In the last post on the quest for defence, I looked at free agents. There's RFAs out there as well as UFAs, but RFAs are just trade targets that come complete with an unknown contract amount. The Leafs are not awash in assets, and they have some players I don't believe they will trade in any deal: namely Matt Knies and Easton Cowan. But they likely would trade any first-round picks they have, lesser prospects and... well, that is about all there is.

The process for looking at trade targets is the same as for UFAs. Is the player tilted to defence, is that defence more than just puck skills, but do they have puck skills, and how expensive are they going to be for the value they offer.

First Stop, Utah

When they were still in Arizona, the GM of the Coyotes set up a team where some forwards had term for a few years, but all the defence expired this summer. Utah, therefore, with the same GM, can do almost anything with that defence. There has been reporting that they are looking for a different look and will rework it, to which I'd say: wow, no kidding.

Arizona was 26th in Expected Goals Against last season, and slightly better in Corsi Against, which leads you to think their defending in the zone was worse than their overall puck possession. Also Sean Durzi was their number one defender. But that's where I'm going to start.

Durzi is an RFA with arbitration rights who was just played as a number one defender. This is the Timothy Liljegren arbitration problem writ even larger. The way out of that problem, where his usage will give him an award bigger than what you want to pay, is to offer term at the AAV that more accurately reflects what he's worth where he will be played. So, could the Leafs get Durzi for a number that reflects his value, and would they want him (back)?

Durzi had good overall results by Expected Goals (RAPM version) but was league average at Expected Goals Against. That seems good, but he was playing on a team that rarely won, so other teams could get a couple goals, sit back and cruise. It's very difficult to take results seriously on a team like that. His results with LA in the prior two years are one very bad year and one very good.

He's better at generating offence than Liljegren, better at some aspects of defending, but his overall defensive impact is about the same. I actually expect Utah to keep him, since he's a viable second-pairing player and a right-shooter, hard worker, etc. Good draft pick by Dubas and co. but not quite worth doing a Tampa and trading to get him back.

UFA Josh Brown is a right shooter with size and reach, and that's the total of the good things I can say about him, so he's a no. Travis Dermott is replacement level, but we knew that. J.J. Moser (aka Janis Moser) is Durzi without the offensive value, and that leaves their truly good player, Juuso Välimäki.

Välimäki played a little less than Durzi, shoots left, but is also an RFA with arbitration rights. He's likely going to get a much lower award, maybe half as much because Durzi gets more points. Both the HockeyViz and RAPM models have him as the only defensive value on the team. And it's net-front, Expected Goals limiting, not just possession-based defending. If he was a righty he'd be perfect, and he's going to be so inexpensive relative to value, handedness should be tossed aside.

Plot object

Just one tiny problem, though. In 2022, he was waived out of training camp by Brad Treliving. That's how Arizona got him. That might have been coach-related, but still it made Calgary look stupid, and people don't like the guy who made them look stupid.

If I were the Utah GM, I'd ditch everyone but Välimäki and Durzi and shove them down the lineup with two top-pair defenders. And they likely will do that, and every time someone guesses the top UFA du jour is going to a top team, they forget about the newest rich team with heaps of cap space who are ready to go shopping.

Filip Hronek

Where to start with this story. How about this unintentionally hilarious line from Canucks Army:

Trade Hronek now, and the Canucks’ new top priority immediately becomes securing a Hronek replacement.

And I laugh in the full knowledge that that is what the Leafs will be doing if they trade Timothy Liljegren.

Maybe I should just say he's an RFA with arbitration rights like Liljegren, or that there's been some negotiation in the media because the only fanbase as easy to rile as Leafs fans is Canucks fans. He reportedly turned down a deal in the $6 million plus range in-season, and of course he did. He's reportedly looking for (and this seems to be total speculation) something closer the the Hughes deal in the $7 million plus range. And of course he would be.

Vancouver has Hughes on a cheap deal given his value. They can't really expect everyone to fall in line with that deal. But I think this is all the traditional hot air of contract talks. The Canucks seemed to overpay in trade for Hronek, and then looked smart after all with his performance away from the Red Wings. GMs like players that make them look smart. There will be lots of talk of offer sheets with Hronek, but the Canucks have no good reason to get in the high-end, right-shooter line at the defenceman store. They'll make a deal here.

There's some RFAs out there who could be decent number five or six defenders, but the Leafs need that like they need another hole in the top pair. On to the older, wiser and more expensive trade targets.

Dmitry Orlov

I mentioned in the last couple of posts that I'd just trade Orlov if I were running Carolina. If I were running the Leafs I would be very interested.

He's played top pair minutes until he hit Carolina, and even there, he was playing what counts as top-four on a lot of teams. He is pretty useless on the power play (knock a million off his AAV), and he's got much more defence than offence (knock another million off).

Even so, he was a sought after UFA last summer, and he chose Carolina for two years at $7.75 million. He has no trade protection on this deal. He is going to be 33 this summer, and he shoots left, which are the big knocks against him for our purposes. On the other hand, he really was excellent in Carolina, but was that him or Carolina?

