Maple Leafs Have Depth Defense Options via Free Agency

Toronto Maple Leafs’ general manager Kyle Dubas will be a busy man these next few weeks as he assembles his protection list for the Seattle Kraken expansion draft, prepares for the NHL draft, and checks his finances for some spending on the free-agent market. The Maple Leafs currently sit with almost $11 million in cap space and, depending on how the expansion draft goes, could have a few more dollars to work with. While the team isn’t expected to sign any big-name free agents, Dubas will likely consider signing a depth defenseman to compete for a bottom-pair role come training camp.

3 Depth Defensemen Who Should be on the Maple Leafs Radar

Derek Forbort, Winnipeg Jets

The 6-foot-4, 219-pound defender would bring another big body to the Maple Leafs’ defense and as we’ve seen with the Montreal Canadiens and Tampa Bay Lightning’s bluelines, size does matter. The 29-year-old was much the same as Zach Bogosian, who signed a one-year contract for $1 million and outplayed his contract in 2020-21. Forbort recorded two goals and 10 assists in 56 games last season. His 80 hits would have ranked third on the Maple Leafs this past season, and his 115 blocks would have ranked first on the team by a country mile.

Derek Forbort Los Angeles Kings
Derek Forbort spent four full seasons with the Los Angeles Kings (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Forbort would bring another element of physicality to the Maple Leafs and someone who’s willing to sacrifice his body for the team. Toronto ranked 7th in the NHL in goals against, adding some more shot-blockers would never hurt and would certainly be appreciated by the stick-tapping Jack Campbell.

Forbort has spent his six-year career between the Jets, Calgary Flames, and Los Angeles Kings, where he spent four seasons as a teammate of Jake Muzzin. The two play a very similar style game, it’s just Forbort would cost roughly $1.5-2 million on the cap next season as he projects to get a raise on the open market. He’s the perfect bargain option for Dubas if he wants to add some more size and “nasty” to the blue-line.

Something else to consider is the Kraken expansion draft, where the Maple Leafs could end up losing defenseman Travis Dermott if they do choose to re-sign him before, which by all accounts appears to be in the cards. This would open up another roster spot on the team. Forbort could slide into the bottom-pair with ease and has the ability to push for top-four minutes. Given some of the team’s injury troubles on their back-end this past season, you can never have too many capable defensemen.

Travis Hamonic, Vancouver Canucks

Another North division option, Hamonic, is an option for the right side as he’s now open to playing for other teams besides in Western Canada. The 30-year-old spent this past season with the Canucks after three seasons with the Calgary Flames and seven with the New York Islanders. Hamonic recorded three goals and 10 points in 38 games in 2020-21 and he’s another option for the Maple Leafs if they want to add shot-blockers. The Manitoba native blocked 81 shots in 38 games that would have led the Maple Leafs at a full-season pace.

Travis Hamonic Calgary Flames
Travis Hamonic has been linked to the Maple Leafs for several years (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Adding Hamonic is going to come down to Dubas’ intentions with the mentioned Bogosian. He’s also due for a contract and the two play very similar styles. With the Leafs also having prospect Timothy Liljegren as an option for minutes on the right side next season, it will be curious to see what route management decides to take. If Dubas and company have a ton of confidence, Liljegren is finally ready to step in, don’t expect the team to sign another right-handed option. While the Maple Leafs’ former first-round pick appears ready for more minutes, he may not be ready to be handed the keys. Adding Hamonic on a cheap one-year contract would provide some internal competition for training camp, which is music to the ears of head coach Sheldon Keefe.

Jani Hakanpaa, Carolina Hurricanes

The towering 6-foot-4 defenseman is a name not many hockey fans are familiar with, but if they attended a game and watched him play, they would come to realize – he hits everything in sight. Hakanpaa spent last season between the Anaheim Ducks and Hurricanes as the latter wanted to add some size and toughness for the playoffs. The Finnish defender is known for laying bone-crushing hits and finished this past season with 215, which was good for third in the entire NHL.

Jani Hakanpaa Carolina Hurricanes
Jani Hakanpaa loves to play physical and remind the opposing he’s out there (Photo by Gregg Forwerck/NHLI via Getty Images)

2020-21 was a coming-out party for the late-bloomer as, at 29 years old, he played 57 games last season, shattering his previous career-high of five. Hakanpaa was a former fourth-round selection of the St Louis Blues and spent most of his playing career in Finland. He made the league minimum last season and won’t have a ton of leverage in negotiating, consider his NHL experience is less than 65 total games. He’s the type of low-key signing who adds some serious depth at the bottom of the lineup, which the Maple Leafs need to add more of as this was exposed during the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

It’s time for Dubas and the Maple Leafs to move away from the Martin Marincin and Ben Hutton’s of the world and add another element of tenacity and killer instinct to his team’s blue-line. When you don’t have a ton of money to spend, you have to find value with every transaction; these three options fit the bill.

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