The Toronto Maple Leafs parted ways with defenseman Zach Bogosian, who signed with Tampa as a free-agent this summer.
During his media availability before the 2021 NHL Draft, Toronto Maple Leafs GM Kyle Dubas, was asked how he would address the hole left on their third defensive pairing made by the departure of Zach Bogosian.
Dubas replied, “I think we will try to focus on a defenseman that maybe perhaps brings a little bit more power and presence in the way that Zach did… We will look, in free agency and trade, to continue to address that.”
Let’s explore a few different ways the Leafs can fill the gap left on their blueline now that Zach Bogosian has signed to rejoin the Tampa Bay Lightning:
Toronto Maple Leafs Replacing Zach Bogosian
The Leafs won’t want to spend much to replace Bogosian, and Rasmus Sandin and Timothy Liljegren both deserve an NHL opportunity after several stellar years in the minors. As Dubas mentioned in media availability, he is aware that they have been blocked of this opportunity.
If the Leafs pursue a trade, there are many possibilities that we could speculate about all day. The free agent defenseman pool is drying up though. There are still a few players the Leafs may try to land though. In my opinion, the five most likely targets may include Jordie Benn, Jason Demers, Michael Stone, Zdeno Chara and Ben Hutton.
Jason Demers could provide the solid veteran presence the Leafs need on their third pairing, but it’s difficult to determine his current value. He was signed to a deal with an AAV of $4.5 million, but his production has dropped a lot over the course of his last contract. I think he’s still worth more than the Toronto Maple Leafs are willing to pay, but if he doesn’t receive a great offer, perhaps the Leafs can get him on a bargain deal.
Michael Stone could be picked up at the right price, but his skill set is a big step down from Bogosian’s. The Leafs might be better off filling the spot internally.
I would love to see Zdeno Chara in a Leafs uniform. There were lots of rumours about the Leafs pursuing Chara last offseason. As the NHL’s oldest player (44), he’s looking to win another cup before he retires and the Leafs are just as much a contender as Washington, his former team.
As for Ben Hutton, I wouldn’t be too excited in the Leafs re-signed him, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it happened. I know they have to at least be a little interested as they acquired him at last season’s trade deadline as “injury insurance.” He only appeared in four regular season games, which seemed like a tryout stint, and he was a scratch in the playoffs. He plays a tough game and could be okay, and at a minimum contract he’s low risk, but I don’t have much faith in him to be honest.
There is a possibly that Toronto has already acquired Bogosian’s replacement. Toronto has signed three defensemen this offseason that could compete for a job with the big team or join the farm on the Marlies: Carl Dahlström, Alex Biega and Brennan Menell.
Carl Dahlström may be the least likely of the three to see some NHL action. He’s shown some decent play in 64 NHL games over three seasons. He had a great season in the AHL last season. He’s 26 and a big guy who has shown some promise. He’ll at least get a look at camp.
Over seven NHL seasons, 33 year-old Alex Biega has basically been a career #7 defenseman. Chances are he’ll play a similar (or lesser) roll with the Leafs. At his age, it’s difficult to imagine him progressing into a larger role, and maybe his NHL days are numbered. He’ll get a look at camp, and he’ll at least provide some veteran presence on the Marlies if he doesn’t make the big team.
Brennan Menell is the most intriguing of the bunch. He was the second highest scoring defenseman in the KHL last season with 38 points in 47 games. He was an RFA and Toronto acquired his rights from the Minnesota Wild for a conditional 2022 seventh round draft pick. At first glance, his situation seems similar to that of Mikko Lehtonen last season.
He’s 24 years old and shows great potential. He plays a very different style from Zach Bogosian though. Menell is significantly smaller than Bogosian and considered an offensive-defenceman, but he seems like he should be defensively reliable too.
I have faith in Toronto’s front office and coaching staff to make the right choice in replacing Zach Bogosian. They obviously have more experience than I do. All I can do is speculate, but here’s my take:
Zdeno Chara is the best choice here. I think the Leafs agree, and I think they wanted him last off-season but Chara ultimately chose Washington. It’s up to Chara. He may decide to retire, he may choose another team or he may choose Toronto. The odds of Chara landing in Toronto aren’t the best, but there is a possibility.
Jordie Benn and Jason Demers would be my next two choices, but it depends on their cost. They haven’t signed yet which makes me think that they’re looking for more money than teams are willing to give them. I feel they’ll end up with more than the Leafs are willing to part with elsewhere, but there is a chance they could fall into the “$1 million-ish” range the Leafs are comfortable with. Still the odds aren’t great, but bringing in Benn or Demers isn’t impossible.
Most likely there will be an internal battle at training camp for both spots on the bottom pairing. Most likely bottom pair will be Sandin-Dermott, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see Menell break through.
I think it will be some combination of Sandin, Dermott and Menell in slots 5-7. Liljegren will also put up a fight, but odds are he’ll start the season on the Marlies with Biega, and Dahlström, however anything can happen at camp.
Even after camp, the coaching staff will most likely experiment with the bottom pairing. If things aren’t working out, we will probably see a trade. We’ll just have to wait and see.
In any case, I enjoyed Zach Bogosian’s stint with the Toronto Maple Leafs and I would’ve liked to see him stick around. He will be missed.