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Photo Credit: Matt Kartozian/USA TODAY Sports

The Toronto Maple Leafs are probably not going to get a defenceman from the Anaheim Ducks

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.

  • Stan Smith

    I’m not going to argue that the Ducks might value Manson more than Vatanen but the Ducks are getting a little long in the tooth, Manson is due for a big raise, and the ducks are presently using LTIR to get under the Cap. The Leafs have a lot of young talent & prospects to offer the Ducks in return for Manson. I Don’t think a deal for him is that far fetched.

    • DukesRocks

      It wouldn’t make sense for the Leafs to deal directly with Anaheim if it meant having to protect Mason or Vatanen pre-draft. It would make more sense for the Leafs to deal with Vegas directly and see what top quality Dmen fall to them. However, I’m sure Anaheim’s GM has probably already approached Vegas with an offer to protect the above mentioned D. Whatever Lou is willing to part with (anything short of Nylander), I’m sure Anaheim will be able to match.

      • Kevin

        If Vegas is able to acquire high end top 4 D from the expansion draft, they are not going to trade them away. Teams like the Ducks will either try to make a deal with Vegas for them to acquire another player off their roster or they will make a trade with another team to acquire assets rather than losing the player for nothing. There may be some players that Vegas will be able to acquire that can play in the top 4 but not high end players. The best way is to make a trade directly with teams like Anaheim (or Minnesota, Nashville, etc.). Sure, the Leafs would have to protect the player (like Manson) but who are they afraid of losing? Marincin? Carrick? The Leafs would only lose bottom paring D and could always send a mid round draft pick to Vegas to have them select another player.

        • DukesRocks

          There’ll be zero chance a young top pairing Dman will be available through expansion. Mostly you’ll have guys that could be second or third pairing dmen available to Vegas. So yes, it would defeat the purpose if you expose Carrick.

          • Kevin

            I don’t know if Manson is considered at top pairing Dman (I’d say he’s a 2nd pair guy on the Ducks), but some teams will lose a good 2nd pairing Dman if they don’t make a deal prior to expansion. Carrick is at best a number 5 Dman at this point and IMHO will likely only be a bottom pair Dman. There will be better Dman available that will be an upgrade to the Leafs top 4 over Carrick/Hunwick/Polak/Marincin/Marchenko. Teams are not going to want to lose a good piece for nothing to Vegas and would rather get something of value back.

          • Gary Empey

            @Kevin….. Teams will not be losing any players for nothing. Each team is selling a player for $16 million. Teams will attempt to meet the required expansion exposure list with bubble players where they can. Vegas is under no obligation to choose any of those players. Each team will end up with promising, young, unprotected, players on their AHL teams. If Vegas doesn’t like any teams required exposure players they will take one of those. In the Leaf’s case you are looking at players like Leipsic, Leivo, Rychel, Griffth, and others. The Leafs will not be able to protect them all.

          • Kevin

            @Gary You make some good points. Teams are getting a cut of the expansion fee so they aren’t losing players for nothing. I may be downplaying Carricks potential, I hope I am wrong and he ends up being a legitimate top 4 Dman. At this point I don’t see him as a top 4 guy on a good team. The Leafs will end up losing someone with potential but I don’t think anyone you mentioned will ever become more than a top 9 forward or bottom 2 Dman. I believe the Leafs are well positioned and won’t end up losing anyone of significance (or someone that can’t be replaced through their system).

      • Gary Empey

        Vegas is not allowed to trade any players they choose in the expansion draft for the 1st year. Lou has already stated that there are players that that wouldn’t normally be available already involved in trade talks this year because of this upcoming expansion draft. Further there seems to be a couple of assumptions being made that may come to pass but I wouldn’t be so quick to assume. First that most players with NTC’s will be waiving them. Those players paid to have those clauses added to their contracts by taking less money and allowing the team to set the term so they could buy some security for their families and themselves. Second a lot of people are assuming Vegas is going to make deals to choose below average players and future considerations. Then end up being a complete disaster for 10 years like Arizona. The NHL owners have told Bettman to make sure Vegas has a good team right out the gate so they can establish hockey in a brand new market in the dessert. Is it naive to think Vegas will end up choosing a bubble player and a 2nd or 3rd pick when they can have an established, on the youngish side, NHL top 4 defenceman? Lou has been well aware of difference of this up coming expansion draft from past years. An example would be his moving Phaneuf. Had we retained him, because of his NTC, the Leafs would be forced to expose one of Rielly. Gardiner, or Zaitsev. With that choice does anyone think George McPhee is going to made a deal to pick Alexey Marchenko and a 2nd round pick to leave one of those 3 guys alone?

        • Gary Empey

          I made a mistake on the ” Leafs would be forced to expose one of Rielly. Gardiner, or Zaitsev.” line. Zaitsev is still on an ELC and does not need to be protected. That would mean instead Rielly. Gardiner, or Carrick would have been exposed if we still had Phaneuf. Same thing if we acquire a top D-man before the expansion draft. I now think what Lou meant when he said there are players that that wouldn’t normally be available already involved in trade talks this year. Players like Hampus Lindholm, and Cam Fowler may be in play. These are players that would normally not be available for a trade.

    • Jonathan Willis

      Manson’s not due for a raise for another season. He makes $825K next year. And given the pricing on defensive defencemen, even then it’s debatable that he gets more than Vatanen is making right now.

  • Kevin

    The author makes some good points, I wouldn’t be surprised if Anaheim values Manson over Vatanen. What isn’t for debate is that Anaheim has an abundance of D and lack offensive punch from their forwards. Anaheim will have to determine who they want as their core moving forward, who can be replaced internally, and who they can get the most back for in a trade. If Anaheim determines their window is now, acquiring a top line winger like JVR as the center piece of a Manson trade might be worth it with the number of high end D on entry level contracts (Montour, Theodore, and Larsson). If the Leafs retain 50% salary the additional salary cap space would be slightly over 1 million for Anaheim, plus they would insure they keep Cogliano and Silfverberg. It may still be unlikely, but it’s still a realistic possibility.

  • Harte of a Lion

    Carrick is far better than the 5th, 6th defenceman all the posters claim him to be. He I s one month younger than Riley and usually played 120 NHL games. He is going to surprise a lot of people next is one month younger than Riley and has only played 120 NHL games. He is going to surprise a lot of people next season.

    • Gary Empey

      You are right. I think there was a tendency for most of us to watch the rookie forwards complete game improve, over the season. We sort of took our eyes of the improvement of all our defencemen by the end of the year. It don’t believe it was a fluke they we made the last wild card for the playoffs. There were a few other teams who made a major push to get that spot and we played better. There is no way that could have happened unless our defence was not better than we thought. The only way Carrick ends up as part of the bottom pair is if Babcock moves away from using the bottom pair as a shut-down pair and goes with a top six format on defence. That would mean a good offensive D-man on each pair and a good defensive D-man on each pair as well.

      • killerkash

        Right now, Carrick is the 4th best dman the Leafs currently have. I like the kid and have always thought he has some good upside. I like the way he thinks the game and isn’t afraid of the physicality but he’s a little on the small side with the limited speed he has. But, he makes good first passes out of the zone and has some offensive flare. He’s shown enough that you wouldn’t want to give up on him or lose him now. He deserves some time to develop more to see how much upside he may have.