As the Toronto Maple Leafs head into the All-Star break with a strong 29-10-3 record, the rumours continue to swirl as we get closer to the March 21st trade deadline.
It’s no secret that the team’s defense has come under scrutiny lately, as the Maple Leafs would love to address that position and bring in a player to round out their top-four. For general manager Kyle Dubas, there are plenty of names out there that would be intriguing for them to look at and inquire in order to improve the team.
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Here are three potential defensive trade targets that the Maple Leafs should look at ahead of the deadline.
There has been increased talk of the Maple Leafs interest in Anaheim Ducks defenseman Josh Manson. The rumours between the Blue and White and Manson isn’t new, but Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman reported they are one of the teams in on his services. This all depends on the extent of an injury he sustained against the Ottawa Senators.
Manson is exactly what the Maple Leafs need in a defenseman. You’re not going to be getting a lot of offense from Manson, but you’ll get the kind of play suited for a tough playoff run.
He’s a defensive stalwart that is capable of providing a smart and steady game within his own end, while providing physicality and strength. His $4.1 million contract is still at a reasonable price to take on if the Maple Leafs are able to move contracts out, or pay a bit of a price to have salary retained.
With seven points this season, Manson averages under 20 minutes per game and logged over two minutes on the penalty kill. His 112 hits makes him extremely tough to go up against, as that tenacity will be beneficial for the playoffs and his 44 blocks shows he does a great job of getting into the passing and shooting lanes.
Manson does possess some strong underlying numbers, as he has a respectable 51.35 Corsi For percentage when he’s on the ice at five-on-five, putting him sixth overall on the Ducks (min. 300 minutes). His high danger chances for percentage ranks him fourth overall with 52.55. When breaking down his CF% against different types of competition, Manson is just below average against elite and middle competition, having a 48.6% and 49.9% respectively. However, he does have a strong goals for percentage against elite competition with 62.5%, showing that he can make an impact.
After years of speculation and interest shown from the Maple Leafs, it might be time to act and bring in a reliable top-four defender.
Last week, TSN’s Chris Johnston reported that the Maple Leafs would like to add a player with term, as opposed to bringing in a rental player. Wanting to bring a player with term makes sense as the player would be around for some time rather than just a few months and signing elsewhere in free agency. Dubas has done this before, bringing Jake Muzzin back in 2019.
This may be a reach in order to make a deal, but Zach Whitecloud could be a good fit. Whitecloud is currently on the third pairing for the Golden Knights. He put up 12 points in 51 games in 2020-21 and his offensive game is starting to come around. He has six goals and 12 points in 31 games this season, earning a six-year contract extension, with an AAV of $2.75 million in the process.
Now, why should the Maple Leafs look to make a deal with a team that’s on top of the Pacific Division after he was just extended? It’s very likely that he may stay, but the Maple Leafs should make a call to inquire about him.
The Golden Knights are going to be facing a cap crunch themselves. The Golden Knights have over $15 million on long-term injured reserve. Defenseman Alec Martinez ($5.25 million) is due to come back, but the bigger name lies with Jack Eichel and his cap hit of $10 million. The Golden Knights are going to have do some major retooling as they’ll be over the cap. Unless, they use the Patrick Kane “Loophole” and Eichel comes back for the playoffs.
He’s a prototypical shutdown defenseman that likes to keep things simple. He’s capable of handling big minutes as he’s played over 20 minutes 11 times this season while also averaging 2:06 SH TOI/GP. Comparing his production to the Maple Leafs, he would be leading all defensemen in goals and would be ranked second in points. If it gets to a point where he wants more ice time, it’ll be hard to dethrone Alex Pietrangelo and Shea Theodore.
He does have impressive underlying numbers when he’s on the ice at 5v5. With at least 300 minutes played, he has a CF% of 52.90 (eighth on the team), a GF% of 59.26 (second), a scoring chances for percentage of 54.75 (first) and a high danger chances for percentage of 54.40 (fourth).
Given how the Maple Leafs could look to improve their second pairing, and if they choose to go after Whitecloud, he would be a great upgrade over Justin Holl. He would provide great value with his contract as it’s just $750,000 more than Holl. They could be getting a defender with better offensive production and more consistency within his own end.
The New York Islanders are looking to be sellers this year and Scott Mayfield may be a piece that can provide some stability in the top-four for the Maple Leafs. A right-handed shot and one year remaining on his contract, Mayfield carries a cap hit of $1.45 million.
At that low price, that is definitely up the Maple Leafs’ alley as they would want to find quality talent with an affordable contract.
Top defenseman Ryan Pulock has played in only 13 games, tallying two assists. He’s missed significant time, dealing with COVID-19 and lower body injuries. Mayfield has stepped up in his absence, earning more responsibilities. Now, Mayfield isn’t a top pairing defenseman, but he is a viable option that could be brought in to improve their depth and be a strong piece on the second pair.
He’s second on the Islanders in blocked shots with 68 and can eat a lot of minutes averaging 20 minutes per game. As a breakdown, he’s averaged 17:46 at even strength and 2:15 SH TOI/GP. As an added bonus he does play with some sandpaper, something that Maple Leafs could add and play with a little more bite with him on the blue line. He stands at an intimidating 6-foot-5, 220 pounds. He isn’t afraid to throw the body, bringing that physical edge at critical times, including the postseason.
The “toughness” factor has been a sticking point with the Maple Leafs. Bringing in Mayfield would definitely change that.
There may be some hesitation to pay a heavy price for help in the playoffs. But, it’s necessary and considering the Maple Leafs are in a win now mode, they shouldn’t hesitate. If Dubas and the Maple Leafs are serious about improving on last year’s result and make a deep playoff run, you need to make moves in order to achieve success.
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.