After cruising through the first three months of the season, the Toronto Maple Leafs have hit a rough patch.
Toronto has lost seven of its past 10 games and is quickly hearing footsteps from the Boston Bruins and Montreal Canadiens in the Atlantic Division standings.
As the Leafs continue to flounder to start 2019, trade rumours have only picked up as the team looks to improve its roster. Upgrading the blue line has been a major talking point since the season started, and it seems like GM Kyle Dubas is now actively searching for that defensive help.
Toronto appears set on the left side with Morgan Rielly, Jake Gardiner and Travis Dermott but it’s on the right where the options leave something to be desired. Ron Hainsey, Nikita Zaitsev and Igor Ozhiganov are the current trio, and there’s certainly room for improvement for a Leafs club with Stanley Cup aspirations.
Here are five blue-liners Toronto could target ahead of the Feb. 25 trade deadline:
Current team: St. Louis Blues
Contract status: Signed through 2019-20, $6.5 million cap hit
2018-19 stats: GP: 37 | G: 5 | A: 14 | +/-: -8
The name most often linked to the Leafs throughout this season has been Pietrangelo, the veteran St. Louis Blues captain with plenty of pedigree. The 2018 all-star has been a lock for 24 minutes per night throughout his career and would instantly give the Leafs a top-pair defenceman. He also has experience on the international stage, winning a gold medal with Team Canada at the 2014 Olympics. The coach of that team? None other than Maple Leafs bench boss Mike Babcock.
After an abysmal start to the 2018-19 season that cost Mike Yeo his job, the Blues are trying to claw their way back into the playoff hunt. They might not be full-blown sellers quite yet, but one more bad stretch could sink their season and prompt roster changes. It’s important to remember that this is a team that surprisingly shipped out Paul Stastny in exchange for picks and a prospect at last year’s deadline despite being in the thick of a playoff race.
Current team: St. Louis Blues
Contract status: Signed through 2021-22, $5.5 million cap hit
2018-19 stats: GP: 48 | G: 8 | A: 4 | +/-: +7
Another Blues defenceman the Leafs could target is Parayko, who is signed long-term. The former third-round pick has been a steady performer, topping 30 points in each of his first three NHL seasons. He’s firmly entrenched as, at worst, a second-pair rearguard and Pietrangelo is the only St. Louis skater who logs more ice time.
Parayko already has eight goals, but he’s on pace for a career-low in points, which means it might not be an optimal time for St. Louis to trade him. He’s also young enough that the Blues might view him as part of their future and be reluctant to part with him.
Current team: Carolina Hurricanes
Contract status: Signed through 2020-21, $5.75 million cap hit
2018-19 stats: GP: 48 | G: 6 | A: 10 | +/-: -13
A 40-point defenceman for each of the past three seasons with the Calgary Flames, Hamilton has seen his production tail off in his first year with the Hurricanes. Despite being on pace for his worst offensive campaign since his early days with the Boston Bruins, the 25-year-old is just one year removed from leading all NHL defencemen with 17 goals and remains a very solid player from an analytics perspective. He’s also moved past the questions about his character that followed him during his time in Calgary.
So why would the Hurricanes be looking to part with Hamilton? Carolina sits 27th in goals per game this season and could use some additional scoring to complement a very strong defensive corps. With two more years left on his contract, Hamilton could be the piece that nets the biggest return.
Current team: Philadelphia Flyers
Contract status: Signed through 2019-20, $3.35 million cap hit
2018-19 stats: GP: 46 | G: 2 | A: 11 | +/-: +10
With the Philadelphia Flyers well back of the playoff race in the Eastern Conference, forward Wayne Simmonds’ name has been circulating in the rumour mill on what seems like a daily basis. While Simmonds has been mentioned as a possible fit for Toronto up front, Dubas may want to take a look at the Flyers’ roster for some blue-line help as well.
“Another name I keep hearing is Radko Gudas from the Philadelphia Flyers,” Sportsnet’s Nick Kypreos said on Hockey Night in Canada’s Headlines segment last weekend. “A lot of teams telling me, arguably, he might have been their most consistent defenceman up until this point. He could replace a guy like Roman Polak who last year offered [Toronto] a lot of grit.”
The ‘grit’ Kypreos refers to is something the Leafs could be looking to add. Babcock went on record earlier this month saying he thinks his team needs to play ‘heavier.’ Gudas certainly knows a thing or two about that brand of hockey, sitting 11th league-wide with 148 hits. He also isn’t afraid to drop the gloves.
Current team: Vancouver Canucks
Contract status: Signed through 2019-20, $4.45 million cap hit
2018-19 stats: GP: 45 | G: 2 | A: 8 | +/-: +5
Heading into the 2018-19 season, the Canucks were expected to be sellers at the trade deadline. That may still be the case, but the fact Vancouver is currently tied for a wild-card spot raises questions about whether or not Jim Benning will ship assets out of town over the next month. A taste of the playoffs could do wonders for the development of such a young squad, but it’s important not to rush the process.
If the Canucks do decide to sell, Tanev is one of their best chips. He’s having a strong campaign, averaging 20:35 of ice time and is a steady presence on a penalty kill. He’s never been much of an offensive threat (96 points in 435 career games), but the Leafs already have plenty of firepower to compensate.
The biggest concern with Tanev will always be health. The 29-year-old has only appeared in 60-plus games three times over his career, and hasn’t hit that mark since the 2015-16 season.