How five potential defence trade targets would fit with the Maple Leafs

The Hockey Central panel chat about Columbus Blue Jackets defenceman Vladislav Gavrikov and why he could be a potentially-appealing fit for the Toronto Maple Leafs as a trade-deadline acquisition.

The odds that the Toronto Maple Leafs acquire another defenceman before the March 3 deadline are exceedingly high. Their current numbers seven and eight in the rotation are Conor Timmins and Jordie Benn, and then minor league question marks.

If you’re aiming at the Cup, you’re going to want at least that many D who can excel in the NHL, and likely another one. But more to the point is that the Leafs’ D-corps as currently constructed carries a few other question marks, the biggest being that it’s not a particularly big or rugged group, and over a seven-game series that element still greatly matters. Last year the Leafs pushed the Lightning to a one-goal seventh-game loss, but that was with the physical presences of Jake Muzzin and Ilya Lyubushkin in the lineup.

As good as the Leafs have been at keeping the puck out of their net against 31 other teams this year, none of Morgan Rielly, TJ Brodie, Justin Holl, Mark Giordano, Rasmus Sandin or Timothy Liljegren will make anyone hesitate to go to the net. And we’re talking about playing Tampa Bay and protecting the relatively-inexperienced Ilya Samsonov here. They’re going to need some help.

However you may quibble with my framing, they’re going to add and that’s the point. It’s just a matter of who it’s going to be.

So what specifically do the Maple Leafs need to add? Is it just that rugged element many see as an issue? Is it someone who can run a power play, a game state where they’ve struggled in the post-season? Is it just depth insurance?

Whenever the trade happens, you’ll want to know: what does this guy Toronto acquired really do? Below is a look at the five most discussed names, and the dimension they’d bring to the table.

Vladislav Gavrikov

The stat that may be most interesting with Gavrikov: he’s listed at 6-foot-3 and 221 pounds. He’s not a banger in the way Lyubushkin was at all (Gavrikov’s outside the top-100 in hits among D on the year), but he is physical and defensively involved and works hard at taking pucks away.

In fact, he’s fairly high up there in some defensive counting stats:

Given 297 defencemen have played in the NHL so far this season, being that high up in any category is noteworthy, let alone in five. But important context: Columbus is stuck defending a lot, and he’s stuck playing good competition and logging 22:20 per game on the top pair. Anyone in that role is going to have big counting metrics, so that’s important context. I don’t think you’re getting peak Rod Langway here.

But Gavrikov’s style is visible beyond those numbers (you can see more in the video a bit further down). He gets in the way, doesn’t back down, and defends as a priority. Given the Leafs’ needs, he would be a preferred bottom pair guy against the Lightning.

Jakob Chychrun

I know he has been paired pretty close with the Kings, but the Leafs aren’t out of the bidding yet, and you can make the case he’d move the needle more for them than some defensive bruiser. The Leafs don’t get much offence from their D-corps, and their PP has cratered in the postseason. You can make the case that anyone who can push the puck the right way, in theory, should leave them defending less often.

Keep in mind that Erik Karlsson is on pace for a 100-point season, and Chychrun has somehow managed to creep ahead of him in a couple offensive categories. Those numbers above show precisely what you would get — a super talented offensive guy. For the Leafs, that would certainly add a dimension they don’t have, and bump Rielly into a position where he wouldn’t have to force it looking for offence, which would be appealing, too. It would be the first time Rielly wouldn’t be the clear number one on a Leafs team heading into playoffs going back nearly 20 years.

More on Gavrikov and Chychrun here, before we entertain a few other names:

[brightcove videoID=6320613944112 playerID=JCdte3tMv height=360 width=640]

Luke Schenn

Schenn is almost the exact answer to the questions I posed at the top of this article. He, quite literally, has thrown more hits than any player in the NHL over the course of his career, and he has that snarl and ability to defend that would be valuable on the bottom pair. He’s recently won Stanley Cups and has seen what it takes to have success in the post-season.

In theory, he’s what the doctor ordered (basically an upgraded version of Benn). But how much does he have left in the tank, and how much does he cost? You have to be realistic about a guy you’d still prefer to see on your bottom pair, and what that’s worth to you. But if the cost wasn’t exorbitant, he’d immediately help answer some D depth questions.

Jake McCabe

McCabe would be advertised as something like Schenn, but younger and with a much bigger cap hit ($4 million for two more seasons after this one). He’s a nice player, and logs over 19 minutes a night right now, but the improvement over Sandin or Liljegren isn’t that significant (though in some measure it may be there) and he’s also inexperienced. Yes, McCabe has a more physical element to his game than those two, but he still strikes me as a depth support guy on this Leafs team who would take a more significant chunk of cap space than preferred.

Erik Karlsson

I recognize this one is the absolute long shot of long shots for the Leafs, but if anyone decides to pursue Karlsson, it’s worth noting one important thing: this year has not been some flash in the pan season for the Sharks. Karlsson has had four really good seasons (of five) since he’s been there, and even where his metrics look sketchy in isolation, they’re far better for his team when he’s on the ice than when he isn’t.

Here’s a nice thread on that:

If a team can get the Sharks to retain enough money to where Karlsson is a $7-8 million cap hit, he suddenly becomes an asset for San Jose rather than a “please take this contract off our hands” situation. The man is the Norris Trophy front-runner, and remains unbelievable at moving the puck up the ice. The Leafs would have to move heaven and earth (and roster players) to make it happen. But it’s a fun fantasy to entertain.

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