The Toronto Maple Leafs have elected to start the season with Ron Hainsey continuing to anchor down their best defenseman.
To make matters worse, on Monday, the Toronto Maple Leafs sent arguably their most competent defensive defenseman to the Dallas Stars for a seventh round pick.
This is a bad move no matter how you slice it.
I understand that relative to players like Marincin and Holl, Carrick had an expensive contract. I understand if those guys beat him out in camp, and I understand that what he accomplished was against lower competition.
However: There is no agreement among hockey stat experts how much quality of competition matters. Some think it matters a lot, and some not at all. As the Golden Knights proved last year, if you take players who have good stats at the bottom of the line-up, they can have success when given a better opportunity.
Connor Carrick played for the team that was third-worst in the NHL for shots allowed last year, and when he was on the ice he allowed almost five shots per sixty minutes less than anyone else on the team’s blueline. This is why I think moving him was a mistake. Here’s the stats I listed (from naturalstattrick.com) in an earlier argument I made for keeping Carrick:
"Looking at defenseman who played 600 5v5 minutes last season on the Toronto Maple Leafs:Highest possession rating: Connor Carrick, 52.5%Lowest Shots-Against /60 : Connor Carrick 27.89 (next lowest had 32!)Lowest Goals-Against / 60: Connor Carrick 2.1Lowest Scoring Chances /60: Connor Carrick, by 4 over everyone but Borgman"
To be very clear: the third worst defensive team in the NHL just traded their best statistical defensive defenseman for a seventh round draft pick.
And faced almost no criticism for it.
I think there was little push back against moving Carrick because everyone was pretty much resigned to the fact that Babcock would never play him higher in the lineup. But since Ron Hainsey is so terrible, and Nikita Zaitsev is on the team only in the hopes that he doesn’t make them looking dumb for signing him to such a crazy contract, it doesn’t make sense to at least give Carrick a chance.
24 years old, and right handed on a team that is probably the weakest in the NHL on the right side of the blue-line.
But sure, give him up in favor of playing a 37 year old with absolutely zero capacity to improve and and who is demonstratively bad for your most important defenseman.
Considering how bad the Leafs defense was last year, there’s no excuse for not at least trying something different. Instead the Toronto Maple Leafs enter the season with exact same top-four defenseman as last year when they were among the very worst defensive teams in the league.
I don’t know what’s worse, the trade or bringing back the same top four and expecting anything else other than being terrible at defense.
Look, I’m not trying to tell you that the Leafs just gave up a potential superstar in Connor Carrick. I’m simply saying that there was no risk in trying him higher in the lineup. His defensive statistics were significantly better than anyone else on the team. If your problem is limiting shots, why move a player who is good at limiting shots? It’s not like the guys ahead of him are actually good.
Carrick may very well have been overwhelmed playing at the top of the lineup. But we don’t know that. Given Ron Hainsey is mediocre at best, and given that the Leafs are strong in other areas, I do not think there was very much, if any, risk in given Carrick an audition with Morgan Rielly or Jake Gardiner to find out whether or not his stats from the bottom of the lineup would translate to the top.