It’s no secret that the Toronto Maple Leafs are in the market for help on the blue line, especially on the right side. Injuries to defensemen Morgan Rielly and Cody Ceci have opened up the possibilities and trade options for general manager Kyle Dubas to find some help in strengthening his defensive unit.
Like the acquisition of Jake Muzzin before last season’s deadline, the Maple Leafs could benefit from a steady two-way presence if they make the playoffs. There are many names that stand out, but there has been one name that has always been the focus since 2017.
That is Josh Manson from the Anaheim Ducks.
It’s hard to believe how one player could garner so much attention. For years, his name has come up as an option for the Maple Leafs. While there hasn’t been any traction, he has so many characteristics and traits that this team needs, specifically his defensive play. This will also be a major improvement on what the team has now in terms of Ceci.
Here are a few reasons why Manson has been a hot commodity in the past and why Dubas should do everything he can to finally land another top-four defenseman.
A Favourable Contract
It has been reported many times that if Dubas is looking for a defenseman, it’s more than likely to be a player with term on their contract at a reasonable price.
Last season, Muzzin only had one year remaining on his contract at $4 million. It was a really good acquisition with a reasonable contract with term. Manson’s contract fits Dubas’ expectations perfectly, especially for a team where they are making every single contract matter. Manson’s contract ($4.1 million) is roughly the same as Muzzin’s. While Muzzin is an unrestricted free agent, Manson has two more years remaining on his contract when this season is over. Considering his amount and with the possibility of a contract or two on the way out, it would give the Maple Leafs some flexibility.
If Kasperi Kapanen were to be a starting point, his $3.2 million would be going the other way. If his contract was to be moved, with Manson coming in return, the Maple Leafs would be getting an increase in salary of $900,000. However, with Tyson Barrie and Ceci set to become unrestricted free agents, that’s an additional $7.25 million freed up to keep Manson while also re-signing Muzzin. Not to mention there’s also the possibility of the cap increasing as well.
With this, the Maple Leafs could be in a good spot. For the next few years, imagine a top four of Rielly, Muzzin, Manson and Rasmus Sandin? That sounds pretty good if you’re a fan. In a situation where money is always an issue surrounding the Maple Leafs, this is a situation that’ll benefit them greatly.
The “Patrick Kane Loophole”
While the Maple Leafs are pressed up against the salary cap, it may not be all doom and gloom for the team and their cap situation. They have the “Patrick Kane Loophole” to thank.
Back in 2015, Chicago Blackhawks forward Patrick Kane was injured on Feb. 15 but returned for the playoffs in April. The team was able to acquire Antoine Vermette and Kimmo Timonen when Kane was placed on long-term injured reserve (LTIR) but was able to come off when the playoffs started.
Maple Leafs forward Andreas Johnsson will undergo surgery for a knee injury and will be out at least eight weeks, which will most likely take him off the trade market. If and when he hits LTIR, Johnsson, Rielly, Ceci and Ilya Mikheyev’s contracts total close to $14 million in cap space heading into the trade deadline.
With all of them on LTIR, Dubas has the flexibility to go out and make a deal in order to fill that space up for the remainder of the season. Because there is no salary cap in the playoffs, Dubas could have all four return before or at the start of the playoffs. In addition, he could make a deal for Manson on the blue line while making more moves in the process.
If Dubas does use this to his advantage, the Maple Leafs could add players at the deadline and it won’t affect them if they are over the cap. He would have to make some moves in the offseason in order to be under the cap for when the season starts, but for the home stretch, Dubas has the upper hand.
A Reliable Defender
Manson’s contract is enticing for any team, but his defensive play is what makes a great top-four player where he’ll have an impact on any team.
Manson’s ability to play a solid defensive game along with bringing the physicality will benefit the team on the back end. The team has the offensive puck movement in Rielly, Sandin and Barrie, but a player like Manson will look to provide the stability they need, especially to shut it down in their own zone. He’s capable of playing big minutes as he ranks third on the team in time on ice with 20:35 and being a big time penalty-killer averaging 2:27 per game. While he may not get to surpass his career high of 37 points (the last time the Ducks made the playoffs), his defensive impact is what’ll make him important to the team’s top four.
Despite being on a Ducks team where things haven’t gone well for them the last few seasons, he’s still able to be a positive possession player whenever he is on the ice at five-on-five. He’s always been above 50% in Corsi For every year except for last season.
The table above from chartinghockey.ca shows the CF, Against and differential per 60 for Manson. He is still able to maintain a 3.08 CD/60, a good rate for a defensive minded player. In addition, Manson has a high rate of entries per 60 as well as breakups per 60. His ability to excel at both entering the zone while breaking plays up will be crucial for the Maple Leafs if he is acquired.
With the Ducks not getting better any time soon, it would be beneficial for them to part with one of the most dependable defenders in the league. A team like the Maple Leafs could utilize his defensive abilities to suppress shots all while being a threat in the offensive zone.
Manson has the ability to boost their defensive game while earning big time minutes in the process. The Maple Leafs have the assets to acquire him (especially up front) and should be able to pen a reasonable offer to the Ducks. Whether a move happens or not, it’s a name that Dubas should definitely think about heading into the deadline.
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Peter is in his third year with The Hockey Writers, covering the Toronto Maple Leafs and heading the Draft and Prospects section. He has previously interned at The Hockey News and worked on Toronto Marlies broadcasts for Rogers TV. He currently is the co-host of the podcast Sticks in the 6ix and a frequent guest on Maple Leafs Lounge. Aside from hockey, he also enjoys drumming, animation and impressions/ voices.