Mark Giordano’s injury during the first period against the Florida Panthers is another signal of the urgency for the Toronto Maple Leafs to bolster their defensive grouping, and the need to add on defense now.
The Toronto Maple Leafs have a problem with their defense unit struggling to stay healthy, and it’s become a concern.
The Leafs have lost John Klingberg & Timothy Liljegren to long-term injury reserve, and now Giordano appears to be dealing with an unknown issue relating to his hand.
Connor Timmins suffered an injury scare in the preseason but was able to come back.
Toronto Maple Leafs Can’t Afford To Wait On Defense Addition
The Leafs blue-line, lacking the same depth they have in their forward group, has the potential to become a concern, if it isn’t already.
Simon Benoit, William Lagesson & Max Lajoie have shown they have the ability to step in on defense when needed, but while they’re decent bottom liners, they’re not the answer to play 20-25 minutes a night if needed.
The Toronto Maple Leafs need an answer to their injury problems that can cover for the fact it’s been a struggle for the blueline staying healthy.
The Leafs have been linked to 2 defensemen from GM Brad Treliving’s old stomping grounds, the Calgary Flames, in Chris Tanev and Nikita Zadorov, the latter having requested a trade from Calgary, with Toronto believed to be a potential landing spot for the 6’6 Zadorov.
The two, both players Treliving has an understanding of and would feel comfortable acquiring out of familiarity in comparison to other options.
Zadorov would feel a need for physicality and size for the Leafs, but with a greater need for RHD depth, the left-handed Zadorov would likely be tasked with moving to the right, a position he has played at times, but not consistently like Tanev.
TSN’s Darren Dreger mentioned former Leaf Ilya Lyubushkin, now with the Anaheim Ducks, as a potential name to watch, but like Giordano, Lyubushkin left his game last night vs the Vancouver Canucks with an upper-body injury.
Sean Walker from Philadelphia is a logical option also being floated around. The 29-year-old Keswick, ON native having a strong start to the year on pace for a career year. His $2.65M cap hit might be a bit high, but better than many of the other UFA options.
One would wonder the availability as well of Flyers Center Morgan Frost, son of former Leafs PA Announcer Andy Frost, with Morgan having been scratched by Philly this season, as a way of solving a need down the middle.
The only thing that might keep this trade from happening is the surprise emergence of the Flyers as a team currently in the playoff hunt, with the early season assessments projecting Philadelphia as a team near the basement, they’ve outperformed expectations, and may be less willing to part with either Walker or Frost, much less both.
Other potential options weighed are Andrew Peeke of Columbus, another RHD who can use a change of scenery in a crowded right side, with 2022 6th Overall Pick David Jiricek closing in on a spot in the near future, as well as MacKenzie Weegar, another Flames defenseman.
Alexandre Carrier, 27, is an interesting option from Nashville, the stay-at-home defenseman showing some two-way improvement this season, although he comes with an injury past of his own. Nashville Center Colton Sissons would be a great add for Toronto if they can make that work alongside Carrier, but with Sissons having a strong start, 21GP 6G 4A 10P, that might come at the cost of a hefty price.
The Leafs could make a trade that works out acquiring both, but to make the salary match, according to CapFriendly, one of either Sissons or Carrier would have to be retained 50%, most likely the cheaper Carrier.
The Predators will likely look to fill a need at D, even with Tanner Molendyk drafted in 2023 in Round 1, but their defensive group is still slim, so Nashville might want top prospect Topi Niemela, or a 1st Rounder in a defense-heavy Round 1.
An optimistic option would be Mikko Kokkonen, the 22-year-old having the potential to be a solid bottom-four defender. Chicago got a 1st and a 2nd in a similar deal for McCabe and Sam Lafferty, and Sissons, under contract until 2026, and likely will have to involve a pick to Nashville, optimistically a 3rd, but more likely a first.
"To TOR : RD – Alexandre Carrier (50%), C – Colton SissonsTo NSH : RD – Connor Timmins, LD Mikko Kokkonen, 2024 1st Round Pick"
This hopefully would solve in the long-term the Leafs need for a 3C, and for cheap at just over $2M would be a potential bargain for Toronto. Carrier gives a much needed defensive presence.
Whatever route the Leafs go in, taking the big fishes like Zadorov and Weegar, or a smaller bargain deal, it still remains clear that defense continues to be the pressing need.
And, depending on the timeline for Klingberg and Liljegren, and with teams such as Vancouver linked to Tanev & Zadorov, the Leafs may need to act sooner rather than later if adding on defense is a top priority.