Why the Leafs should be all over James Wisniewski

Sometimes, another team’s loss can be your own gain. Today, the Carolina Hurricanes bought out James Wisniewski after an illustrious single-shift career, to ensure that their emerging young defensive corps can keep building together. This leaves the Leafs with perhaps the only non-Stamkos veteran worth seriously exploring this offseason.


Wisniewski was signed by the Columbus Blue Jackets to a six-year deal in that began in 2011/12, and was about to enter into the final year of his deal this season. Along the way, he’s been traded to Anaheim (in March 2015), and Carolina (in June 2015). The Columbus trade was made as part of a rebuilding effort, while Anaheim did it as a “strength for weakness” attempt.

Unfortunately, Wisniewski topped his 13-game stint in Anaheim with just a 46 second run with the Hurricanes. In his first game with his new team, Wisniewski collided with Viktor Arvidsson and tore his ACL, ending his year on opening night.

Year GP G A PTS ESP60 CF60Rel CA60Rel CF%Rel
2014/15 69 8 26 34 0.84 8.03 4.46 1.77
2013/14 75 7 45 52 0.86 6.48 -5.05 5.38
2012/13 30 5 9 14 0.86 5.97 2.76 1.62
2011/12 48 6 21 27 0.93 -0.11 7.25 -3.3
2010/11 75 10 41 51 0.92 5.62 0.08 2.41
5-Year 298 36 142 178 0.88 5.48 1.3 1.95

As it stands, a healthy Wisniewski is still a quality first or second pairing defenceman in the NHL. His teams generate much more offence when he’s on the ice, which seems to keep the puck away from his net as well and generally tilts the ice in his favour. He scores at a decent enough level at even strength and can contribute on the powerplay. More than that, he’s a right-handed shot, which many have harped on the Leafs for not having enough of at a high end level.

Certainly, Wisniewski would be an upgrade on Frank Corrado or Connor Carrick this season, and is more of a known quantity than Nikita Zaitsev is. Being 32-years-old will likely scare off a lot of fans, but he would provide a veteran presence to a defensive core that, for the most part, is 25 or younger.

Wisniewski’s prior cap hit was $5.5 million, and he was due $3 million real dollars this year; he’ll get $2 million instead as a result of the buyout. One would expect due to his age, his lack of play last season, and the fact that he’s become a free agent on the last day of the negotiation window and after a couple of huge trades have already gone down that his dollar amount for this year won’t be high.

Not that that matters much to Toronto. As we mentioned repeatedly during Stammergeddon, the team has $7 million in pre-LTIR cap space to work with and the capacity to go over by $5.3 million Hortonbucks. If you can get Wisniewski locked into a one-year “prove it” deal, the price doesn’t matter very much. I’d even consider it for two years, as it would leave the Leafs a defenceman to expose to the Expansion Draft afterwards.

Many will say that signing a veteran goes against the rebuild model, and in many respects, that’s true. But Right Defence is a specifically outlined position of weakness, and this is a quality player that is very likely to be undervalued on this market due to his age, time of arrival, and lack of ice time over the past year. I don’t believe the organization seems themselves as contenders just yet, but they probably don’t believe themselves to be bottom feeders either. If you think the team has any chance at decency, this is a solid option to pursue.

  • Gary Empey

    I like this alot. Lead the young d core and net us a good return at the trade deadline or offseason. He’d come on a very affordable 2 year deal I would imagine

  • magesticRAGE

    I think I remember that Columbus was frustrated with his defensive play. He generated offense, but at a defensive cost. Before the injury, he wasn’t the fleetest of foot either. I think he is a better version of Brennan, and being a right shot. I would be cautious with him, should give Trouba or Harmonic a serious run instead.
    I get the whole leadership thing, but that should be defensively sound leadership.

    • Gary Empey

      the islanders aren’t letting hamonic go for anything. they wouldn’t even give up hamonic for hall and he they;ve committed to sticking with hi after he rescinded his trade request for family reasons. the jets will command a fortune for trouba and will easily match any offersheet as they have the cap space to match threats. i’d love lindholm/trouba but it’s not realistic unless we give up a fortune. i’d start with jvr as both teams need a top line winger or barrie.

  • Gary Empey

    Jeff I am going to refer you to: Matthew: Chapter: 19: Verse: 24.

    There is more chance for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than the Leafs signing James Wisniewski.

    Thank you for taking my call now I will hang up and listen.

  • Gary Empey

    i’ve been a fan of his for a while. the leafs need to replace hunwick with wisniewski immediately. he’s a legitimate upgrade as a solid veteran defenceman who can actually play big minutes, score and defend against top 6 talent. he’ll come cheap too. i’d sign him to a 1.5 million over 2 year deal similar to hunwick’s deal. after the injuries and small sample size over the last few years, i’m sure we could get this top 4 guy for next to nothing and he’s right handed!

  • Foximus

    You MUST have confidence in the mgmt team by now! You must!

    I believe Wisniewski is a logical short term signings as listed above. This group seems to know who to sign, for how long and then can flip them for draft picks at the trade deadline. I’m shocked more teams aren’t doing this.

    The Leafs will be better this year, not playoff bound but better and will have a better sense of where they are at with Zaitsev and others. I’m not sure they are in the draft lottery next year.

    It’s starting – the bandwagon jumpers are getting ready to go all in. You long suffering fans are going to be rewarded over the next 10-15 yrs.