get points at a decent clip and he was okay on the powerplay until Jones and Werenski took his job
Weaknesses: He gets crushed in shots; he kills penalties but it doesn’t seem to go well; maybe a lot of his problems aren’t Jack Johnson’s fault
Availability: 5/10. The guy the Jackets are rumoured to be shopping is Jack Johnson, but it’s hard to imagine they’d be that attached to the other side of their iffy second pairing. Not that I’d really want either of them.
Price: Roster player. The Jackets aren’t dealing out from their second pairing for futures. I dunno why we’d pay whatever the price eventually is.
Damon Severson, New Jersey Devils
6’2”, 205 lbs.
Signed for six years at $4.16M AAV
Strengths: Young and talented, has a shot, can kill penalties or play the powerplay, neato Corsi
Weaknesses: Hasn’t really been playing tough comp this year, and has seemingly fallen out of favour a little bit
Availability: 3/10. I would have assumed a month ago this would be 0, but he’s been healthy-scratched a couple of times this year, and that makes me wonder a bit. I wouldn’t bet on it, but he’s interesting.
Price: Very high. It’s hard to gauge where exactly the Devils think they are, although they didn’t acquire Sami Vatanen to win later. But either way, they’re not giving up a defender they have signed for years unless it’s a hell of a deal.
Radko Gudas, Philadelphia Flyers
6’0, 204 lbs
Signed for three years at $3.35M AAV
Strengths: His Corsi is really good, seriously, look at it; he’s done well enough against decent comp in the past; he’s brutally physical (too much so) and kills penalties; he’s sort of a super-version of Roman Polak, so Mike Babcock might actually play him
Weaknesses: He may actually be Satan; gets suspended a bunch; takes a lot of penalties (the last couple seasons he’s been good for about 30 minors a year); not the best puck-handler of all time
Availability: 6/10. Again, I’m speculating here, but the Flyers have a wealth of young defencemen, including Shayne Gostisbehere and Travis Sanheim on the right side. Add in Andrew MacDonald, who is probably untradeable, and the Flyers are one of the rare teams who can afford to deal out from the right. Gudas seems like the natural choice.
Price: It will vary wildly depending on how close to making the playoffs the Flyers are. They’re still hanging around in a vicious Metro division; a losing streak might make them think about selling out for futures and prospects, while a hot streak probably keeps Gudas off the market. I suspect, though, that if the Flyers want young scoring forwards, the Leafs can make that happen without sacrificing anyone already playing a key role.
Kris Letang, Pittsburgh Penguins
Very probably not happening, but I looked at this one in detail.
John Carlson, Washington Capitals
Also not happening, but if you want a UFA RHD to spend big on in the summer, he’s your dude.
We’ll survey the West, when I manage to write it up. Get ready for my estimates on availability and price to get even worse!