The Toronto Maple Leafs should sign Mikko Lehtenon again this summer.
Last summer, the Toronto Maple Leafs beat out many other interested teams to sign one of the year’s most interesting unrestricted free agents.
Lehtonen had played and starred in the KHL, and was roundly considered to be the best defenseman, maybe the best players, outside the NHL at the time.
In his time in Toronto he did not do much to warrant anything more than a trade to the Blue Jackets to try to get him some playing time. Despite that, there are reasons to bring him back.
Toronto Maple Leafs and Mikko Lehtonen
Lehtonen should not be judged in his time in the NHL so far. He came to the NHL and had to navigate two different countries, and two new teams, and all the stress and life-disruption that comes with , plus a new league, new language, smaller ice surfaces, and a pandemic.
On top of that, he joined a team that already had six NHL defenseman and was competing for the Cup and not that interested in giving time to rookies. Then he got moved to a team coached by John Tortorella.
If he had of succeeded at all it would have been a miracle. But if he was the most talented player outside the NHL last year, this year is no different.
He’s just 27. He is still one of the most talented players in the world who doesn’t have an NHL contract for next season.
He is still a defenseman who can play the right side, and who can be a difference maker. For a team looking for cheap players with a ton of upside, their probably isn’t a better option out there for the Leafs.
Sure, you can get lucky and hit on a longshot, but how many actual players available right now for in and around the league minimum have actual top-of-the-lineup talent? Not many.
The Toronto Maple Leafs will likely lose Justin Holl in the expansion draft, and that is going to open up a spot on the Leafs blue line. Most likely the team will not bring back Zach Bogosian and there will be two spots open. Lehtonen would only have to beat out just one of Travis Dermott or Timothy Liljegren for playing time, unlike this year where he really only had a shot to play if injuries happened.
If Lehtonen were to break out, the Leafs could expect the same kind of bump the Avalanche got when they traded for Devon Toews, who was extremely undervalued at the time. The Leafs main problem for the entire Matthews era has been their inability to develop star players outside of their top draft picks, and Lehtonen gives them a chance to do just that.
Therefore, this is a no-brainer. One of the Leafs top priorities this summer should be to bring back Mikko Lehtonen.