Connor Carrick has always been an interesting player for the Toronto Maple Leafs. A right-handed defenseman who had shown plenty of potential after displaying his offensive prowess at the AHL level and plays with an edge to his game. He seemed like just who the Maple Leafs needed.
Now, three seasons after coming to the Leafs as part of the Daniel Winnik trade with the Washington Capitals, it looks like Carrick’s development has stalled which has put him on the bubble for even making the opening night roster. As a result, reports that the Maple Leafs have begun to try and trade him shouldn’t really come as a surprise.
Hearing noise the Maple Leafs are actively shopping D Connor Carrick, who isn’t in their top-six plans. Told some early convos have occurred, so far.
— David Pagnotta (@TheFourthPeriod) September 28, 2018
Although there is nothing out officially in regards to Carrick, all signs point to his time being over in Toronto, one way or another.
Never Babcock’s First Choice
Even though a player may show signs of potential, it doesn’t mean anything unless the coach sees the same thing. For a while, people in the stats community were incensed that Roman Polak was Mike Babcock’s choice on the third pair over Carrick. And for a time they were right, and there was obviously a lot about Polak’s game that was frustrating to watch.
But there were things that Polak did that earned him that spot in Babcock’s eyes. He played with a physicality that was absent from the rest of the Maple Leafs defence and he was a veteran that Babcock trusted on the penalty kill. Unfortunately for Carrick, he didn’t garner Babcock’s trust to play on the kill because of his often inconsistent defensive play and he didn’t play to the same physical standard that Babcock wants in his third pair right-side defenseman.
Last season, Carrick’s only competition for the right side spot on the third pair was Polak, and now with him gone, Carrick is battling for a spot against Igor Ozhiganov and Justin Holl. One is new to the North American style of hockey and everything involved with moving to a new country, and the other is an AHL defenseman. Somehow both have seemingly moved up the depth chart on defence and have pushed Carrick down — and possibly out of the NHL.
Based on how Babcock has split the preseason group into the NHL and AHL group for the last preseason games, it looks like Ozhiganov will win out the third pair spot with Travis Dermott, as they played with the NHL group, whereas Carrick played with the AHL group. So, Carrick will need to hope he gets the spot as the spare defenseman so that he can still have a chance to redeem himself.
Why Trade Carrick?
Carrick is the type of player that could have a decent career in the NHL as a bottom pairing defenseman, but it won’t be with the Maple Leafs. There is a point where you have to move on from players as they don’t all develop into the player that you hope and that’s the case for Carrick.
He never had the confidence of Babcock, which isn’t a great start, but he never really did anything to prove him wrong. His defensive play was spotty at times and he clearly took a step back last season, which was part of the reason why Polak took back his spot on the blue line. Management, at least, wanted to take a chance on Carrick and hope he could improve heading into training camp and preseason, which is why I’d like to think Carrick was re-signed to a one-year contract worth $1.3 million.
This season there were more bottom pairing options besides Carrick and he had to prove without a doubt that he deserves to make the final cut of the roster. Unfortunately, Carrick and the rest of the hopeful defensemen were underwhelming for the preseason, even though many had flashes of greatness, with Ozhiganov emerging as the safe choice on the bottom pair.
At 24 years old Carrick is at the age where players tend to show what they are as players. For Carrick, he’s just another bottom pairing defenseman, or even seventh defenseman that sits in the press box all season. The upside for both the Maple Leafs and Carrick is that because he is 24 years old there may be other NHL teams that would be willing to take a chance on him becoming more than what we’ve seen. So, trading Carrick could be a new opportunity for him and the Maple Leafs could get a return on a player they have no future for.