Maple Leafs Should Target Blackhawks’ Murphy & de Haan

We’re just over a month away from the trade deadline, and the direction general manager Kyle Dubas is going to go in is unknown. The Toronto Maple Leafs currently sit third in the Atlantic Division, behind the Florida Panthers and the Tampa Bay Lightning. They’re four points behind the former with a game in hand, and three points behind the latter with two games in hand.

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Dubas said recently that he wants to see how his team plays as a fully healthy unit before deciding on a deadline approach. He did, however, specify his preference to trade for players who have term on their contract versus trading for rentals. But, as Dubas knows, your preferences don’t always get you the moves you want. Regardless of what players he ends up acquiring, one team he could look to for deadline upgrades is the Chicago Blackhawks.

Connor Murphy, Chicago Blackhawks
Connor Murphy, Chicago Blackhawks (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

Between losing nine straight games to start the season and, more recently, owner Rocky Wirtz having a meltdown to reporters in response to questions regarding the Kyle Beach case, it’s been a forgettable season for the Blackhawks. They currently sit seventh in the Central Division and 12 points out of a playoff spot, and should they decide to sell at the trade deadline, two names on the back end the Maple Leafs should target are Connor Murphy and Calvin de Haan.

Connor Murphy

We’re going to start with Murphy because, in my opinion, he makes more sense for the Maple Leafs. Murphy is a 6-foot-4 right-handed defenseman who signed a four-year contract extension with the Blackhawks over the summer, carrying an average annual value (AAV) of $4.4 million. The 28-year-old was a first round pick of the then-Phoenix Coyotes, and is currently in his eighth full NHL season, his fifth with the Blackhawks, and his second as an alternate captain.

The Boston native has carved out a nice top-four role in Chicago. He’s second among Blackhawks defensemen in ice time this season at 869:16, only 17 minutes behind Seth Jones. He’s spent most of the season playing alongside Jake McCabe, and is mostly relied on in defensive situations. He only has four goals and eight points in 45 games on the year, but his 70% defensive zone starts compared to only 30% in the offensive zone should tell you what type of player he is.

Connor Murphy Chicago Blackhawks
Connor Murphy, Chicago Blackhawks (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

Murphy is a fit in my eyes. His contract is reasonable for a player of his calibre, and has four years left after this year, which would give the Maple Leafs some security in their top four. He brings a number of elements the Maple Leafs could use in their lineup, including a strict defensive mindset and physicality, and he would only add to an already-improved penalty kill. His possession numbers are underwhelming, but lots of that could be attributed to the team he plays for. Should the Maple Leafs acquire him, he won’t be as heavily relied on as he is in Chicago.

Calvin de Haan

De Haan is a little bit of a different case than Murphy, but he could still be a valuable addition for the Maple Leafs. The Carp, Ontario native is a former first-round pick of the New York Islanders, who’s currently in his ninth NHL season, his third with the Blackhawks. Like Murphy, de Haan has been leaned on quite a bit in a defensive role this season. He’s third among Blackhawks defensemen in ice time, and he’s spent most of the season alongside Seth Jones on the top pairing.

Another thing he has in common with Murphy is his lack of offense. The 6-foot-1 defender only has four points in 45 games on the season, but if the Maple Leafs were to acquire him, they wouldn’t be bringing him in to produce offense. Having said that, de Haan is a mobile player despite his limited production and would serve as a fine compliment alongside a puck moving defenseman such as Rasmus Sandin or Timothy Liljegren.

Calvin de Haan Chicago Blackhawks
Calvin de Haan, Chicago Blackhawks (Photo by Bill Smith/NHLI via Getty Images)

The only fallback to acquiring de Haan is his contract. He’s making more than Murphy with an AAV of $4.55 million, and he’s an unrestricted free agent (UFA) after this season. So, more money, less term, two things Dubas wants to avoid. However, I think the Maple Leafs could make the necessary moves to accommodate his cap hit. And because he’s a UFA with that kind of money, it probably brings his value down a little bit.

Murphy, de Haan Likely Have Different Price Tags

To be clear, I think it’s extremely unlikely that the Maple Leafs acquire both of these players. Although they both serve different needs, we’re talking about $9 million in salary coming back the other way, and the Maple Leafs simply don’t have the room to make the money work on that front. And even if Dubas wanted to add two defensemen at the deadline, there’s likely a more cap-friendly way to make that work.

So, let’s take it one-by-one. Regardless of who they choose to target (if they even do), I’d imagine one of Justin Holl or Travis Dermott is headed back the other way. Holl would probably make more sense to move since he’s making more than Dermott, but either way, I think one of those guys would be involved in the package.

Justin Holl Toronto Maple Leafs
Justin Holl has had a tough season for the Toronto Maple Leafs (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

If you’re targeting Murphy, I think the price would have to include a first-round pick. The idea of moving a first rounder at the deadline can be hard to get on board with after the way that worked out with Nick Foligno last year. But Murphy just signed his new contract extension before the season started, and if we’re talking about bringing in a top-four, right handed defenseman under a reasonable contract, there’s no way around that without a first round pick or a top prospect. Throw in a mid-level prospect like Mikhail Abramov or Semyon Der-Arguchintsev, and I think that’s enough to get the job done.

On the other hand, this is where it might be easier for the Maple Leafs to acquire de Haan. Because of his UFA status and his salary, I could see de Haan going for a mid-round pick. And while the Maple Leafs are limited to a first, second, and seventh round pick in 2022, they have every pick except for their seventh in 2023. And like I said with Murphy, they’d be getting one of Holl or Dermott in return as well.

Murphy, de Haan Represent Two Different Needs

Whether or not the Maple Leafs make a deal with the Blackhawks, I would be adding two defensemen at the deadline if I were Dubas. As much as the team defense is less of an issue as it has been in the past, I don’t feel comfortable icing a defensive corps with Holl or Dermott in a regular role in the playoffs. And while I’ve been very encouraged by Liljegren’s play this season, I don’t think he’s ready to play regular minutes in the playoffs either.

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Acquiring Murphy would give the Maple Leafs some security on the right side of their back end and a reliable, top four defenseman who brings lots of defensive elements to his game. Acquiring de Haan would give them a stabilized bottom pairing and someone who could bring out the best in somebody like Sandin. And even though, like I said, I don’t see them acquiring both of these players, one of them would be a great start to building a playoff-ready roster.

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