The Toronto Maple Leafs could sign Alex Pietrangelo when free agency opens next month.
And should that happen, the Toronto Maple Leafs will have the best roster in the NHL.
Honestly, it won’t even be close. The Leafs already have more elite players than almost any other team (Vegas and Tampa are in the running) and the NHL is a strong link game, meaning that the team with the most high-end players has the best chance of winning.
Obviously things didn’t work out for the Leafs this year, but that was mostly due to some crazy circumstances and bad luck more than any kind of internal factor. Sure, they aren’t perfect, but as the soon to be Cup Winning Tampa Bay Lightning learned last year, sometimes you don’t get the results you deserve.
(Tampa, for the record, has sandwiched two Conferance Finals and a (pending) Stanley Cup around missing the playoffs and a first round sweep).
If the Leafs sign Alex Pietrangelo, they will have the best roster in the NHL.
Toronto Maple Leafs and the Best Roster in Hockey
Now, given the NHL’s current economic situation, the fact that the Leafs have four excellent young defensemen (Lehtonen, Dermott, Sandin, Liljegren) and limited funds, I have cautiously recommended they do not sign the UFA defenseman.
However, as a fan, I really hope it happens. And, frankly, the more I read about Pietrangelo and the way players like him age (not at all typical of normal players, who can be expected to decline starting at 28) the more I am open to the idea.
Adding one of the best players in the NHL is always a good thing, and my main concern about signing Pietrangelo is the long term ramifications to the roster when players like Rielly, Andersen, Hyman, Sandin, Robertson etc. all need new deals.
If the Leafs can mitigate that by front-loading the deal to make the last years easily movable, I’d be 100% for it. Either way, if he signs in Toronto, the Leafs instantly become the best team in the NHL?
Don’t believe me?
Well consider that without dressing a full roster for a single game all season long, they finished 8th overall under Sheldon Keefe, and a respectable 12th for the whole season. Additionally, in games not started by Michael Hutchinson, they were just percentage points behind Tampa and posting a President’s Trophy worthy record.
Now add in one of the NHL’s best defensemen, and suddenly the Leafs have one of, if not the very best blue-lines in hockey. Pietrangelo’s last three seasons by WAR: 2.5/2.7/2.8 consistently one of the best in the NHL.
Pietrangelo hasn’t topped Rielly’s 3.9 WAR of last season, ever, but he’s shown to be more consistent. Rielly’s last three years are 1.7/3.9/0.2 – which is basically just as good, especially if you consider that a) he was stuck with Ron Hainsey and b) played injured for most of this year.
As for Jake Muzzin, his last three years are 0.8/2.3/2.0 Anything approaching 1 WAR is very good, 2 is elite and 4 puts you in consideration for the Norris Trophy. By this metric – one which tries to account for the full value of a player, including usage and shot location – the Toronto Maple Leafs would have the best blue-line in the NHL. (All WAR data from @jfresh and evolving-hockey.com).
With Sandin, Holl, Lehtonen, Dermott and Liljegren fighting to round out the last three spots, it would be a dynamite group. As for the forwards, hardly anyone can match Tavares/Matthews down the middle, or Marner/Nylander on the right side.
Left wing is also a team strength: Hyman, Johnnsson, Mikheyev, Robertson. And as far as depth players at the league minimum, no one tops the Toronto Maple Leafs.
The Leafs elite players in this situation would number seven: Matthews, Marner, Tavares, Nylander, Rielly, Muzzin, Pietrangelo. In recent years Hyman and Johnsson have also performed at an elite level, and Kerfoot offers elite defense. In addition, both Sandin and Robertson figure to eventually at least threaten to obtain the coveted status of “Elite.”
Overall, this might be the best roster in hockey right now. Add in Pietrangelo and its a no-contest, indisputable fact.