Toronto Maple Leafs: Which Puck Mover Could Be Traded?


Before you read my thoughts on this Toronto Maple Leafs situation, I think I should disclose that if you feel any combination of Morgan Rielly, Jake Gardiner, or Nikita Zaitsev is a good pairing, you probably wouldn’t like this article.

So let’s just start by getting our cards on the table. The Toronto Maple Leafs defense is horrible.

In fact, that is probably being too kind. I know it. You know it. Everyone knows it.  I’m sure there are all kinds of counterpoints to be made for their individual merits (or lack thereof) by many of my statistically inclined brethren, but like George Costanza would probably say: “Stuff your stats in a sack, Mister!”.

I appreciate the usefulness of analytics, but I’m taking a hiatus from arguing with numbers. It’s a personal choice, I find it sucking the life out of the hockey conversations, boring, and incomplete at this stage. But I digress.

Back to the Leafs defense.

More from Editor In Leaf

It is important to note this year’s finish is not revenant. I cannot stress that enough. I tend to agree with the view that this year is more about determining who are the placeholders, and who are the pieces for a future championship team. The mold of the potential future Leafs defense has me asking some questions.

If the Leafs are to be anchored by a traditional-style defense, then I see some issues. By traditional style, I mean 3 combinations of size and speed. Think Chris Pronger and Scott Niedermayer as your typical meat and potatoes defensive pairing.

If I had to tender a wager, this is how Lou and Babcock envision their defense being built. So let’s just assume that is true for a moment, and the end goal of management, then how do you have a team that has Rielly, Gardiner and Zaitsev?

I have to think all three of them are far too good to be on the 3rd pair over a long period of time. You could make an argument Zaitsev could be the 3rd pairing solution, but beyond 2016-2017 I have to think he will want a raise from his 1.8 million dollar bonus laden contract he currently holds.

As I stated initially, these 3 smooth-skating potatoes do not play well together whatsoever. Quite frankly, all three require an anchor, or “the meat”. And my only conclusion that I can draw is that the Leafs are going to trade Jake Gardiner or Morgan Rielly at some point.

You could ring my doorbell and smack me over the head with their possession numbers, etc. It still won’t change my mind that you need some muscle on the back end to clear your net.

As much as I love these guys offensive upside / puck rushing / speed, the fact remains they could not clear the Jonas Brothers from in front of the net. Remember Boston, game 7? Shot suppression isn’t going to stop Chara from owning your crease. You need some muscle.

I think of how I would proceed if I were building a team to make a serious run at the cup for 4-5 years. I would be looking at the young guys I have now, and be slotting them in as vets for that time, and the prospects as rookies.

It would be perfectly reasonable to assume that in 2-3 years time a 3rd pairing of Andrew Nielsen / Connor Carrick would be to be expected. Hunlak is not a diamond; it is not forever.

Next: Backup goalie situation still not clear

I don’t know which one of them will go. Maybe Zaitsev plays third pairing on the cheap (the dream!). But I am confident they wont ever play together during the contending years. I really have no problem with what 2 of 3 stay, provided fair value is returned on the one leaving. I think we could all agree Lou will most likely make sure that happens.

If you agree with this take, or disagree, please take my poll on Twitter and let me know what you think. I will accept swear words being said at me without the block button being used. Thanks!