With more than two weeks still to go before the 2019 National Hockey League Trade Deadline, it’s clear the Toronto Maple Leafs are not done tweaking their roster, even after acquiring Jake Muzzin from the Los Angeles Kings on Jan. 28. It appears they have two specific needs: a veteran depth forward, preferably with some grit and sandpaper, and a depth defenceman who is a right-hand shot.
On Friday afternoon, TSN’s Frank Seravalli reported that the Maple Leafs are once again showing interest in a player who fills that first need: Detroit Red Wings centre Luke Glendening.
TRADE BAIT: #Leafs believed to have kicked the tires again on a Mike Babcock favourite in Luke Glendening. The latest on the #TSNHockey Top 50 Trade Bait board: https://t.co/U7DBNWkwfM #TSN pic.twitter.com/2ZPVHfeRf9
— Frank Seravalli (@frank_seravalli) February 8, 2019
In a television hit posted on TSN.ca, Seravalli said the Leafs also explored this possibility last season at the request of head coach Mike Babcock.
“I don’t think it’s any secret that Glendening was a Babcock favourite — the sort of scrappy, fourth-line centre who you can bring in whose minutes seem to always rise in the Stanley Cup playoffs,” Seravalli said. “The asking price last year was a second-round pick. I’d have to think that after Brian Boyle brought back a second-round pick from [the] Nashville [Predators] earlier in the week, Glendening would have to be in that market.”
Related: 2019 NHL Trade Deadline Deal Tracker
While I do believe the Maple Leafs could use an upgrade for the playoffs over 23-year-old Frederik Gauthier, I don’t think Glendening is the answer for a multitude of reasons.
Glendening’s Contract Would Create Problems
After Auston Matthews signed a five-year, $58 million contract extension earlier this week, the focus almost immediately shifted to what pending restricted free agent (RFA) Mitch Marner will command this summer on his next contract. Why? Because everyone knows the cap crunch facing the Leafs.
The team has already committed nearly $66 million to 14 players for 2019-20 and that doesn’t including Marner who will likely want $10 million per season on a long-term deal of his own. With next season’s cap expected to be $83 million, that gives them roughly $7 million to sign eight players after Marner’s deal is done (assuming it’s $10 million per season). Kind of tight, right?
The 29-year-old Glendening is signed through 2020-21 with a $1.8 million average annual value (AAV). While it may not sound that bad, it just can’t work with the Maple Leafs’ current situation. Because they’re paying their stars so much, the team’s fourth-line centre simply cannot be paid more than $1 million.
Gauthier, meanwhile, is under contract for this season and next at basically the league minimum: $675,000. Another fourth-line centre option for next season would be RFA Par Lindholm who makes $975,000 this season and would likely not require a raise. An option as cheap as Gauthier or Lindholm is absolutely essential for next season as opposed to someone earning nearly $2 million.
Is Glendening Even an Upgrade?
Let’s say for argument’s sake that the Red Wings were willing to eat half of Glendening’s salary to make things more manageable. Would he even be an upgrade at the fourth-line centre role?
The first tool I always use is Bill Comeau’s SKATR comparison tool, which measures five-on-five individual offensive metrics (such as points, goals and primary assists), five-on-five shot share statistics (such as relative Corsi For and Against and relative expected Goals For and Against) and adds context by looking at quality of teammates, quality of competition and how often a player starts in the defensive zone. It puts everything in an easy-to-read chart, where blue is good and red is bad, relative to the rest of the league.
As you can see below, Glendening’s on-ice shot share statistics (left) are extremely poor — none of the eight measurements are above the 25th percentile. The excuse “he plays for a bad team” doesn’t really hold any water here because the Corsi For/Against and expected goals percentages are relative to his teammates. In fact, his minus-7.39 relative Corsi For percentage is the fourth-worst in the NHL for players who have played at least 600 minutes at five-on-five.
Meanwhile, Gauthier (right) is impressive in two defensive shot share metrics: relative Corsi Against, where he’s in the 86th percentile, and relative expected Goals Against, where he’s in the 99th percentile.
One thing to consider is Gauthier’s quality of competition: it’s literally in the first percentile (very easy). So Glendening (60th percentile) does face better opponents. That is something the Maple Leafs are looking for — someone who won’t be a liability in the playoffs if the opposition’s coach manages to use the last change to get the matchup he wants.
Using Micah Blake McCurdy’s HockeyViz.com zone maps, however, we can see that when Glendening is on the ice, he isn’t very helpful defensively. Below is the threat level against the Red Wings in terms of unblocked shots allowed with and without Glendening on the ice at five-on-five (compared to the league average).
The number of shots allowed is not only greater overall with Glendening on the ice, but it’s greater specifically in the slot, in the left circle, and from both points. Let’s look at the same maps with Gauthier on the ice.
First thing’s first: quality of competition once again has to factor in to what we’re seeing. Gauthier’s numbers are likely so strong because he doesn’t line-up against the other team’s most offensive players. But just look at how well the Maple Leafs defend with him on the ice. There’s so much blue in the slot with him compared to without him!
There is one area that hasn’t been discussed yet where Glendening has the upper hand: he’s a right-hand shot. Every Maple Leafs centre at the moment shoots left, which can be a problem for defensive zone draws, especially on the penalty kill on the right side. This may be a reason why Babcock is so adamant about acquiring Glendening. But is that really enough to give up a second-round pick for a player with a negative defensive impact?
The Acquisition Cost Isn’t Worth It
Seravalli reported the likely cost for Glendening will be a second-round pick, given that’s what Boyle — who’s 34 years old — fetched. Boyle is also an impending unrestricted free agent (UFA) and Glendening has term left, which means he could cost more than just a second-round pick.
The Maple Leafs already moved their first-round pick to acquire Jake Muzzin. Now they’re going to give up their second-rounder and maybe another prospect for a fourth-line centre? What they should do instead is use this second-round pick to acquire a good third-pairing defenceman. Someone like Nick Jensen, who has a positive defensive impact and can help kill penalties (and is also on an expiring deal that pays him $812,500), would go a lot further than Glendening. That’s needed more than a fourth-line centre.
I truly hope this rumour is just noise. Not only should the Maple Leafs not be willing to part with a second-round pick, but they shouldn’t be interested at all given the cap ramifications, and more importantly, how bad Glendening has been this season.
Nathan Kanter covers the Vancouver Canucks and Toronto Maple Leafs for The Hockey Writers. He received his master’s in journalism from Western University in May of 2015 before serving as the first ever Digital Managing Editor at Western’s university newspaper, The Western Gazette, in 2015-16. From 2016-18, he served as the radio play-by-play voice of the Battlefords North Stars in the SJHL. His work has been published in The Hockey News, at Sportsnet.ca and at Dobber Prospects.