Give the Toronto Maple Leafs some credit, playoff results notwithstanding, every year since 2016 the team has found ways to improve themselves and come back a better, more complete team. This season, Kyle Dubas has surrounded his Big Four with a forward cast that would make Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl pissy; Michael Bunting has been a revelation (that a lot of smart people saw coming) and Alex Kerfoot has been a very good winger for the team. Ondřej Kaše has been excellent on the third line, and Ilya Mikheyev has been hotter than the Sun to start 2022. There’s not much need to add there, and certainly no Taylor Hall that could’ve been had for a second round pick. Not still angry about that.
The team has gotten great goaltending (for the most part), and the defense has finally brought along Rasmus Sandin and Timothy Liljegren into permanent roles giving the team real depth. Unfortunately, Jake Muzzin hasn’t had the best year he possibly could have up to this point. He’s dealt with an injury, COVID, and now a concussion that’s keeping him out indefinitely. Justin Holl has also not had the best of seasons, often supplanted by the rookie Liljegren. Despite what the long-term future looks like for Muzzin, he’s still a defenseman you can believe in as a top defensive guy.
That said, this season he could use some help. A partner that can do a little more than Holl, and who isn’t as green as Lil-green. As a top-five team in the league, the choice for who the Leafs acquire at the Trade Deadline should be a defenseman. Someone to help right now, and perhaps someone who can be brought into the fold and be another weapon in the team’s arsenal.
So, if the consensus is on a defenseman, who should they get? There have been lots of names in the rumour mill the past few months, but I’ve compiled a list of four players that fit the following criteria:
- Right-shot defenseman
- An upgrade to the top-four
- On a team that is willing to trade
- Affordable on the cap
- Affordable with the trade assets the Leafs have
Damon Severson (27) — 2 x $4.16M
Severson is probably the best player to do what the Leafs want, sits on a bad team, and has a contract nearing its end. Severson is also the youngest of the group at 27 and has a second year on his deal, which could appeal to Kyle Dubas like it did with Muzzin when he was acquired. As a borderline top pair defenseman, Severson would solidify the top-four into a really strong group and would provide Muzzin a perfect partner. And hey, if Muzzin declines in the next year, Severson would fit like a glove into that role with Sandin likely coming up next to him.
As a right shot, he covers his side of the ice really well. Penalty kill isolates aren’t great (AATJ disagrees this season), but at least he doesn’t need to be played on the power play, especially on the Leafs. I think Severson is a perfect fit for the Leafs, and many people have thought so since he was an RFA at 23. In Toronto, he’ll be coming from a place where he’s the #1 guy to becoming the #4 guy. Easy to see his results getting even better.
Severson probably isn’t going to come cheap, but the Leafs have assets and it’s better to burn them on a good player that provides short- and medium-term value than on Nick Foligno. Severson won’t cost what Chicago was willing to give up for Seth Jones, but Rasmus Ristolainen (stop laughing) cost a first and a second (seriously, stop laughing), Brady Skjei cost a first round pick, and Muzzin was a first and two B-prospects. If the Leafs were to give up their first round pick, Topi Niemala, another prospect or pick, and a contract to make it work (Ritchie, Dermott), would you agree?
Damon Severson for Topi Niemala + Semyon Der-Arguchintsev + 2022 1st
|Leafs say no||765|
|Devils say no||155|
|I don’t see the fit||84|
Mark Pysyk (30) — 1 x $900k
Totally Offside has been begging for this article for a while and it’s finally here. Mark Pysyk, sometimes a forward, mostly a defenseman, could be the cheap and cheerful addition to the back end for the Leafs. Currently on the Buffalo Sabres, Pysyk is playing second pair after spending a lot of time in the bottom half of the defense corps in Florida for many years.
He had very good isolated impacts from HockeyViz before this season, and this year he’s had to take on a big defensive role for the Sabres, who are bad, and the team appears to be better when he’s on the ice. He won’t make a big difference to the Leafs, but I’m relatively confident he’s better than the fourth guy the Leafs have now, and he should come cheap. I’m thinking no higher than a fourth round pick. But you never know with Dubas, he might pull a Foligno again. Once again, not still angry about that.
Josh Manson (30) — 1 x $4.1M
The Anaheim Ducks are in a divisional playoff spot at the moment (thanks, Oilers) so there’s a very good chance they’ll keep Manson as an own rental to keep the morale of this young group up. At the moment, the Ducks would play the LA Kings in the first round, so it’s very possible they could go a round or two.
