Travis Dermott is a bellwether player for our voters. If you rank him high, you’re favouring proven NHL ability over future potential. If you vote him low, you’re likely ranking on youth and potential a little harder. If Dermott gets a high rank, I can likely tell you the general shape of the rest of the list, and it will skew older. If he’s out of the top 10, then it will skew younger. This year, Dermott’s last year, voting seems to be down the middle of those two choices.

Of course, there’s also a debate to be had about Dermott’s current value as represented by his usage and results. Has he peaked, or is there growth coming?

Growth Potential

One of the oldest players on the list, and one of only two to turn 25 this calendar year, it’s difficult to make a case for expecting major changes in Dermott’s on-ice performance in the future. The case for less dramatic improvements hinges on the idea that his coaches haven’t “given him a chance”. That’s not a phrase I’m fond of, and I prefer this version: He hasn’t made it impossible not to give him a better role.

It’s telling that this is the same conversation we had last winter:

The bloom has come off the rose for Travis Dermott with Leafs fans, and it’s not too hard to see why. In his third NHL season, Dermott has yet to concretely demonstrate that he can be more than a guy who plays sheltered third pair minutes and does reasonably well in them.

That article is a masterclass in who Dermott is, has been, and what his path forward is, and it’s worth your time to go back and read it again. Since then, in a short season and very short playoffs, Dermott sat in the stands more than he has in a long time.

Maple Leafs Defender Usage

PlayerTOIPlayoffs TOI% of Total Available TOIPlayoffs % of Total Available TOI
Morgan Rielly1298.68180.6538.35%41.41%
Tj Brodie1207.22158.135.65%36.24%
Justin Holl1158.47150.3234.21%34.46%
Jake Muzzin1143.8511733.78%26.82%
Travis Dermott674.4348.7319.92%11.17%
Zach Bogosian654.17104.9519.32%24.06%
Rasmus Sandin131.9566.053.90%15.14%
Mikko Lehtonen (D)106.853.16%0.00%
Ben Hutton72.122.13%0.00%
Timothy Liljegren30.180.89%0.00%

As you can see if you look at the percentage of available TOI, Dermott’s usage declined in the playoffs from a low number to begin with. He was replaced by Rasmus Sandin, while Zach Bogosian got more shifts, particularly after Muzzin’s injury.

Our comments in last winter’s article were all about how we can’t really know if he’s going to do more, with a heavy emphasis on handedness holding him back. The Leafs now have an expensive lefty playing right, Sandin learning to play the right side some, and a statement from Dermott at the start of this past season that he was going to work on that to be ready to play 3RD. Reader: He never lined up on the right side.

That usage chart tells one story. The contract the Leafs signed with Dermott to avoid arbitration tells another. And like always with Dermott, I’m not sure what it means.

It’s a two year deal with an AAV of $1.5 million, validating Arvind’s prediction last winter that Dermott would be a Leaf and be cheap in the future. But its salary structure leaves him, as an arbitration-eligible RFA, with a Qualifying Offer on expiry of $1.75 million or only $50,000 below the maximum allowed under the rules on backloading contracts.

That says it’s a show-me deal that would allow him to earn his way to a higher floor on the next deal. But who is he meant to be showing? There isn’t any indication Sheldon Keefe wants to watch him unless he has to. The deal, done before the Expansion Draft, might have been an attempt to colour over the stain on Dermott’s reputation that playoff usage caused. The concept might have been to have him as an attractive looking trade asset or even target for Seattle, but that was not how events unfolded once the Jared McCann trade happened. So, I’m not sure what the Leafs honestly expect from Dermott or what that contract means for him how.

I don’t think Travis Dermott is going to be given a chance. I don’t think he’s got the stuff to force his way back up the lineup as anything but the guy the Leafs have because Zach Bogosian signed in Tampa. Imagine hearing that in an arbitration hearing?

Too Familiar

Last winter I said something that gives me pause today:

Katya: The Leafs have a lot of players nearly too old for this list who I’m not sure about, and Dermott is one. He’s an NHLer for sure, so that’s more than Korshkov and Malgin have going for them. But is he held back by handedness? Is he going to swap over to the right and suddenly blossom in the playoffs, is he really a 5-6 defender or does he belong on the top pair?

Is that bit about him being better than Malgin correct? I wonder about that because I was struck by something on our eligibility list:

Malgin and Dermott are virtually the same age, and have almost identical NHL games played. And Malgin wasn’t even in the NHL last season, and has already given up on finding a new team to try to fit into.

Have we looked at Dermott too much, too hard, taken him too seriously because he was a high second-round pick, taken in a range where expectations are often the most outlandishly overcooked? We seem to keep talking about him like the Leafs coaching staff takes him for granted, and can’t see his value, but are we really too familiar and overlooking that, somewhat like Malgin, he’s never forced his way onto a roster, and has actually nearly slipped off? Maybe they see his value just fine.

Are these two players at similar points in their careers, or is this all just some numerical coincidence. I’m not sure of the answer, but I yanked Dermott down the rankings this year because I actually said this in a discussion: If Dermott was European he’d be a top-pair guy in the KHL and would be gunning for that fancy looking Gagarin Cup this season. And I can’t get that out of my mind. If that’s true, then he is actually interchangeable with the likes of Chris Wideman, Philip Holm, Oliwer Kaski, Igor Ozhiganov and Ville Pokka. And where would we rank them in this list if they were almost 25?

Maybe Dermott and Malgin were at that fabled fork in the road right before the playoffs in May, and their paths have diverged meaningfully already, but after all these years of “give him a chance” and “if he shot right” maybe it’s time to leave our familiarity with him aside, ignore how likable he is, how hard he works, and pretend he’s some player drafted by some other team and consider again if he’s got anywhere to go but sideways.

Our Votes and Comments

Dermott Voting

PlayerTravis Dermott
Weighted Average8.7
Highest Rank5
Lowest Rank11
Spread in Votes6

Brigstew: I had already lost patience with Dermott, not in the sense where I’d give up on him. I just stopped waiting for him to turn into something above what he already was — a guy who can play on the third pair, have nice looking fancy stats, but not contribute that much in terms of offense or any special teams. His lack of any offensive game, and the fact he’s never been able to carve out a role on either the powerplay or even penalty kill is a real cap on his value. And considering how the end of the season/playoffs went where Sandin started taking his spot, and the news that Dubas was trying to bring back Bogosian or sign Hakanpaa, I’m starting to see Dermott’s future as the new Martin Marincin as the 7th defenseman.

Hardev: He’s going to be 25 in December and he’s not reaching above the third pair, despite lots of opportunity now. I think we have to accept that this is where he is, that his often erratic play in the defensive end can’t make him trustworthy higher in the lineup, and he doesn’t ignite offense like we initially thought his zippy frame would do. I like Dermott, I just have to be realistic about what he is. I think Sandin is on the third pair next season, and that the Leafs want someone like Bogosian (or Biega) next to him. I don’t think Dermott is going to make it past November on the Leafs roster, and honestly if I’m him, I would want the new opportunity, even if it means leaving my hometown team I tried really hard to stay on. If he doesn’t try life out somewhere else he might just end up being another Marincin and I don’t think that’s fair to him.

seldo: I had him ranked in my top 5, and was the only person to do so, so I thought I should explain that bit. I hold NHL potential high in my rankings, and Dermott is in the NHL, so I put him higher than others almost solely based on that. I also don’t think he’ll be around much longer in the organization, so his potential to benefit the Maple Leafs is high whether he’s here or not.

Forget his ranking, let’s answer the real question, instead:

Is Travis Dermott capable of more than sheltered 3rd pair minutes?