Much has been made recently about the Toronto Maple Leafs’ need to acquire a top-four defenseman. The Maple Leafs are presently one of six NHL teams with a winning percentage over .700; and, despite the fact the Maple Leafs have been winning games at an even stronger pace since the start of December, they’ve also been giving up a lot more goals during that span.
Prior to December 1, the Maple Leafs had 49 goals scored against them in 23 games (for a 2.13 goals-against-average). Since December 1, they’ve given up 63 goals in 19 games (for a goals-against-average of 3.32). They’ve been winning games recently by doing what this team’s been known for doing for several years: they’ve been “outscoring their mistakes.” They’ve averaged 4.58 goals per game over their last 20 games.
The problem with this style of play is that it’s proven to be unsustainable, especially during the playoffs. The general consensus in Leafs’ Nation is that the team needs to get back to playing a more complete, 200-foot game if they want to avoid an early exit in the postseason.
A lot of attention has been given this season to the struggles of Jake Muzzin and Justin Holl. While Muzzin’s had his fair share of criticism for his play, his history suggests he’s likely to work his way through his slump. Holl, on the other hand, doesn’t have the benefit of an extensive NHL background.
Although Holl is 30 years old, he’s only played 181 total NHL games. As a result, most fans and media seem to think that, if the Maple Leafs want to go deep into the playoffs, the main area they need to upgrade is in the area of a top-four right-side defenseman – someone who could push Holl either down to the third pairing, or right off the roster completely.
The Defenseman that Fits the Maple Leafs No One Is Talking About
Many players have been mentioned as possible targets for that top-four right-side spot on the Maple Leafs’ defense. John Klingberg, Ben Chiarot, Josh Manson, and others have been written about ad nauseam. However, there’s one player we believe would fill that role perfectly that no one seems to be talking about. That player is 26-year-old Artem Zub.
The 6-foot-2, 205-pound Zub was signed as a free agent by the Ottawa Senators out of the KHL in May 2020. Zub was then coming off a strong season, playing 57 games and scoring 13 goals and 22 points for St. Petersburg SKA in the 2019-20 season. He led the KHL in plus/minus that season with a plus-35.
After finishing his rookie season with the Senators with three goals, 14 points, and a plus-4 in 47 games, Zub signed a two-year contract extension at $2.5 million per season. He has one year remaining on that deal. This season, Zub’s put up solid numbers for the Senators playing the top-four right-side role, which is exactly what the Maple Leafs could use.
Looking at Artem Zub’s Advanced Analytics
Looking at Zub’s old-school numbers, in 40 games Zub has four goals, 11 points, and is plus-4 on a team that’s given up 26 more goals than it’s scored. His 11 points and plus-4 place him second in scoring for Senator’s defensemen, and first in plus/minus. He’s second on the team for ice time with 21:51. He’s first for hits on the defense with 74 and leads the team in blocked shots with 75.
Zub’s on-ice, five-on-five per-60-minutes-played analytics are:
|Shot Attempts||Zub 46.9% Team 46.9%||Rank On Team (third)|
|Shots||Zub 46.9% Team 48.3%||Rank On Team (third)|
|Scoring Chances||Zub 46.8% Team 46.6%||Rank On Team (third)|
|High Danger Chances||Zub 47.1% Team 46.0%||Rank On Team (second)|
|Goals||Zub 55.3% Team 46.0%||Rank On Team (second)|
|Expected||Zub 48.1% Team 46.9%||Rank On Team (third)|
|Artem Zub’s Average Percentage||49.0%|
|Ottawa Senator’s Average Percentage||46.8%|
|Overall Rank Amongst Sen’s Defensemen (Min 200 Mins played)||2.7|
Zub’s advanced statistics show that he’s below 50 percent in everything except goals, where he is 55.3 percent. However, comparing his numbers to his team’s numbers, with the exception of shot attempts, where he’s even, each of his statistics is better than his team’s. Overall, his average over the six statistics is 49 percent (or 2.2 percent higher than his team’s overall average).
Looking at how Zub compares to the team’s other six defensemen with 200+ minutes played, he’s second in two categories and third in the other four. That puts him solidly in the Senators’ top-four defensemen with an overall ranking of 2.7.
Would the Senators Be Interested in Trading Zub?
It’s impossible to know what any given team feels about the importance of each player on its roster to its future plans. However, the Senators must see the same statistics we’ve outlined here. Would they be interested in trading him? We don’t know.
However, he’s no more out of the question than so many of the other names that hockey writers have been floating around in rumors. To us, some of these names immediately seem like non-starters and we wonder whether those who cover the Maple Leafs even care that they wouldn’t work.
Again, we don’t know if the Senators would have an interest in trading Zub. But we believe Zub would both fit the Maple Leafs’ needs and not be as expensive (read impossible) an acquisition as some of the other names we’ve seen tossed around. Nor would Zub cost the team a first-round draft pick.
In addition, Zub is signed for a reasonable $2.5 million for another season. He has something Maple Leafs’ general manager Kyle Dubas likes, and that’s term.
What Might Interest the Senators in a Trade?
Although the Senators might even be interested in Holl as a returning piece, we wouldn’t see Holl as a key trade piece from the Senators’ perspective. However, Holl might be seen as a cheap placeholder for next season, giving Ottawa’s young defensive prospects another season to develop.
Would the Senators go for the Maple Leafs’ second-round pick, Holl, and a decent prospect? Might the Senators’ troubles in goal be enough to convince Pierre Dorion to part with Zub if Joseph Woll were thrown into the conversation?
We believe Zub might be a perfect pick-up for the Maple Leafs. He fits their needs, is signed to a cheap contract beyond this season, and shouldn’t be too expensive to acquire.
The Old Prof (Jim Parsons, Sr.) taught for more than 40 years in the Faculty of Education at the University of Alberta. He’s a Canadian boy, who has two degrees from the University of Kentucky and a doctorate from the University of Texas. He is now retired on Vancouver Island, where he lives with his family. His hobbies include playing with his hockey cards and simply being a sports fan – hockey, the Toronto Raptors, and CFL football (thinks Ricky Ray personifies how a professional athlete should act).
If you wonder why he doesn’t use his real name, it’s because his son – who’s also Jim Parsons – wrote for The Hockey Writers first and asked Jim Sr. to use another name so readers wouldn’t confuse their work.
Because Jim Sr. had worked in China, he adopted the Mandarin word for teacher (老師). The first character lǎo (老) means “old,” and the second character shī (師) means “teacher.” The literal translation of lǎoshī is “old teacher.” That became his pen name. Today, other than writing for The Hockey Writers, he teaches graduate students research design at several Canadian universities.
He looks forward to sharing his insights about the Toronto Maple Leafs and about how sports engages life more fully. His Twitter address is https://twitter.com/TheOldProf