In this edition of Toronto Maple Leafs News & Rumors, I’ll share the names of a number of NHL defensemen who have been rumored to be possible good fits on the Maple Leafs’ blue line. Then I’ll take another look at rumors about a Frederik Andersen trade. Recent events have made me doubt such a trade would happen, but we really can’t know for certain.
Three Defensemen Who Might Head Toronto’s Way
The Maple Leafs’ priority is help on defense. In yesterday’s Maple Leafs News & Rumors, I reported that Hockey Night in Canada’s analyst and former NHL general manager Brian Burke named the Maple Leafs Canada’s best team. However, he also noted that the team needed to trade some of its offensive firepower at the forward position to secure solid defensive help.
Burke is far from alone. Redundant reports from NHL insiders echo that refrain and offer personnel suggestions. Then hockey commentators like myself share these players’ names with fans. That’s what I’ll do in this post. Of the more than a dozen NHL defensemen I’ve looked at, I’ve selected three that might – in my opinion, for one reason or another – fit the bill for the team in terms of value, style of play, affordability, and a likelihood they might fit the roster needs.
Choice One: Mark Borowiecki
I think it might be likely that Dubas at least talks with Mark Borowiecki about a contract. I had written about this possibility earlier last week in a post and I think it’s worth repeating. For some reason, either the Ottawa Senators or Borowiecki himself have decided that the defenseman no longer is a viable fit with the team. Honestly, I’m surprised at this turn of events. I follow the Senators a bit and would have guessed he would remain a Senators for life. He seems to be loved in the community.
Still, Borowiecki has announced he’ll be testing free agency. I like him and think he’d be a good fit in Toronto. That might be especially true if the Maple Leafs’ plans for a bigger, more blockbuster-type trade don’t transpire. If the team can’t hit a home run via trade or free agency, Borowiecki is small-ball (as they say in baseball).
He’s a physical, depth defenseman who brings his all every game. He’s a hitting machine who could work with any young defenseman the Maple Leafs might call up through the ranks of its organization. One Borowiecki upside is that he’ll likely not be expensive. (I say “likely” because I might be wrong. For example, if Senators general manager Pierre Dorion low-balled Borowiecki on a contract offer, that might have prompted his entering free agency as a reaction to a perceived embarrassment.)
Borowiecki is a solid leader, and while he isn’t thought of as providing offense, he did score 7 goals with 18 points during the 2019-20 season. And those numbers came when playing with a really low-scoring team.
Choice Two: Josh Manson
The Anaheim Ducks, who are in the middle of a rebuild, and the Maple Leafs might make good trade partners. Trading for Ducks defenseman Josh Manson works on paper, with the Maple Leafs likely moving a mid-salaried young forward and perhaps the 2020 first-round draft pick the team acquired from the Pittsburgh Penguins. Manson’s both a solid defenseman and is part of the Ducks’ leadership group – an alternate captain. From my perspective, bringing leadership to the team is a plus in any trade.
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Manson would be a strong candidate for the Maple Leafs defense if the Ducks consider making him available. He’s a 6-foot-3, 220 pound, right-shot defenseman who might be a quality shutdown pairing with Jake Muzzin. He also had a down 2019-20 season, with only 1 goal and 8 assists in 50 games. (In contrast, he scored 7 goals with 30 assists in 80 games during the 2017-18 season.) Still, he’s not to be confused as an offensive defenseman by any means.
Manson’s also not a bargain player at $4.1 million per season, but he would bring two years of term on his contract, which is something Dubas prizes. Likely the Maple Leafs would have to move out Andreas Johnsson or Alex Kerfoot simply to balance salary-in with salary-out in this deal. However, as I noted, the Ducks are in the middle of a rebuild and might make such a trade.
Additionally – and I suspect this is a radical thought – I keep thinking about what trade value Nick Robertson might offer should Dubas consider moving him. I’m wondering specifically what a team might make available for a combination of Robertson and the first-round draft pick Dubas just picked up in the Kasperi Kapanen trade.
Given Robertson’s meteoric rise in status this season, I have to think he might be a valuable trade chip. If teams traded for him, they would either hit a home run or strike out. Such a trade might take guts for any NHL general manager to pull off, but if it worked – wow. Robertson might fizzle, or might turn out to be an Alex DeBrincat.
Choice Three: Brett Pesce
Bringing up Brett Pesce from the Carolina Hurricanes as a trade option makes perfect sense if it’s accurate the Hurricanes are coveting Andersen as a goalie. If so, an Andersen for Pesce trade works. The salaries don’t quite balance, because Pesce’s signed on a $4.025 million contract through the 2023-24 season. However, as I noted, Dubas seems to love to trade for longer-term contracts.
Pesce’s a stay-at-home, top-four defender. He’s also a strong penalty killer. Offense or not, he’s what the team needs.
Given their successful season and a wealth of resources on their blue line, the Hurricanes could afford to move Pesce to the Maple Leafs if Andersen comes the other way. But that’s only if Dubas really is interested in moving Andersen, which I’m coming to think might be a big “if.”
What’s Next for the Maple Leafs?
I’m starting to wonder whether the Maple Leafs general manager really is interested in trading Andersen or if he’s just flying a trial balloon by answering the phone when other teams call.
Specifically, the Steve Simmons article from about a week ago has me thinking about where the Maple Leafs really are. Simmons wrote that Dubas had gained a reputation of suggesting his players are up for a trade, but then asking for what seem like outrageous returns for them. If I accept that this is Dubas’ philosophy and then use it as a lens to assess what I’m seeing, it puts an interesting light on recent trade rumors. (from “SIMMONS SUNDAY: Still waiting on that Ujiri extension, Raptors,” Toronto Sun, 06/09/20)
All Dubas really said was that other teams were calling about Andersen and he’s answering the phone. Maybe that’s exactly – and only – what’s happening.