There is a great deal of discussion going around regarding the sighting of Mike Babcock at Game 3 of the Nashville Predators and Anaheim Ducks game. It seems to be the consensus that his attendance is a sign that the Toronto Maple Leafs are either interested in center Mike Fisher out of Nashville or an Anaheim defenseman. Because Fisher is so entrenched in Nashville as a city and has likely no intention of leaving the organization, we’ll have to assume the Ducks are the team Babcock is keeping an eye on.
First off, Anaheim has a team in the Ducks that is going to get hit hard by the 2017 NHL Expansion Draft. With four very talented defensemen on the roster and only three that can be protected (unless the Ducks choose the eight skater draft protection option), someone from Anaheim’s blue line will be available.
The Leafs are in need of a right-handed defensemen capable of playing top-four minutes, or top pairing if possible. They managed to pluck one from the KHL last season which was a total success, but these opportunities are rare. The ideal defensemen acquired should be able to handle a shut down role, and be able to grow with their current defensive core of Morgan Rielly, Jake Gardiner and Nikita Zaitsev.
Anaheim offers exactly what Toronto needs.
When the 2016-17 season began, many thought Cam Fowler might be the casualty. In the face of trade speculation, Fowler went on to have an All-Star caliber season and become the Ducks primary offensive blue line weapon. In short, he made himself indispensable. It doesn’t seem realistic that the Ducks would trade Fowler and if they do, they’ll be asking for the sun, moon and the stars.
Vatanen seems to make the most sense from a Leafs perspective. He averaged over 21 minutes per game in 2016-17 and shoots right. He’s got a good track record of offensive production but is also extremely capable defensively. The Ducks wouldn’t want to lose Vatanen but the Leafs have an overabundance of good young forwards that could help Anaheim.
Toronto might look to trade a contract that Anaheim can take on and doesn’t require protection under the NHL expansion guidelines. If so, this could clearly be a case of the Leafs trying to take advantage of
Why Not Nashville?
Realistically, Babcock could have been looking at the Predators as well. They too are a team with considerable blue line depth. The only deal here is that the Predators are not in the same crunch that the Ducks are and that means any deal between the Leafs and Predators doesn’t have the potential to be as big a home run for the Leafs as a deal with Anaheim might.
Nashville will probably elect to protect four forwards and four defensemen, leaving a forward available where the Leafs have almost too much talent. The Predators value defense over maybe any other NHL team. Toronto won’t be plucking any low-hanging fruit from that tree and a trade between the two teams seem much less likely.
Either way, Babcock appears to be getting a head start on the expansion draft proceedings and wherever Babcock goes, there is sure to be a firestorm of media to follow with all sorts of speculation.