When I wrote about free agent defenders I spent no time on Brandon Montour, but his name is still on everyone's lips, notably people not watching the Stanley Cup Final. A more in-depth look wouldn't hurt.

First, if the Leafs signed Montour, they would get a right-shooting defender who would bring skill to the team and make them better. The defence corps is so depleted right now, nearly anyone would.

Second, I don't see why Florida would let him walk. But let's assume they might and look at who Montour is behind last year's points that made him famous.


Montour is listed as being from Brantford in a lot of places, but he is actually from the Six Nations of the Grand River community of Ohsweken. He is 30 now, and was drafted in 2014 55th overall by the Anaheim Ducks.

He played in the USHL system, and did one season in the NCAA before moving directly to the Ducks AHL team right out of the draft. He played one more year in the AHL for them and split the 2016-2017 season between the NHL and the AHL.

In 2019, Anaheim, about to be perpetually rebuilding, had Montour on a the first year of a two year deal at $3.4 million. They traded him to Buffalo at the deadline for a first-round pick and defender Brendan Guhle. Guhle retired at 26 during his one season in Germany after suffering a knee injury while with Anaheim. The pick got the Ducks a prospect still in the AHL today. That has nothing to do with Montour, it's just an interesting look at trading "expensive" players because you want younger prospects.

In Buffalo, Montour's first full year, Jack Eichel played the full season, Sam Reinhart was still there and Jeff Skinner was terrible. Jake McCabe was part of an 11-man defence corps. Buffalo finished third last in the Atlantic at the start of the period where it became increasingly difficult to beat out the Red Wings and the Senators and eventually Montréal for last place.

The Sabres signed him for one year at a slight increase on his prior deal late in October of 2020 after reports surfaced that they were just not going to issue a qualifying offer, they were that dissatisfied with him. This was the first time a lot of interest in him surfaced in Leafs-land, but he was so unimpressive in Buffalo, most people would have hated a trade for him.

The Sabres were bad in the short season starting in January, 2021, Montour still wasn't getting points, and the Sabres actually had defensive prospects, so they traded him to Florida at the deadline for a third-round pick. He did not arrive with a bang, and was pointless in their 6-game playoff round that year as they were beat by the ultimate champion, the Tampa Bay Lightning.

And then something changed. It wasn't just Paul Maurice, because in the 2020-2021 season, Montour played under Joel Quenneville and Andrew Brunette. But under Maurice for two years, he's suddenly a points-generating defender who looks... well, like he doesn't defend very well, to be honest.

Defence vs Points

I'm going to stir defending, possession, generating offence and points for and against all together and look at GAR. Or Standings Points Above Replacement as it is shown here:

Plot object

The top part is just how much the player contributed overall to standings points. The bottom is the same thing rated per 60 minutes. Note the TOI colour. Florida is not the first time he's played big minutes. And if you look at the 2020 offseason, you can understand why Buffalo considered just not qualifying him.

The most interesting season is really his one good year in Anaheim, and they were a good (for the Pacific) team that year, but got swept by the Sharks in the first round of the playoffs, which is likely why it's forgotten. They had a nice long list of good forwards, and that seems to be the key to unlock Montour's value – you need forwards providing the structure in which he plays. Maurice is a very structure-oriented coach as well.

Now let's take the goal scoring skill and luck out of the equation and look just at Montour. The trouble is his isolated values using Evolving Hockey's RAPM model are all over the place. He was replacement level in 2020-2021, a Corsi For machine with only mildly bad defence the next year, an offensive god in 2022-2023 to the point no one cared his defending was as bad as it was. And this year? Some actual defending that looks okay with some good Corsi For and a net-negative impact on goals for.

I don't know who this guy is. And HockeyViz disagrees with EH a little, mostly about this current season and the power play. EH has always shown him to be very effective on the power play, and HV has him as a null factor more often than not. Where they do agree is that this season he had some good defensive results which is, in a massive understatement, not his normal results.

Note: this does not include this season

Can he score? No, not really, and he doesn't show up in "setting" the HV measure of playmaking. His constant, as long as there are good forwards on the team, is generating offence. So now let's talk about what that is. People simplify the word offence down to mean scoring goals or getting assists, and if you say a player is good offensively when they don't get points, you'll get comically worded incredulity in reply. But points don't just happen out of thin air, and there's a host of skills that create offence that mostly amount to keeping the puck in the offensive zone.

Montour is good at those things but he needs forwards who can take that puck and do interesting things with it. He played this season most of the time with Niko Mikkola, who is not a top-pairing defender but eye tests as a physical force defensively. He played last season with Marc Staal, who is also not a top-pairing defender. You should be looking at this and saying, wow, this guy carried his pairings and was great while Gustav Forsling was on some other pair most of the time. Montour plays the most minutes at five-on-five, though due to special teams use.

One clue about who carries whom comes in HV's new Transition Impact charts. What I get from this, is that both Staal and Mikkola are total opposites to Montour and they have some good effect at their own blueline in ensuring zone exits and entries go how you want them to. Good relative to Montour, at least, while his value comes at the opposing blueline.

If this guy had any history outside this season of defensive value, he'd be damn near perfect. But he doesn't. And the very little he does have seems to be forward-influenced Corsi-affecting, "the best defence is staying in the offensive zone" defence. Morgan Rielly lite. Which would be great, don't get me wrong. On a second pair with McCabe, and with Matt Roy or his simulacrum on the top pair, that would be amazing. Particularly if the EH reckoning of Montour's power play ability is real. He can PK too.

There isn't the cap space for that plan with a guy this expensive – over $6 million – that fare down the depth chart. Even with the magic cap clearing removal of two top forwards everyone envisages for 2025-2026, he doesn't fit because suddenly the Leafs will need top forwards.

It's the wrong place to put that much money. And he's the wrong guy to pair with Rielly. Someone who will continue to play him more minutes will sign him and get whatever game he's got next in his variable repertoire.