The Leafs are about a quarter of the way through this so-called “Young Year”, with guys like Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner, William Nylander and Connor Brown given the keys to the team. It’s been 20 games so far, and with a record of 8-8-4, there have been reasons for hope, but also signs that this team isn’t quite there yet. While the names I just mentioned have all been playing very well putting up great numbers early on, there is something is common with all of these guys, they’re forwards. The Leafs have so many good and up and coming forwards, besides those 4 guys, Sosh has played out of his 4th line role, Hyman looks like he can be a good energy guy, and guys on the Marlies like Kapanen and Leipsic that look NHL ready. This forced Lou to waive some solid NHL veterans like Brooks Laich and Milan Michalek, but the same can’t be said about the D. Yes, top pairing Morgan Rielly and rookie Nikita Zaitsev have looked good early on, and the Gardiner-Carrick have been a decent 2nd pairing, but that’s where it ends. The 3rd pairing, which is any combination of Matt Hunwick, Roman Polak, Martin Marincin and Frankie Corrado (Who’s only gotten into one game this year) has been the weakest part of this Leafs team early on, getting limited minutes every game. If this team wants to be a serious contender, they’re going to need another Right-Handed D-man who logs minutes, whether that’s on the top pairing with Morgan or on a shutdown 2nd pairing with PK time.
Who to get?
Right now you’re probably thinking, “Who would be that stupid to give us a player like that?” I agree that the market for young defensemen is thin, but there are multiple paths you can take to getting your guy. This first option is through trade, which is in my opinion the least likely path the Leafs are going to take, simply because Lou isn’t big on pulling the trigger on big deals. The biggest rumoured trade surrounding a right-handed D has been to acquire Jacob Trouba, but the Jets were reportedly extremely high on Trouba, wanted an extreme package in return (and he also signed a new 2-year deal). An interesting thought would be to go after a player they could of had in the draft in 2011 draft, Dougie Hamilton. Hamilton is getting paid $5.75 million through the 2020-2021 season, and his name has been floated around in trade talks after only one year with the Flames. The cost would once again be very high, but the Leafs have so much depth up-front that possibly giving up a Kapanen or even JVR is something Lou can afford to do. Another option is to go through the draft, and there is one name is particular that stands out the most: Timothy Liljegren. The 6’0 foot, right-handed defenseman is currently ranked 2nd is most draft projections, has been highly touted is a great two-way D-man. If the Leafs do end up drafting in that range, Liljegren will be at the top of their list, but if they’re drafting later, guys like Cal Foote or Erikk Brandstrom wouldn’t be bad bets either. The last option, which is the most likely one, is to wait. Wait until your young group of forwards grow, and sign a top pairing guy in Free agency later. I know it’s not the “sexiest” choice, but it might me the best, seeing as there are always top tier players in free agency.
If I was Lou, I wait it out, don’t rush into anything, because we got plenty of time. Wait to see if you can choose Liljegren in the draft, if yes, great, if not, make sure you’re drafting a defenseman in the 1st round. In a few when (hopefully) the team is a playoff threat, go out and sign or trade for a solid right-handed shot you can stick besides Morgan. Whichever way the Leafs go, they’re going to need more quality defensemen if they want to be a Stanley Cup Contender in the not-so-distant future.