Maple Leafs seeking big bodies on defence — The Fourth Period
The Toronto Maple Leafs are looking to get bigger on the blueline.

Ignore the "big bodies" headline, and focus on this:

On the trade front, the Maple Leafs have been linked to St. Louis Blues rearguard Colton Payrayko [sic], who has a full no movement clause [Cap Friendly lists this as a full no-trade clause] would have to approve any trade the St. Louis Blues attempt to complete; Treliving reportedly had interest goes back to when he was with the flames.

They don't say who has done this linking or if this is their reporting or someone else's. Last February, Elliotte Friedman speculated that Parayko was who the Leafs should be looking at. There was a lot of discussion at the time amongst fans and media, as there always is with the Leafs and any big-minute, right-shooting defender. I can't find any current link.

I didn't include Parayko in my trading for defence list because of the NTC, and because there are other trade targets that are better fits. Nothing says those other players are genuinely acquirable, though. And it makes sense that the Blues might want to move Parayko.

St. Louis has a lot of young players signed to ELCs, but none with a wow factor that says they can contest with Robert Thomas, their best young player, who is already 24. This is not a team that looks like they can soft rebuild. They either need a lot of cap space for big trades and UFA signings or they need to get comfortable at the bottom of the standings for a couple of years. Parayko and his long $6.5 million AAV contract doesn't really fit with either scenario and the Blues other defenders making the same money are even harder to move.

Let's forget the contract right now and pretend he's a UFA.

The Player

The main reason Colton Parayko has been on Leafs fans lips for years is that in 2018-2019, he was really, really good and scored 10 goals. He's done that twice since, once in fewer games in 2019-2020 and once this season. But if you look beyond the flukey nature of defender goals, he shows up as great on isolation models up to 2019, and then really not great since.

The obvious answer to the obvious question of what changed is that Alex Pietrangelo left in 2020 for Vegas. But the decline showed up in Pietrangelo's last year. Backing up to that 2018-2019 season, they are both right shooters, so they didn't play together, but they were one and two in ice time. They were used slightly differently. Pietrangelo's better offensive impacts got him on the ice when goals were needed, and Parayko's better defence got him the shutdown role and slightly more ice time than average against top forwards.

Once Pietrangelo left and the team quality declined, Parayko had one injury-plagued season in the 2021 pandemic year, and then he became the number one defender on the Blues with only Justin Faulk an Nick Leddy for company. The insulation of one of the best in the NHL was gone, the team got worse, and Parayko seems to have been revealed as a player more dependent on teammates than the other way around.

That's looking at overall value, though. By GAR or SG on Evolving Hockey or HockeyViz, he drops off. But the drop is mostly offensive. He never loses his defensive oomph, and he tilts toward limiting quality, not just quantity. He's defending, not just having a good impact on Corsi Against.

What I mean by offence is not personal shooting. Parayko scored 10 goals and was replacement level this season at offence generation. That means his effect of puck possession, keeping it, getting it, passing it to the right people who could keep it was poor. He added nothing north of his own blueline beyond those goals.

Plot object

He is 31, and that injury in 2021 was a back injury. You have to wonder if his speed and agility have been affected but that was not on display at Worlds for Team Canada, rather the opposite.

If Parayko was a UFA, he would be a defensively tilted, big, hard-playing, right-shooter who can handle top line opponents. And the Leafs don't need help offensively. I'd say go for it, and because he's not ideal and has struggled on a deteriorating Blues team, he would be the kind of better priced defender than you'd normally get from someone playing his role.

But he's not a UFA.

The Contract

If Parayko is not quite the ideal player, his contract is not either. On the other hand, without this contract, he's likely not even acquirable.

The deal runs to 2030 or six more years at $6.5 million.

With an expectation of rising cap ceilings a deal that's less than half of what Auston Matthews makes for a player you're planning to play more minutes per game than Matthews is not exactly expensive. Not right now, it isn't.

To put the most positive spin on the term, there is only a 15-team no-trade in the final two years, not a full no-trade. Remember, clauses travel with the contract, and waiving a no-trade once doesn't void it forever.

In terms of salary, the contract was gently front-loaded, so the final three years are at $4.8 million in salary with no signing bonuses. It's not buyout proof, and the cap hit to buyout the final two years is not terrible. And let's be real – where are the Leafs in 2029 when Matthews is 32 and on his third big contract, William Nylander is 33 and two years from UFA status and Morgan Rielly is one year from UFA status and 35.

Parayko's deal was set up to go too long on purpose to keep the AAV down. These two things – term and cap hit – are linked. A statement that a deal is too long is absurd on its face. You want a player with four years left, not six? Then look in the seven to eight million range or a couple of years older.


Everyone wants the ideal player. Young and fit, famous and good, no bad off-ice characteristics and a fun guy who gives a good interview. You want points and defence – every single player drafted at the PWHL draft this summer told the interviewers they thought they were a great 200' player. You want that too! Cost controlled perfection with all their original teeth.

The question is how far off the ideal should you travel. And when you're looking around at an empty barn, maybe you can't be too picky.

I can't guess at a trade price. This is a lot like Jacob Markstom – a bad contract, some questionable results, but a lot of reason to think there's upside. You're not getting salary retention on a deal this long, not unless the Blues are desperate to move him, but the price can't be anything like Dmitry Orlov would cost.

Next time, soon, I'm going to more seriously look at Brandon Montour, another imperfect choice.