The Toronto Maple Leafs could use a good right-shot defenceman and will probably add one this summer. The Anaheim Ducks have a few of them, and thanks to the June expansion draft will have trouble keeping them all. These two facts form the basis for a link that’s been drawn by a lot of people, including our own Ryan Fancey and Kevin Papetti of Pension Plan Puppets.
Most of the write-ups I’ve seen have, logically enough, focused on this potential link from a Maple Leafs perspective, looking at Anaheim’s defencemen and identifying the player best suited to Toronto’s needs. Instead, today I wanted to game things out a little from a Ducks’ perspective, as Anaheim’s preferences are likely to drive what happens here.
The Expansion Draft Problem
The rules at this point are fairly well known. Every team protects one goaltender and either a) eight skaters at any position or b) seven forwards and three defencemen. Each team must also expose two forwards, one defenceman and one goaltender who meet some pretty lax games played requirements and are under contract for next year.
The Ducks’ first problem is that Kevin Bieksa has a no-move clause and must be protected unless he waives it. Given his age, salary and performance the last while, he’d be a pretty bad pick for the Golden Knights, so it’s reasonable to assume that Anaheim can sweet talk him into setting it aside. If they can’t, the Ducks are stuck exposing multiple high-value defencemen. Given a choice between trading two of those guys and losing one in expansion, losing just one in expansion is probably preferable, which would mean they have little incentive to make a trade.
For all those reasons, it’s worth assuming that Bieksa waives his no-move clause.
After making this assumption, I look at the Ducks roster and see the following players who need to be protected:
- Forwards (6): Corey Perry (NMC), Ryan Getzlaf (NMC), Ryan Kelser (NMC), Rickard Rakell, Jakob Silfverberg and Andrew Cogliano
- Defencemen (4): Hampus Lindholm, Cam Fowler, Josh Manson, Sami Vatanen
- Goaltender (1): John Gibson
Everyone else is expendable. Antoine Vermette up front, Bieksa and the injured, expensive Simon Despres and Clayton Stoner on the back end, and Jonathan Bernier in net are all selections the Ducks could live with.
The obvious problem is that a 8 skaters/one goaltender approach leaves Silfverberg and Cogliano twisting in the wind, while a 7/3/1 tack does the same to one of the four defencemen. The equally obvious solution is to trade one of those defenders for a forward, at which point a 7/3/1 scheme will protect everyone worth protecting.
Which Defenceman Gets Moved?
We can obviously ignore players like Shea Theodore and Brandon Montour in this exercise, since neither is expansion-eligible. We can also ignore Stoner and Despres, since their selection at the expansion draft wouldn’t be a big deal. Our focus is thus solely on the four defenders the Ducks presumably want to protect.
Lindholm should be a non-starter in trade talks. He’s signed forever, he’s only 23, and he does just about everything anyone could ask of a defenceman. A 6’3” puckmover who can play tough minutes is a cornerstone piece, and Anaheim would be insane to move him for anything less than the sun, moon and stars. Moving on.
I’m skeptical that Fowler comes into play, if only because he averaged 24:50 this year, playing in all situations and leading the Ducks in ice-time. Despite this, I think there’s actually a pretty good case to trade him. Anaheim has other power play options, and at five-on-five Fowler’s underlying numbers have always been decent but unspectacular. A good shorthand for this is to look at the totals posted by the Getzlaf and Kesler lines with Fowler on the ice vs. with Lindholm on the ice:
- Getzlaf and Lindholm: 51% Corsi, 70% goals for
- Getzlaf and Fowler: 49% Corsi, 58% goals for
- Kesler and Lindholm: 55% Corsi, 57% goals for
- Kesler and Fowler: 50% Corsi, 48% goals for
Add to this that Fowler has one year left on his contract at a modest $4.0 million, and everything lines up for a trade: His reputation exceeds his results, he’s about to get expensive, and he doesn’t provide anything the Ducks can’t get from someone else.
That’s my case, but I don’t actually get a say in this. Anaheim treated Fowler like their best defenceman this year, and teams don’t typically trade the guy they think is their best defenceman. So once again, we move on.
Manson is an obvious trade target. He plays tough minutes as Lindholm’s regular partner, he’s 25 and has another year on a dirt-cheap contract and he plays a nasty physical game. These things that make him attractive also make it unlikely that the Ducks will deal him. He’s an obvious complement to either Fowler or Lindholm, and the Ducks cap situation is pretty precarious as-is. Finances alone probably dictate he stays.
That brings us to Vatanen. Like Manson, he’s young; unlike Manson he’s getting paid real money. His top selling feature is his offensive game, an area where the Ducks have some redundancy. At five-on-five he has some obvious defensive flaws as well as some redundancies with both Lindholm and Fowler. From either a financial or a team skills perspective, Vatanen is the obvious trade candidate, particularly since young, offensive, right-shot D signed forever tend to have high trade values.
So, from Anaheim’s perspective, we end up with the following: Vatanen dealt somewhere in exchange for a good forward. Now we can pivot back to Toronto, and ask whether Vatanen really makes sense for the Maple Leafs.
Does Vatanen make sense for Toronto?
Obviously, Vatanen would be helpful. But he’s only a lukewarm fit for Toronto’s needs, particularly since there’s likely to be a substantial trade cost associated with such a deal.
The biggest strike against him is that Toronto doesn’t need to move heaven and earth for a power play defenceman. The power play was really good this year, getting by just fine with Jake Gardiner and Nikita Zaitsev. Vatanen would probably be an upgrade there, but the Leafs’ real need is at even-strength.
Vatanen doesn’t really address that. His career shot and goal metrics have been pretty good when he’s been deployed as an offensive specialist, but over the last two years they’ve been only passable (just below the team average) in tougher minutes. He looks a lot like a high-end offensive producer who is best-suited to second pairing work at evens.
A lot of teams could make good use of that kind of player, better use than the Maple Leafs could. So it just makes sense that one of those other teams would be more willing to pay for Vatanen’s services than Toronto will be.