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Maple Leafs are in the market for a right-shooting defender with term

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Well, I never. I don’t think we’ve ever had an article at PPP on this topic.

St Louis Blues v Colorado Avalanche
Yeah, no.
Photo by Michael Martin/NHLI via Getty Images

It’s one month to the trade deadline, the only thing going on is the All-Star Game, and the Insiders are bored. So naturally they’re talking trade activity. Pierre LeBrun published a novella at the Athletic on the topic, but Bob McKenzie likes efficiency, so he just dropped the little news bomb where it would have the biggest splash effect. Right in the middle of Leafs fans.

That’s the Leafs Lunch from yesterday, and the meat of the story is that Kyle Dubas wants to do a Jake Muzzin-style deal. McKenzie says the Leafs are “actively searching” for a right-shot defender. Which should shock no one. McKenzie mentions that Barrie might cost more than the Leafs are willing to spend, so they need to bear that in mind. (Please ask for $9 million, Tyson, please!)

McKenzie expands on what the Leafs want by saying they will take a left-shot defender if he has significant experience on the right side, and the player must have term. Anyone who has seen Kyle Dubas repeatedly say he’s not interested in the rental market should, again, not be surprised by this.

As for term, McKenzie reports that a Muzzin situation is the low end of what they’ll take. He had a year and a half left when the Leafs traded for him just about one year ago. They actually want someone with more term than that, however, as long as the numbers work.

As McKenzie says, this is not a simple ask, but also not an impossible one. He mentions the types of players who the Leafs would have to give up, and says the logical thing is for a team who could be looking for a forward would be the obvious trade partner. Teams are asking about Kasperi Kapanen and Alexander Kerfoot.

Jonas Siegel was on this Leafs Lunch, and he said he tried to make a list of potential players that fit this bill, and it was hard to find many legitimate names. It is. But I’m game to try.

Deals that go to 2025 or 2026

Starting with the expiring UFAs with very long term deals, the first one that fits the bill is Jacob Trouba. That’s not going to happen, however, because the Rangers paid him $8 million per year, and may not have completely lost faith in him. They’re bad top-to-bottom defensively, so they shouldn’t judge Trouba on this season.

2024

The next name to come up is the perennial Leafs fan favourite, Brett Pesce. He actually does fit what the Leafs want, and it could be made to work. Carolina have a strong defence roster, and they are always seemingly looking for a forward. There was a rumour the ‘Canes are trying to trade Jake Gardiner, but can’t make a deal. Pesce might be their only other card to play. He’s perfect. He’s 25, under contract through 2024, he shoots right, and he’s good.

He’s so perfect, he would be very, very expensive to purchase in assets, but would be, in my opinion, worth it. Pesce would set the Leafs up with a top pairing defender on the right side and his cap hit would facilitate signing Jake Muzzin. The only question here, after the one about if the Canes really want to move him is: would the Leafs pay the price?

I’m not so sure they would. They have young defenders in the system. They don’t have forwards, or at least not ones near to the NHL. How much do you want to count on Nick Robertson filling a winger spot on the Leafs soon enough to make up for what you’re giving up for Pesce? Kapanen on his own won’t get this done. (I’ve heard that somewhere before.)

2023

Matt Dumba crops up every year as the next name that seems like a good fit, and I have one word to say about that idea: No.

He is, frankly, Rielly as a righty, and he’s overpaid. He’s on a $6 million AAV deal through to 2023, and no, no, no. The last thing the Leafs need to do is dole out assets for a guy who is a PP shooter and a defensive nightmare. There’s such a thing as leaning in too hard to your identity, and the Leafs did that by getting Barrie. Let’s not do it again.

Damon Severson is also 24, a right-shooter, and his deal expires in 2023. While it’s clear the Wild are actually considering moving Dumba out, there’s no indication the New Jersey Devils want to part with their one good defender. He’s on a bargain contract of $4.17 million as well. The problem is, he’s not actually all that good. No one on the Devils is, but by looking at RAPM or HockeyViz’s Threat, he looks not at all what the Leafs want, with an emphasis on bad quality of shots allowed.

2022

Now that I’m up to players whose contracts expire in 2022, there’s a lot more of them, of course, but not necessarily good ones. You can have Rasmus Ristoalainen, likely cheap, and if all you need is a power play big boomer shooter, you should get him.

P.K. Subban seems like he’s going to get moved again, if anyone will bite, but the Devils would have to retain and even then... he’s not what he used to be. In the last Leafs-Devils game, he seemed less than ordinary.

St. Louis is not trading Colton Parayko, so stop wishing.

Chicago have an intriguing player by the name of Connor Murphy who they acquired in a strange trade with Arizona, as they’re wont to do. He’s a righty, 26, and has an AAV of $3.85 million through 2022. He’s not a top pair stud, but he’s an inexpensive middle-rank defender who can defend, and really not do anything else. He’s not sheltered; he’s dull offensively, and he is PK not PP on the side. I like this guy. I like this guy a lot base on nothing but career stats.

The trouble is Chicago is very hard to judge. They are actually rather bad, but they aren’t totally out of contention for a playoff spot, just mostly, and their big draft pick last summer was a centre. They might be very happy to just keep Murphy.

Does anyone still yearn for Colin Miller, now that he’s not really very good on the Sabres where the competition on the right side means besting Risto? If the Sabres can find someone to take Zach Bogosian as a rental, they might choose to keep Miller and see if their next coach can make something of him. I haven’t changed my mind on him. He’s Travis Dermott with a few more years experience.

Bob McKenzie mentioned two potential targets in his radio hit: Dumba and Josh Manson, and Manson is the next one on the list. He’s had some injury troubles this season, and the Ducks are bad, again, so he’s tough to judge on his current play, but his career is very, very interesting:

Now, he’s no Pesce, and the HockeyViz career numbers have him as league average defensively, which is interesting to see that big difference from RAPM, but the problem with judging Manson is separating him from Hampus Lindholm. I suggested years ago, before the Muzzin trade, that Manson would be my top pick, and I haven’t wavered from that too much.

He has a cap hit of $4.1 for this year and two more, and he also has a 12-team no trade list, so there’s one minor roadblock. But the Ducks are absolutely in a bind, and have to move out their older players to make something out of their team, and therein lies the downside of Manson. He’s now 28, so this would be very much a Muzzin redux trade.

2021

And now we’re down to the dregs of the list in terms of term. The defenders who only have one more year after this one. This is the bare minimum according to McKenzie, and I have no trouble believing it.

Jeff Petry is here, but the Habs ain’t giving us Jeff Petry, so forget it.

The Ducks absolutely would trade Erik Gudbranson, but do we want him? No, we don’t.

Winnipeg won’t move Tucker Poolman, and the Oilers won’t sell on Adam Larsson. You could get Connor Carrick from the Devils, and Tampa would give you Luke Witkowski, but alas, the dregs in terms of term are dregs in other ways too.

I’m not up on every player in the NHL who is a lefty on the right side, so I’ll leave that deep research to others, but suffice it to say Ron Hainsey likely isn’t an option.

When the Muzzin trade happened, it really was the only logical move open. There was no one else available worth buying on, and this season seems little different. I live in fear of a Dumba trade because the Barrie trade has left me wondering if the Leafs are really willing to go for nothing but offence from all their defenders. Are they disappointed in Cody Ceci, not for his occasional defensive gaffes, but because he’s not very good when Activated™? I wonder, I really do.

Bring me Manson or Pesce, or even no one. But no more glass cannons please. The Leafs have lots of forwards who can score goals, and they need at least one more defender who can defend.