The Toronto Maple Leafs should sign unrestricted free agent Jamie Oleksiak. He is enormous, he has excellent statistics, and he is a Toronto boy. That checks all the boxes of what the Maple Leafs want and need on their blue line. As an added bonus, if there is any truth to the rumour Toronto is pursuing Dougie Hamilton, well, Oleksiak and Hamilton went to high school together.
Size, Strength and Numbers
Oleksiak is 6-foot-7 and weighs 255 pounds. To put that into perspective, Zdeno Chara is 6-foot-9 and 250 pounds. Victor Hedman is 6-foot-6 and 241 pounds. Toronto needs more size. Pierre Engvall is the tallest at 6-foot-5 and one of the heaviest at 214 pounds, but he isn’t a player who throws around his body. Oleksiak, on the other hand, is known to land a big hit.
But it’s not just the 28-year-old’s size that should attract the Maple Leafs. He has the analytics to grab some attention as well. Oleksiak’s 2020-21 Regularized Adjusted Plus-Minus or RAPM chart shows off his work. This method isolates a player’s contributions while on ice – not just his ice time. The big man takes care of the Corsi watchers. He has a CA/60; this analytic refers to shot attempts, goals, misses and blocks. Oleksiak has an xGA/60, which refers to expected goals against. Put it all together, and it means he is hovering at an elite level for limiting shots and opportunities.
Don’t mind the red on the chart. That is for even-strength offence and on the power play. Toronto has Morgan Rielly in that role and is grooming Rasmus Sandin and an alternate. Oleksiak would not be coming to Toronto to score or lead the rush. In 2020-21, he averaged well over 20 minutes of ice time and landed 148 hits. Jake Muzzin led all Maple Leafs with 101 hits. Oleksiak also blocked 88 shots. T.J. Brodie led Toronto with 84 blocked shots.
He Can Fit in the Budget
Oleksiak is coming off a three-year deal he signed worth $6.5 million or $2.17 million per season. For many other teams, this kind of money for this calibre of a defenseman would not be a tricky deal to sign. But, the Maple Leafs are cash-strapped with less than $12 million to fill several roster positions. Still, the money can be found to acquire Oleksiak and perhaps he would consider a hometown deal.
At this time, Toronto has five defensemen under contract from the 2020-21 roster. T.J. Brodie, Jake Muzzin, Morgan Rielly, Justin Holl and Rasmus Sandin. Travis Dermott is a restricted free agent, while Zach Bogosian and Ben Hutton are free agents. Toronto also has Timothy Liljegren in the minors.
There has been speculation that Rielly and his $5 million contract could be traded. The longest-serving Maple Leaf is entering the final year of his deal. If he was off the books, that would leave more than enough money to sign Oleksiak and acquire a few more players. However, this move would limit Toronto’s powerplay quarterback to just Sandin. But Muzzin proved a reliable alternative for limited powerplay action as well.
The Seattle Kraken will be taking a Toronto player. It is tough to predict who, although at this time, the logical player would be Alexander Kerfoot. If that is the case, Toronto would have $3.5 million more to sign players. Still, I expect Kyle Dubas to make a few trades before the expansion draft, including moving out Kerfoot.
Epic High School Reunion
Then there is the Dougie Hamilton rumour. If Kyle Dubas is trying to land the coveted defenseman, adding Oleksiak as well would be a pretty impressive high school reunion. Not to mention, the two players would give the Leafs a solid top four on defence. But that may be an impossible feat given the salary cap restrictions and the fact we are not playing a video game on easy mode.
After another disappointing season, Toronto needs to add more winners to the organization. Oleksiak’s sister, Penny, shares the Olympic record in the 100-metre freestyle. She won two bronze, a silver and a gold medal, at the 2016 Olympics. She was awarded the 2016 Lou Marsh Trophy as Canada’s top athlete, the Bobbie Rosenfeld Award as Canada’s top female athlete for 2016. The Maple Leafs can use both Oleksiaks, one for on ice, the other, to instill the winning mindset.
Kevin Armstrong is an award-winning journalist with more than two decades of experience. He’s been rink side for World Juniors, Memorial Cups, Calder Cups and Stanley Cups. Like many Canadian kids, his earliest memories include hockey. Kevin has spent countless hours in arenas throughout the country watching all levels of the game.