2013 -2014 Maple Leafs Defensive Woes Continue, Should We Expect To See Changes?

So if the Toronto Maple Leafs were indeed starting to look at defenseman for the overhaul that is invariably coming on their back end in what is shaping up to be an absolutely horrid year for their d-core, who would potentially, be available to the Maple Leafs right now? Either as early as December given the Leafs current skid with players signed to teams that are exploring potential rebuilds or those who may possibly be available this summer as UFA’s.

The first player that comes immediately to mind is 31 year old Buffalo Sabre’s defenseman Christian Ehrhoff, who is signed for another seven years at a reasonable $4 million per season which may actually start looking like a bit of a deal if he can continue his strong play for the foreseeable future. Ehrhoff put up 50 points in his last season with the Vancouver Canucks and looks to be holding that rate of production, at least to a certain extent even with Buffalo having the lackluster season they are and their management team may be looking for a clean slate if they do attempt a complete rebuild in the near future. Just what Toronto may have to relinquish in such a transaction is the larger question…would it take John Michael Liles (for salary) and a combination of draft picks and prospects (think Josh Leivo, Stuart Percy, Matt Finn etc.) or a younger player like Morgan Reilly or Jake Gardiner is really anyone’s guess at this point.

As discussed previously in this blog, the New York Islanders have unfortunately been in a bit of a free fall as of late which if it continues will dash any hopes of making the playoffs; if that happens do not be surprised if defenseman Andrew MacDonald becomes available. Currently on an expiring contact at $575,000 and a UFA this summer, expect him to garner a significant raise that may put him out of reach with the Islanders self-imposed internal cap. Has already put up 11 points in 32 games, perhaps the Leafs send Mark Fraser on his expiring contract the other way and eat some salary while sending some goodies (prospect/pick) to the Islanders for the chance to see what MacDonald can do firsthand while also having the right to speak with him first at seasons end.

The Florida Panthers are another team on the outside looking in very early on in this season and although it is unlikely they would be able to offload Brian Campbell’s massive contract, perhaps they would part ways with Tom Gilbert as a rental for the rest of the year. In my opinion Gilbert is a player the Maple Leafs should have taken a better look at for third pairing minutes during the summer although it is hard to believe that anyone would have thought Mark Fraser would have struggled quite to the extent he has this year. This is a move that shouldn’t cost the Leafs all that much and could potentially shore up the third pairing.

The other player on the Panthers that should definitely be taken into consideration is 23 year old defenseman Dmitry Kulikov “CBC’s Elliotte Friedman reported the Maple Leafs have held interest in Kulikov for some time.” Bleacher Report. “Assets: Has obvious offensive instincts and a big shot from the point. Is an outstanding, well-rounded skater that posseses excellent upside. Likes to aggressively jump in and partake in the offensive side of things. Flaws: Is still learning the small nuances of the National Hockey League game, so he needs to keep minimizing his defensive-zone mistakes and utilize his body more effectively to become an all-around impact rearguard. Career Potential: Talented defenseman with good upside.” The Hockey News.

Will the Pittsburg Penguins be able to hold onto Matt Niskanen who enters UFA status this coming summer? He will most likely be expecting of a raise over his current deal of $2.9m per year and one should expect that the 27 year old will have clubs competing for his services. There is also Tim Gleason who we covered in the previous post who may be readily available should the Carolina Hurricanes take John Michael Liles in return. Gleason is rumored to be struggling in Carolina and the team is looking for a puck moving defenseman where JML may fit the bill. Gleason is a veteran stay at home defenseman with size.

That being said there were also a couple of players that were not signed to agreements that headed overseas that perhaps may be worthy of consideration if the Leafs decide to reassign Mark Fraser or Paul Ranger (harsh but potentially necessary given their production levels) to the Marlies. Ian White is currently plying his trade in Europe and although the Winnipeg Jets passed on his services after his pro-tryout during training camp could be an inexpensive replacement for the short term. The Leafs are familiar with what he brings given his previous tenure with the club and he could potentially solidify the third pairing to a certain extent if his skill levels have not diminished.

Perhaps it is time for someone to give Kevin Dallman another shot in the NHL. He last appeared with the Los Angeles Kings back in the 2007-08 campaign but has since put up solid numbers in his last four seasons in the KHL. Twice the 31 year old has surpassed the 50 point mark has scored 20 goals and it should be mentioned that he is a hometown boy from Niagara Falls, Ontario.

Well there you have it, any way you slice it there are definitely some options out there for the Maple Leafs to explore but it really comes down to availability and the trade partners demands or requirements. Although the Leafs have been struggling as of late as Kadri recently stated there is still plenty of hockey yet left to play and I for one have to agree so let’s not do anything drastic. As always, food for thought.

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