Maple Leafs Need to Trade Defenseman Justin Holl

Earlier this season, reports surfaced that the Toronto Maple Leafs were shopping two defensemen. While the names were never confirmed, most speculated they were Travis Dermott and Justin Holl. Since then, and for most of the season, Dermott has outplayed Holl (when he’s been in the lineup), and the latter has been awful of late. The Maple Leafs are rolling, and if they want to be an elite team that makes some noise in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, they need to upgrade their weakest link. It’s time to trade No. 3.

Justin Holl Toronto Maple Leafs
Justin Holl has frustrated his teammates multiple times this season (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Management has been extremely loyal to the right-handed defenseman since he arrived. They gave him two full seasons to develop in the American Hockey League, where he proved to be a very productive part of the Toronto Marlies. From there, Holl worked himself up to the big club but only managed to get into 13 games over two seasons. That had a lot to do with former head coach Mike Babcock’s stubbornness; he made Holl a healthy scratch 71 times in 2018-19. Still, he developed into a steady defenseman for the Maple Leafs, but this season, that’s changed.

The 29-year-old has one assist in 24 games, he’s hit the net with 12 shots, and has visibly frustrated his teammates a la Auston Matthews in Chicago or William Nylander’s last game against the Edmonton Oilers. While Holl expects a lot from himself, so do his teammates, management, and the fans. It hasn’t worked out as hoped, and it’s time for the team to move on.

Maple Leafs Trade Chatter Has Gone Quiet

Usually, when there’s not much reported in the media, it means general manager Kyle Dubas is working on something, and a move could be announced at any moment. He loves to keep things close to his vest, and when the rumors started circulating about a possible trade, it was surprising because it was so early in the season.

Related: 3 Potential Trade Destinations for Justin Holl

The Maple Leafs should move Holl for several reasons. Yes, he’s been their worst defenseman, has shown his skating isn’t where it needs to be, and while he’s out there to be a shut-down defender, he isn’t chipping in offensively. So, at this point, he’s being paid $2 million to just be out there. That is not a recipe for success.

Ideally, Dubas could move Holl for an upgrade on defence, someone who is more physical, a better skater, and is more confident with the puck. Some say if Zach Bogosian didn’t want to head back to Tampa Bay to be with his family, he would be inserted into Holl’s spot in an offseason deal.

Zach Bogosian Tampa Bay Lightning
Expect the Maple Leafs to acquire a Zach Bogosian type of defenseman before the deadline (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Holl’s performance against the Oilers earlier this week was perhaps his worst game, even after a horrible performance against the Chicago Blackhawks last weekend. He fumbled the puck in his own end or tried to start the rush with a horrible break-out pass. He also couldn’t keep the puck on his stick while skating through the neutral zone with nobody pressuring him; it’s gone from bad to worse. His defensive reads are bad, his production isn’t there, and the frustration is boiling over in Leafs Nation. 

What Happens with Holl?

There must be conversations in the Maple Leafs’ war room, asking this very question. What do we do with Holl? If they’d found a good deal, it would have already been accepted. His play declines with each game, and so does his trade value. Regardless, Toronto can’t hide him any longer, even if it means playing him with Morgan Rielly. They need to cut their losses, give Timothy Liljegren a bigger role and find a depth defenseman who can make a positive impact on the club this season. Maybe head coach Sheldon Keefe will scratch him for a couple of games, but again, that doesn’t bode well for his trade value. It’s a sticky situation that will only get worse, according to most of his statistics this season

It’s never fun discussing a player’s career in a negative light, but at the end of the day, the Maple Leafs have a job to do, and that’s win hockey games. If they want to make a deep run this season, they have no choice: Holl needs to go.

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