In 2023 at the deadline, Washington traded him to Boston where he had this run of points that dried up in the playoffs. This unsustainable surge and relapse is totally normal. In Carolina he had a light regular season and very good playoffs for points. This is why I'm not looking at points in this exercise. If I wanted lies, I'd make up my own. But the isolation models say his defending was way off in 2022-2023 on both teams he played for. In 2021-2022 on a very poor Capitals team, it was the equal of his Carolina season.

This is all pretty typical of a player his age on a team in decline who is traded to a new team. His trade year is often a pretty down year, that's partly why the declining team is moving him out. Carolina bet smart on him, though, and their plan may be to use him to replace the top four guy they let go now – if they actually do that.

But getting assets in trade for your oldest defender and paying younger players instead is what you should do when you have their "problem" of too many good players.

He's not a perfect fit for Toronto and he's expensive in AAV. No Carolina won't retain. To get him at the deadline, Boston paid Craig Smith (a forward doing well in Dallas now), a first-round pick, a second-round pick and a third-round pick. There was salary retention as part of the deal, so there was also a fifth-round pick involved. A non-deadline deal a year later is not going to be that pricey, but make no mistake, this would require a real player of serious value and/or the first-rounder going back plus some other things. That's why Carolina should do it, and if they should do it, it will cost the Leafs.

Should the Leafs do it? If he was a righty and five years younger, I'd be firmly in favour, but he's not, and the asset pool is very depleted.

Trevor van Riemsdyk

You can't talk defencemen without mentioning TVR. He's also turning 33, is a right-shooter and had an outstanding year in Washington for the defensive side of the equation. He is all defence, with no real detriment to offence, but no value add. He played about 17 minutes a game, sometimes as the second pair, sometimes the third, and is on the final year of a $3 million AAV contract.

He's perfect as a defence-only second pairing guy, but the top pairing addition would need to tilt to some offence. His name comes up every year, and Washington keeps not trading him. I don't think they have any intention of moving him. He played a lot with Rasmus Sandin, which sounds perfect to me. Why mess with that?

Cam Fowler

There's been some talk that Anaheim might want to cash out Cam Fowler's value now. He is also turning 33 later this year and is on the last year of a $6.5 million AAV contract. He's been their number one defender his whole career and was drafted 12th overall by them in 2010. He might be one of the least heralded defenders in the NHL, but he's been just fine as they've been very bad. HockeyViz rates him very highly, but Evolving Hockey thinks the last time he was good was two years ago. He is originally from Windsor, and he shoots left. He also has a four-team trade list. That means four teams he would be willing to go to. I bet Utah isn't on it. But I really bet Toronto isn't.

He seems like a player destined to move to some other west-coast team and not quite live up to the trade price (or AAV if the Ducks let him walk as a UFA next year).

San Jose

There's always this assumption that every bad team will trade anyone. But every bad team is not Arizona of old. I don't think San Jose really wants to move anyone but Marc-Edouard Vlasic, and even then, I assume they've realized no one will bite.

They have Mario Ferraro, another constant in trade rumours who never moves, and Jan Rutta, who was great at Worlds until he got suspended for a very dirty head hit. They want to add players. They are the competition, not the source. But for their older players under contract, they will want deadline prices now because they can always just wait.

Ferraro a hot commodity for San Jose — The Fourth Period
The Sharks are open to trading Mario Ferraro, but the price remains high. David Pagnotta hits on this and other topics across the NHL.
Ferraro, 25, is under contract for to [sic] more seasons and comes with a $3.25 million salary cap hit. He is not looking to be traded and enjoys San Jose, but teams are calling, and my understanding is Grier is open to trading him. However, the price remains very high and it will take a significant return for Grier to part with Ferraro.
The Toronto Maple Leafs, Nashville Predators, Calgary Flames, Carolina Hurricanes and Chicago Blackhawks are among the teams believed to have varying levels of interest in Ferraro, some going back to the middle of the season.

The entire Leafs connection appears to be some discussions last deadline, the period when Brad Treliving decided prices are too high.


Seattle is a good overall defensive team with a very beautiful looking heat map showing a black hole in front of their net where no shots are allowed. They also have a couple of defenders who will be UFA next summer.

Adam Larsson will turn 32 this year, and he's another perennial Toronto target. He's still a legit top-pairing right-shooting good defensive player. And you could not get him with Taylor Hall straight up, you'd need much more. He has a 10-team no-trade clause and seems really unlikely to ever be moved.

Brian Dumoulin is a soon to be 33-year-old, left-shooting depth player who is on the last year of a $3.5 million deal. He also has a 10-team no-trade, and is likely to be a deadline move if they move him at all. He is all defence, no offence, and frankly I'd rank Simon Benoit ahead of him.

Vince Dunn, their youngster at 28 this fall, has a full no-trade, and for all he keeps showing up in rumours, there's really no reason to move him either.


Trading for a defenceman is expensive, just ask Brad Treliving. The other problem is most teams only want to trade the players you wouldn't want. The free agent pool is much more likely to be where the Leafs find something close to what they need.