4 defensemen the Leafs could (realistically) target via trade

Thomas Williams
Hockey writer

The Toronto Maple Leafs have suffered multiple heavy blows to their blue line as they enter the most crucial time of their season.

Morgan Rielly is out for at least eight weeks with a broken foot, while shutdown star Jake Muzzin is still considered week-to-week, as both defencemen find their way to the Long-Term Injured Reserve.

Even with Toronto recalling the exciting 19-year-old Rasmus Sandin, there are six weeks until the trade deadline and the Leafs face a tight race in the standings.

Entering Monday’s slate of games, they sit third in the Atlantic Division, but have the Florida Panthers one point behind with a game in hand and have the Philadelphia Flyers and Columbus Blue Jackets hot on their heels in the wild card race.

With two crucial members of their blue line missing and Sandin — most likely — needing some time to adjust, Toronto might need a crucial trade or two from GM Kyle Dubas to support their push towards the playoffs.

Especially with their cap space and future commitments in mind, there are certainly some defencemen that should be available to acquire before Feb. 24.

Jeff Petry, Montreal Canadiens

Depending on how Canadiens GM Marc Bergevin feels about trading within the division, Jeff Petry could be a steal and a massive improvement for the Leafs’ blue line.

He has had positive possession numbers for the last five seasons of his career and can prevent some high-quality chances, while also contributing offensively.

Petry has scored six goals and 27 points through 46 games this season.

The 32-year-old has two years remaining on his contract with a $5.5-million cap hit, but it is completely manageable due to the amount of players the Leafs have on their LTIR currently.

A package including all-offence prospect Jeremy Bracco and a second-round selection could get the deal done, if Dubas wants to take on Petry’s entire cap hit.

For the struggling Canadiens, it might make sense to move on from Petry with two years on his contract, to get a stronger return than they would if he was a pure rental.

Alec Martinez, Los Angeles Kings

Getting Muzzin’s old partner might seem like a solid idea in the long run and Martinez is reportedly on the trading block to boot.

The two were each other’s most common partner for the two years prior to the trade that sent Muzzin to Toronto and were fairly productive when on the ice together.

Similar to Petry — and Muzzin when he was traded — Martinez has two years remaining on his contract. This hinders the Leafs slightly and will need some more careful planning while mapping out the future cap structure, but Martinez has historically been a solid contributor on the blue line.

via Evolving Hockey

Even if his $4-million cap hit is worrisome, he has demonstrated his ability to stay above replacement level for all but one horrid year in his career in Los Angeles.

He has a minimal six points in 29 games played this season, but with the Kings a bottom-three team in the league in terms of goal scoring, it’s easy to see why his point production shouldn’t reflect his on-ice ability.

Martinez will most likely cost less for the Leafs than Petry or Muzzin, even with the extra year, and a couple high/mid-range draft picks should suffice. If Dubas is feeling hopeful, both their 2020 and 2021 second-round picks should be in play.

Dylan DeMelo, Ottawa Senators

Part of the return for Erik Karlsson from the San Jose Sharks, DeMelo has been a benefactor to the talent desert that is the Ottawa Senators roster.

The right-handed defenceman has seen a massive increase in minutes since joining the Senators — up over five minutes on average — and has flourished into one of the most underappreciated defenders in the league.

Among the 234 defencemen with at least 100 minutes TOI at even-strength, Demelo has the 12th-highest on-ice expected goals share and the ninth-highest expected goals for rate. Essentially, while he’s on the ice, the Senators are getting a lot more high-danger scoring chances than their opposition.

Considering it’s the 2019-20 Ottawa Senators, DeMelo should be considered a miracle worker.

At the age of 26, he is a pending unrestricted free agent as his two-year deal with a cap hit of just $900K is coming off Ottawa’s books.

He is in line for a significant pay increase, but the Maple Leafs could use this to their advantage and understand that he is most likely heading to the free market.

Installing his talent — and being able to keep him around with that minimal cap hit — for the upcoming postseason push would be a massive boost for this championship-hopeful team.

Depending on how the Senators and GM Pierre Dorion feel about retaining his services, DeMelo as a pure rental could be similar to the Nick Jensen and Michal Kempny trades in past deadlines. Therefore, a solid second- or third-round pick can be thrown across Ontario for the defenceman.

Sami Vatanen, New Jersey Devils

Once a player that fans of every team were clamouring for, Vatanen has now lost his place within the struggling New Jersey Devils roster.

The 28-year-old has been hard to watch sometimes in the Garden State, but a surprisingly productive 22 points through 41 games this season — 10 of which are on the power play — could cause some interest.

His possession numbers aren’t quite there, but considering what a mess the Devils have been this season, it’s easy to take some underlying numbers with a grain of salt.

He has just one year remaining, but a substantial $4.88-million cap hit to his name, so it will take some cap finagling from Dubas and Co. once players start to return.

Considering his contract and how quickly the Devils are in the mood to sell, a return of young power forward Egor Korshkov and a mid-round pick might just do the trick.

All stats from Evolving Hockey or Natural Stat trick and contract information from CapFriendly.

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