If things do turn south for the Ducks (which is very unlikely), Manson could be a cheaper option to Severson due to him not being as good and being on the last year of his contract. I think the Ducks like their young defensemen coming up, including Jamie Drysdale who’s already in the NHL. If they feel like they can afford to sell for the future while still going on a playoff run, that’s the best of both worlds for them.
Don’t worry, the Leafs won’t be giving up William Nylander this time. The ask would probably be a second round pick and an okay-ish prospect so they can take back a contract (maybe they want Nick Ritchie back?).
Scott Mayfield (29) — 2 x $1.45M
I’ll be quite honest, I don’t think Scott Mayfield is any good when he’s not playing next to Adam Pelech, who is very good on merit. Mayfield is having his first positive impact season and I think it’s entirely because of Pelech being his defense partner. He’s as comparable to Justin Holl as you can get, which might work if you want to swap for a less expensive model, but I want to focus on upgrades and Mayfield wouldn’t be that. The grass isn’t greener on Long Island.
You might be wondering why i don’t have any of the big defensive names on the trade block on my list. Where are Ben Chiarot, Cody Ceci, and Tyson Barrie? I kid, but we might as well talk about some of the most famous defensemen on the market.
John Klingberg is a great offensive defenseman if you need a puck mover on your power play and at 5v5. As much as he would help the Leafs lean into what they’re good at, he’s going to come at a massive price. The Leafs might put in an offer, but they’d be giving up a lot for a couple months of a guy they kind of already have in Morgan Rielly and Rasmus Sandin. Those assets would be better used within the organization or to find someone to specifically help Muzzin on the defensive end.
Mark Giordano still has it at the ripe old age of 38 (still young in human standards!), but he’s a left shot and I still worry a little bit about what the Leafs would be getting, especially if he was the only addition the team could make from a salary cap point of view. If I were Dubas, I would do my due diligence, talk to him, the people in Seattle I know, and my own staff before being sure. If there’s a fit, and he has the fire and the body to go for it, then I would consider it. His shot, penalty killing, and experience would be very valuable to this team. He won the Norris three years ago for crying out loud!
Jakob Chychrun is a really good defenseman and only 23 years of age. He’s a first pairing guy without much doubt, which is why the demand for him is going to be so high the Leafs won’t have the assets to pay for it. I’m sure the Leafs will put in an offer, but he’s going to get something a lot more competitive from a team on the ups, not one that is already established like the Leafs are. Detroit, New Jersey, LA, Anaheim, and Seattle. All those teams have the trade assets and space in the lineup for Chychrun.
Or Florida, who has a package the Leafs just can’t match.
Marek on what Florida might have to offer Arizona for Jakob Chychrun:— NHL Watcher (@NHL_Watcher) January 19, 2022
You're probably looking at a Spencer Knight, Anton Lundell, 1st RD pick. It sounds like a lot, and it is, but that's going to be the price for Chychrun.
If they did acquire him, the Leafs would have to juggle Rielly, Muzzin, and Chychrun on the left side, all of whom are #1s or #3s. I just don’t think the Leafs need to make such a big swing. Give up a couple assets, but they’re going to need their best forward prospects (Robertson, Amirov, Knies, etc) to fill up the forward lines with ELCs. I think the Leafs would have to trade two of those guys and possibly Sandin on top of them to make a deal work (and one of them will absolutely be Arizona-native Matthews Knies). As much as I would love Chychrun on the Leafs, they just don’t have the depth of assets. It’s wrong place wrong time for them in their win curve, unfortunately.
As for any others, Chiarot is bad, Rasmus Ristolainen is LOL, we’ve already recycled Ceci and Barrie once before, and I don’t see the appeal in Connor Murphy at all. If you have suggestions for other possibly available defensemen, I’d like to hear their names in the comments. Just remember, this team needs someone who’s been in the top four, not someone who has “top four potential” but has never stuck higher than a third pair.
Do everything to get Severson. His contract situation would give the Leafs two playoff runs, his age fits with the Leafs window, there’s both means and opportunity to extend him past his current contract to be the top-four right-shot defenseman the team’s been looking for since Bryan McCabe, and he’s good defensively without scoring those pesky salary-inflating points.
If the Devils balk, believing they want his 30s when the team isn’t ready to compete or to give him up for less, then it comes down to finding a fit with someone like Giordano, or adding some below-average defensemen that could potentially be a fit with Muzzin on a systems perspective or be available as depth.
Who should be next to Jake Muzzin when the playoffs begin?
|I think the Leafs should just trade Muzzin||122|