Looking at the best defencemen available at the 2020 NHL trade deadline

HC analyst Brian Burke joins Good Show to discuss a possible scenario where the Maple Leafs buy and sell at the trade deadline, bringing in some much needed help to get into the playoffs, but also selling a Tyson Barrie as a rental player.

Continuing with a recent trend in the NHL, general managers around the league are unwilling to wait until deadline day to give us the most amount of entertainment packed into a single event, and specifically, a lot of defencemen have already moved.

The Vegas Golden Knights acquired Alec Martinez, the St. Louis Blues acquired Marco Scandella, the Washington Capitals acquired Brendan Dillon, the Winnipeg Jets acquired Dylan DeMelo, and the New York Islanders acquired Andy Greene. That’s a significant chunk of the available defencemen already on the move, and perhaps even more importantly; a lot of the needs teams have identified, have been filled.

That makes things tricky for the market for defencemen the week of the deadline, which forces us to dig deeper into some players who might not be on expiring contracts.

Using the same percentage difference from league average that we did for the best goal scorers, let’s look at some of the names circulating as potential trade targets among defencemen.

Defencemen as a whole are tougher to evaluate than a specific targeted skill set like goal scoring, but a general overview of the impact defencemen can have is a good place to start, and we’ll go into some specifics on each player.

Jonas Brodin

With another season on his contract after this one at a reasonable cap hit below $4.2M, Brodin’s name has been circulating all season long with the Minnesota Wild in a bit of a forced rebuild following tumultuous seasons of bad management over a relatively decent but flawed core.

Brodin might be the top defensive defencemen available at the deadline, with his biggest strength being defending off the rush. Brodin makes a lot of stops at the defensive blueline overall, over 29 per cent more than the average player, and that’s despite opponents avoiding him on entries. The reason they avoid Brodin is because he has the second-highest entry denial rate in the NHL this season at 55.1%, trailing only Matt Niskanen.

Brodin’s strong defence and the fact that he doesn’t actively inhibit offence while he’s on the ice has led to him posting one of the best 5-vs-5 inner slot shot differentials in the league 59.9 per cent. Any team that needs to stop rushes against could really use Brodin, with the most obvious to me being the Vancouver Canucks, who need defencemen and are terrible at defending rush chances.

Which NHL team is in the most interesting position as Trade Deadline Day approaches?
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Jeff Petry

From everything that’s out there, the Montreal Canadiens want to keep and re-sign Jeff Petry, but if they trade him they could bring in quite the haul. Petry is the one guy out there on the defence market that could jump onto a team and be a number one defenceman.

Petry brings nearly as strong of a defensive resumé as Brodin, and on top of it brings top pairing even strength offence and powerplay offence to the table. His big weakness is in those long bomb passes to create a really quick transition game, since he prefers to carry the puck or make short passes out of the defensive zone, and when he pushes things too much with long passes he tends to make more turnovers.

Like Brodin, Petry has excelled at stopping rush plays at his own blueline, posting the 18th-best denial rate in the league at 50 per cent. The issue with a Petry trade at the deadline is that if you need a piece that big, you probably can’t afford to give up the futures necessary to acquire him. Although it sure would be interesting to see him slot in on a team with a big hole on defence created by an injury like the Blue Jackets.

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Matt Dumba

Seen as more of an offensive guy for most of his career, Dumba has had some struggles this season and is producing less offence at even strength than an average defenceman. He’s also not been the most mobile player with the puck, struggling to complete carry outs, but he leads the whole group of defencemen in completing outlet passes.

The trouble for Dumba’s value is that on top of not creating much offence and not being great in transition overall this season, he hasn’t been winning the puck either. All the other defencemen on this list are far above league average creating possessions for their team, but Dumba is behind. Considering the injury trouble he’s been through recently, I don’t think that’s something that will necessarily stick, but I’d be wary about adding him as a deadline piece this year.

What a Matt Dumba trade might look like for Maple Leafs
January 31 2020

Erik Gustafsson

Will the Chicago Blackhawks actually admit that their competitive window is closed? It looked over back when they got swept by the Predators in 2017, but the organization seems very hesitant to actually rebuild or even reset, preferring instead to re-acquire former Blackhawks for one last shot that ends up not happening because they can’t make the playoffs.

Gustafsson will be an unrestricted free agent in the offseason, and his $1.2M cap hit is extremely desirable for a potential powerplay quarterback. Although he’s not anywhere close to the production he put up last season where everything went his way, Gustafsson is a strong transition player at evens who can beat opponents to loose pucks and even improve your rush defence, while contributing some savvy play with the man advantage.

In his own zone, he isn’t great defensively, but on a second pairing, he could be a strong contributor.

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Mike Green

Update: Green was traded to the Edmonton Oilers

Every year I think this is the one where Green falls off, but credit to him, he just keeps on being a very good player. On the car crash of a team that is the Red Wings, Green is one the only players who is treading close to even in inner slot shots and slot pass differentials. He completes carry outs at an obscene rate, and is the only player on the list above who is significantly above average in all styles of controlled exits.

Green is also surprisingly good at defending his own blue line, by far the best on the Red Wings, and he recovers loose pucks at a higher rate than any other defenceman available.

The decline for Green as he’s entered his mid-30s has come pretty much exclusively in his offence, where he’s now below league average at even strength, but he’s always been better in other areas of the game than many wanted to give him credit for.

If you’re looking for the offensive dynamo Green once was, look elsewhere, but he is still a very strong top-four option.

Sami Vatanen

I’ve already broken down Vatanen before, so there’s not a ton to say here other than he’s obviously not a strong transition player. Among the 181 defencemen with 500 or more minutes played at 5-vs-5 this season, Vatanen completes only the 126th-most transition plays every 20 minutes.

With that said, he’s the only defenceman among this group that moves the needle offensively at 5-vs-5 other than Jeff Petry, and he’ll likely cost a lot less to acquire than Petry would. Vatanen’s biggest contributions are on special teams, where he’s excellent on the powerplay and a very viable second-wave penalty killer.


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