Conor Garland Is a Better Trade Target for Maple Leafs Than J.T. Miller

The news of Toronto Maple Leafs defenseman Jake Muzzin suffering his second concussion in a month is concerning to say the least. As a result, he was placed on long-term injured reserve. 

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Muzzin wasn’t having the best season to date. They aren’t going to rush him back and the hope is that if he returns from this concussion, then they might get the Muzzin that has showed up in the past and be that two-way threat. With the Maple Leafs down one of their top-four defensemen, it does give them options as to how they’re going to approach their deadline plans. 

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With Muzzin on LTIR, that frees up $5.65 million in cap space, a good amount of space to work with if Muzzin is shut down until the playoffs. The Maple Leafs have been rumoured to add another top-four defenseman, particularly on the right side. But now they’re looking to add some depth up front by bringing in a top-six forward.

Conor Garland, Vancouver Canucks
Conor Garland, Vancouver Canucks (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Last year, I wrote why then Arizona Coyotes forward Conor Garland would be a perfect fit for the Maple Leafs. While all the talk has been on Vancouver Canucks forward J.T. Miller being dealt, Garland could once again be a fit as a legitimate top-six option for the Maple Leafs this time around.  

Better Term With Garland Than Miller

It’s been known that general manager Kyle Dubas would like to bring in a player with term– within their range and not put them in even more of a cap crunch. But with more space to work with, he has the chance to make a bigger deal than previously expected.

As the rumours continue to swirl, THW’s Shane Seney previously wrote how the Maple Leafs and Canucks could produce a blockbuster deal. Getting Miller would be a great addition for the Maple Leafs. 

Miller does have a decent contract at $5.25 million for one more season after this one. This is something that would entice any team– to bring a legitimate top-six forward with a contract under $6 million is hard to come by. Especially one who is currently leading the team in scoring with 57 points in 51 games. The only disadvantage to his contract is that the Maple Leafs would be getting one more season of service. 

The Maple Leafs could pay a hefty price to bring Miller in, which is reported to be a top prospect, a first-round pick and more. Once he hits free agency, his asking price might be a bit too high for a team that’s already doing it’s best to work around the salary cap and re-sign him. Giving up that much for one season is a really big gamble, especially if he decides to walk.

Conor Garland Vancouver Canucks
Conor Garland, Vancouver Canucks (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

If we shift our focus to Garland, he has more of a team friendly contract that will benefit the Maple Leafs more as he signed a five-year, $24.75 million contract in the offseason after being traded to the Canucks– an AAV of $4.95 million. Should the Maple Leafs make a deal for Garland instead of Miller, they’d be getting a player for four more seasons of his service. This could definitely work in their favour. 

In addition, the price to acquire Garland might cost less than what the market might be for Miller. The Maple Leafs do have a decent prospect pool to move some pieces around for a top-six forward. Instead of Miller’s asking price, you might be able to move a mid-level prospect like Roni Hirvonen or Mikhail Abramov, a mid-round pick or maybe a roster player. The Maple Leafs still have assets to move without bringing in their top prospects into the mix.

The Maple Leafs have been linked to Garland in the past and they may have another opportunity to try and bring him in now that he’s signed. 

Garland’s Strong Production

While Miller is leading the team in scoring, Garland is still having a very productive season with the Canucks as he has 30 points in 48 games. All while averaging 16:14 of ice time per game as he’s on-pace to have his best season with 46 points.

Getting that kind of ice time and still be tied for fourth in team scoring isn’t something to sneer at. If Garland was on the Maple Leafs he would be eighth on the team in scoring, while still keeping with the production of the other top names on the team. Not only that, he would provide a spark for the second-line as John Tavares has been on a cold streak lately. 

While Miller has the advantage in points for the Canucks, Garland has the advantage in terms of underlying numbers. Here is a breakdown of both players impact at five-on-five this season.

 CF%GF%xGF%SCF%HDGF%
Conor Garland52.5864.7153.1552.4462.96
J.T. Miller50.2849.0247.2549.6546.15

Garland is doing a much better job of being impactful when he’s on the ice in terms of goals for, scoring chances and high danger goals for compared to Miller as he’s among the team’s best in each category. Garland has always been a driver for offense as he does a really great job of driving hard to the front of net. These numbers support that as he continues to be an underrated offensive contributor.

Conor Garland Arizona Coyotes
Conor Garland formerly of the Arizona Coyotes (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

In addition, Garland fairs better against elite competition as he has a better GF% (58.3) compared to Miller (50) this season. Garland does see less time against those players– only 27.4% of the time– while Miller sees 38.3% of his time against high end competition. Despite the difference in the percentage of minutes than Miller against tough competition, Garland might be a better fit for the Maple Leafs given that he has a slight edge in that regard. 

Garland Fits The Bill

Garland continues to play with a high level of pace. He has a great shot, but it’s his speed and drive that’ll give the Maple Leafs an advantage. They already have a talented forward group, especially in their top-six and Garland will make them even deeper with his ability to be a strong possession player. 

Related: Maple Leafs’ Special Teams Provide Bright Spot During Recent Slump

Much like Michael Bunting on the top line, Garland would provide a jolt of energy, speed and skill to their second line that wants to regain their form from the first half of the season. The term and value on his contract are an added bonus as it’s exactly what Dubas is looking for when trying to make a deal to improve his team. 

Whether, they go after Garland or not, they definitely should circle back and bring him in after their previous interest.

Statistics from Natural Stat Trick, Puck IQ, Hockey Reference and Cap Friendly.