When Toronto Maple Leafs’ general manager Kyle Dubas spoke at his end-of-season press conference, there were many notable quotes regarding the roster. He gave his thoughts on making adjustments, the core of his team and shutting down the idea of moving a major piece like Mitch Marner in a major shake-up.
The Maple Leafs have elite talent up front but still manage to suffer on the blue line. Even though Dubas has the utmost faith in them and they’re continuing to grow and develop as players, how long will it be before he has to make a major decision to help the team? It just so happens that teams that were eliminated from the postseason are able to start making trades and the Maple Leafs should be making calls.
While Dubas will want to try and keep his top-four intact, if Marner or William Nylander is the asking price for a top-four defenseman, then he has a difficult decision to make. He could also try a package deal with assets at his disposal with Kasperi Kapanen, Andreas Johnsson and Alexander Kerfoot. Defensemen like Timothy Liljegren or Travis Dermott could also be valuable trade pieces.
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We know that the Maple Leafs’ core is essential to their success. But after four years of failing to advance past the first round of the playoffs, this should be the starting point of trying to re-evaluate what the team actually looks like. Dubas is going to have to pay up and try to salvage a defense that remains a weak spot. Here are a few options that he can target through a trade to help his team.
While the St. Louis Blues are still in the playoffs, when the offseason opens up, they have an asset that the Maple Leafs should enquire about.
Parayko is probably the most notable name that the Maple Leafs can target. He is no stranger to the rumour mill. The link between the Blues defenseman and the Maple Leafs predates the 2018-19 season when there was the ongoing contract negotiation between the Maple Leafs and Nylander.
He fills a positional need and would bolster the right side where the Maple Leafs are weakest. Tyson Barrie didn’t reach expectations as the right-handed defenseman the team hoped for and Cody Ceci was less than stellar. Parayko could be the balance they’re looking for in terms of offense and defense. Not to mention, a player in his prime who is locked in at $5.5 million for the next two years is good value for a top-four defenseman. Not only that, but it would also free up some space for the Blues to re-sign Alex Pietrangelo.
Parayko is capable of being a 30-40 point producer. He has a powerful slap shot that many fear in the offensive zone. His defensive game is really strong as he’s able to provide strong one-on-one coverage, while also bringing a physical edge. It also helps that he’s able to log a lot of minutes. During the regular season, he was second on the team at even-strength ice time (23:00) and was sixth on the penalty kill, with 1:57 per game.
Furthermore, Parayko has a Stanley Cup to his name. He has the drive and mindset to do whatever it takes to win, a quality needed to win a championship. However, the Blues may not be in a position to move the hulking defenseman as he’s once again playing well during the postseason.
Manson’s name has been linked to the Maple Leafs for quite some time, even before Parayko came into the picture.
He’s under contract at $4.1 million for the next two seasons, which is exceptional value, and he could come at a cheaper price than Parayko. With the Ducks likely headed into a rebuild, the 28- year- old is a target that the Maple Leafs shouldn’t back down from. However, with a greater weakness on the right side than the Maple Leafs, the Ducks may want to hang onto him as part of their future.
Manson’s aggressive shutdown defensive style is what the team has lacked. That was the case all season and during the qualifying round. The Maple Leafs’ lack of depth proved costly when Jake Muzzin was out of the lineup. Manson would have filled that void as a veteran presence.
Considering his style, Manson still manages to do well in terms of puck possession. The Ducks were even in terms of five-on-five Corsi For percentage when he was on the ice, which is great considering he has been known to help drive the play as one of the Ducks’ top defensemen.
However, he was on the ice for 40 goals against during the 2019-20 season. Knowing his ability to previously shut it down, the Ducks were far from being what they were in the past.
|Season||Manson’s Goals For||Manson’s Goals Against|
The 2017-18 season was when Manson reached his highest Goals For percentage at 5v5 with 63.30. The Ducks then started to regress in the standings and overall.
Manson could be the missing piece on a team that has struggled to decrease the number of chances and goals against. He never strays from his position, he ties up the opposition and gets into the shooting lanes. Not to mention, he has the ability to join the rush and chip in offensively.
While the Maple Leafs have strong puck-movers on the back end, Manson’s presence would benefit the Maple Leafs with his defense-first mentality.
The team that should be at the forefront of trade partners for the Maple Leafs is the Nashville Predators. Recently, general manager David Poile promised that changes were on the horizon after the team lost to the Arizona Coyotes in their qualifying round.
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Despite outplaying their opposition at 5v5 with a 56.30 CF%, the Predators had a shooting percentage of 4.55% and have struggled since making the Stanley Cup Final in 2017. Like the Maple Leafs, that’s disappointing given the offense they have upfront with Filip Forsberg, Viktor Arvidsson, Matt Duchene, Ryan Johansen and Kyle Turris. Those five account for $32.25 million of the Predators’ cap space. That’s a lot of money that could be difficult to move.
While the Predators’ main priority should be to unload some of those contracts, they also need some youth on offense. The Maple Leafs have plenty of young, talented forwards to offer and might want to acquire some help on the backend in the form of Mattias Ekholm. His contract should be enticing ($3.75 million for two more seasons) to a team like the Maple Leafs.
Even though he’s a left-hand shot, he would improve the Maple Leafs’ defense on that side. Ekholm is a reliable two-way presence who has managed to hit the 30-point mark four times in the last five seasons. His 2:50 SH TOI/GP was first on the Predators during the regular season and he averaged 1:20 on the power play. Despite having average possession numbers this season, when the Predators didn’t play as advertised, he has a career CF% of 53.3.
While the Maple Leafs want to be known for their speed and skill, that wasn’t the case in their play-in round against the Columbus Blue Jackets. Ekholm would provide that steady balance as an offensive presence with great coverage in his own end.
Swing for the Fences
While top-pairing defensemen come at a price, if Dubas really wants to make an impact, he will have to swing for the fences and make a deal that will shock the hockey world. Like the Montreal Canadiens and the Predators who swapped P.K. Subban and Shea Weber, and Seth Jones who was traded to the Blue Jackets for Ryan Johansen, there is always a market to trade a star for a star.
With the cap being on every team’s mind, the obvious suspect to be dealt is Nylander as he carries a cheaper cap hit at $6.962 million than Marner, who is close to $11 million. The Maple Leafs would probably have to retain part of Marner’s salary, and I don’t think they’re willing to entertain that option given how close to the cap they are right now. They could use as much space as possible despite managing to stay under the cap to make transactions. It’s possible, but still difficult to maintain.
The Maple Leafs aren’t going to go far with this defensive unit. With a lot of names heading into free agency, Dubas shouldn’t be afraid to make a blockbuster deal to improve the weakest part of his team. It may be what the team needs.
The possibilities are endless for the Maple Leafs to acquire help on the blue line. In order to find a balance on the roster, some forwards may be on the way out. Whether it is depth players with high potential or a star player, most of the team seems to be on the trading block. All eyes will be on Dubas as he tries to fix the mess on defense.
Statistics and numbers from Natural Stat Trick, Hockey Reference and Cap Friendly. Image from Charting Hockey.