The Toronto Maple Leafs signed John Klingberg in the summer, much to the surprise of pretty much everyone.
Compounding the confusion is that the Toronto Maple Leafs seemingly passed on the cheaper Matt Dumba in order to sign Klingberg.
Elliotte Friedman reported on ‘Leafs Morning Take’ with Jay Rosehill and Nick Alberga that the Leafs, before signing John Klingberg in the offseason as a Free Agent, had interest in fellow FA Defenseman Matt Dumba.
Immediately, people had thoughts.
The Toronto Maple Leafs Weren’t Wrong to Sign Klingberg Over Dumba
According to Friedman, the Leafs interest in Dumba cooled due to his contract demands, believed to be over $5M. Klingberg, signed to $4.15M with Toronto on July 1st, at the time was cheaper. But that’s not the only reason why the Leafs were correct to focus on Klingberg over Dumba in Free Agency.
In November, Matt Dumba sounds like a great option for Toronto. At a time a few years back a sturdy two-way defenseman who had been a stable and productive player for the Minnesota Wild.
The problem is that Matt Dumba’s 2022-23 season was met with a down year at both ends. Of course, Klingberg’s defense had already shown some signs of potential regression as well, but Dumba, coming off a 14 Point season in 79 Games, had his worst season since becoming a full-time NHLer.
The Leafs wanted offense, and giving Klingberg $4M after a 33 Point year in 67 Games, largely for an abysmal Anaheim Ducks team, was not a ridiculous decision for Brad Treliving to make instead of Dumba’s ask of $5M a year.
Skipping ahead to November 2023, and sadly, it looks that Klingberg’s shortcomings weren’t just the result of being the main guy on a bad team without defensive help.
To throw a bone at Klingberg, he has been taking on games of over 20 minutes, playing up to 25 minutes a night, taking on greater responsibilities to make up for the losses of Timothy Liljegren and Jake McCabe.
If both are healthy and in the lineup, who knows how different things would look? That said, the Toronto Maple Leafs should be familiar with typical NHL player aging curves, and players who decline before 30 rarely recover after they hit 30, making Klingberg a massive longshot to live up to his deal.
According to JFresh, not only is Klingberg struggling on defense, his analytics have Klingberg tied with Tony DeAngelo for worst among defenseman in the 0th percentile. You don’t have to be a stats expert to know that’s bad.
While Klingberg struggles on the defensive end, and hasn’t seen himself on the stat sheet in 7 games, it may come as a surprise to some less tuned in readers to know that Dumba has just a single point in 12 Games.
I’m a Dumba fan, he’s a good, physical defender, and knows how to put pressure on a team. The issue is the idea of paying him $5M a year in a down year. Dumba eventually signed for $3.9M to Arizona, less than Klingberg, but let’s imagine Dumba signed for $4.15M, the amount Klingberg is making, would Leafs fans not feel the same anger that Dumba is struggling offensively as they do with Klingberg on defense.
In a way, the two are almost in a Yin and Yang situation, both struggling to capture the talents that made them skilled defensemen, both with the ability to turn a corner but producing slowly to start the year.
If the Leafs had waited, it’s possible they may have been able to sign Dumba at a lesser price, perhaps to the $3.9M Arizona paid for Dumba. First of all, who knows if that was even an amount Toronto was willing to go to, we don’t know. Dumba was worth what he was paid, but it’s not known what offer Treliving had in mind. Perhaps even Dumba, setting his market at $5M+, wanted a bit more out of Toronto. All is speculative, but Klingberg was a safer option at the time, knowing he’d sign.
On paper, perhaps the Leafs made the right move, passing on a high-priced Dumba, instead finding a potential gem in Benoit at league minimum, and spending the money trying to reclaim Klingberg’s game. This may be a generous reading, but it’s worth trying to understand their thinking process.
Ironically, Leafs fans may have been happiest right now keeping Justin Holl in the blue and white. But say what you want about Klingberg in his performances, but it’s hard to imagine Dumba’s current game not being critiqued in the same fashion right now.
Logically speaking, without knowing how this season plays out, we must ask ourselves, would we rather an offensive Defenseman with a strong puck playing game who can feed the Leafs plethora of offensive talents, with a cheap young defender who seemed to have a breakout season, or a player who had his weakest performing season as an NHLer asking for over $5M?