Maple Leafs’ Dermott at Make-or-Break Point with Franchise

For four years after he was drafted in the second round (34th overall) of the 2015 NHL Entry Draft by the Toronto Maple Leafs, Travis Dermott appeared to be on the road to a solid career as a top-four defensemen. His career progressed season-by-season.

Early in His Career, Every Season Dermott Improved

After he was drafted, in 2015-2016 Dermott returned to the OHL’s Erie Otters. He played 51 regular-season games, scoring six goals and 37 assists (for 43 points). During the playoffs that season, he scored three goals and 11 assists (for 14 points) in 13 games.

Travis Dermott Toronto Maple Leafs
Travis Dermott, Toronto Maple Leafs (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

That good showing propelled him upward, and during 2016-2017 he played the entire season for the AHL’s Toronto Marlies. In 59 AHL games, he scored five goals and added 19 assists (for 24 points). In 14 Marlies’ playoff games, he added a goal and four assists (for 5 points).

Related: Maple Leafs in a Tough Spot with Defenseman Morgan Rielly

The next season, he started the season playing 28 games for the Marlies (scoring two goals and 16 assists, for 18 points) before being called up to the Maple Leafs. In his first 37 NHL games, he scored a goal and added 12 assists (for 13 points); however, more importantly, he impressed defensively. He averaged 16:00 of ice time and finished the season at +16, which was the highest plus/minus for any Maple Leafs’ defenseman. 

Then Dermott Suffered a Shoulder Injury

During the 2018-2019 season, Dermott saw his ice time increase to over 17 minutes a game. Once again, he was a plus player until he was hit from behind and into the boards by Edmonton Oilers’ forward Brad Malone on February 27, 2019. The ensuing shoulder injury forced him to miss more than a month of that season.

He did return to play on March 30, 2019, and finished both the regular season and played all seven playoff games against the Boston Bruins. However, he required shoulder surgery after the Maple Leafs had been eliminated from the playoffs. 

He was not fully-recovered from that surgery and missed the entire Maple Leafs’ training camp and the first month of the 2019-2020 season while he was recuperating. Once he did return, it just didn’t seem as smooth as before. He seemed to have lost a step, and averaged about 13 minutes a game for his first 10 games. However, that wasn’t exactly unexpected from a player who had not been able to fully train during the complete offseason, training camp, and the first few weeks of the season.  

Related: Dale Hawerchuk Trade Revisited

After Morgan Rielly and Jake Muzzin were lost to injuries, Dermott’s ice time picked up considerably near the end of the season. He played over 20 minutes in nine of the Maple Leafs last 11 games; and, during two of those games, he saw more than 25 minutes of ice time. When Rielly returned for the playoffs, Dermott’s ice time dropped to 18:45 per game; again, however, that was still significant ice time. 

Dermott’s Progression Slowed during 2019-20 and Remained Slow

In total, Dermott’s overall development seemed to slow down during the 2019-2020 season. Most Maple Leafs’ fans attributed his drop in play to his injury and subsequent surgery. In fact, many fans expected that, when the pandemic forced the longer hiatus of four full months between the end of the 2019-2020 season and the start of the 2020-21 season, Dermott would come out like gangbusters and pick up where he left off prior to the injury. 

Perhaps it was simply the context of COVID-19 and the flat salary cap, but many Maple Leafs’ fans were caught off guard by the lowball one-year contract Dermott was offered by the organization. It was basically the same as his entry-level contract ($874,000 compared to $863,000). 

Related: Oilers Can Fill Larsson Void with Newcomer Ceci

For a player who’s played 175 NHL games and was used as a regular the previous three seasons, the low contract seemed a bit of a snub. Again, the speculation was that, because of his injury-plagued season, he was willing to take a one-year “show me” deal. All these things taken together gave Maple Leafs’ fans another reason to believe Dermott would play exceptionally well during the season.

Travis Dermott Toronto Maple Leafs
Travis Dermott, Toronto Maple Leafs (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Only, it never materialized. He averaged only 11 minutes per game for his first eight games of the season before getting injured from a hit along the boards by the Vancouver Canucks’ Tyler Motte on February 4th. Although Dermott only missed two games, his ice time never returned to what he averaged during his previous two seasons. 

Dermott was even a healthy scratch for a few games. He ended up averaging slightly over 13 minutes each game for the 2020-21 regular season and then saw only three games of action during the playoffs against the Montreal Canadiens.  

What Happened to Dermott?

So what happened with Dermott? How and why did he fall out of favor with his head coach Sheldon Keefe? Sure, he only scored two goals, and four assists (for six points) last season, but his defensive metrics were pretty good. 

Specifically, Dermott finished the 2020-21 season ranked second on the Maple Leafs’ defense for Corsi Against per 60 minutes played five-on-five. He ranked third for Shots Against, first for Scoring Chances Against, second for High Danger Chances Against, first for Expected Goals Against, and third for Actual Goals Against. That’s a solid ranking. 

Related: Maple Leafs Might Have a Power Play Quarterback in Brennan Menell

Dermott was left unprotected during the Seattle Expansion expansion draft, which was probably expected. However, just prior to that draft he signed a two-year extension with the team for $1.5 million a season. So, it’s obvious he’s valued by the Maple Leafs.

What’s Next for Dermott?  

So what’s ahead for Dermott this season? He appears to be in a fight to hold onto his third-pairing job as training camp begins. It seems that Rasmus Sandin has supplanted him on the depth chart on the left side, pushing him to the right side. There he has Timothy Liljegren nipping at his heels for the spot. 

Barring injuries to the defense, Dermott could find himself bouncing back and forth between the sixth and seventh spot on the roster. This is a far cry from the promising young defenseman who, prior to his shoulder injury and surgery two seasons ago, was on such an upward trajectory. 

Without a doubt, the 2022-22 season is a make-or-break season for Dermott, as far as his association with the Maple Leafs goes. Will he be up to the task and cement himself into the mix on defense? Can he shake off whatever has slowed his growth over the last two seasons? Can he regain Keefe’s trust?  

As always, we’ll have to see.

[Note: Again I want to thank long-time Maple Leafs’ fan Stan Smith for collaborating with me on this post. Stan’s Facebook profile can be found here.]

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