The Toronto Maple Leafs; need for a quality right-shot defenceman is obvious, and will likely be addressed this summer. It’s a good time to go shopping for such a player, because the expansion draft is going to create opportunities that would not otherwise exist.
One of those opportunities is in Minnesota, and the Wild and Maple Leafs are often linked in trade speculation.
We’ve previously looked at how expansion is creating problems for Anaheim, with our conclusion being that the Ducks will probably look to trade Sami Vatanen rather than Josh Manson and that as a result there may not be a good trade fit for the Leafs. If we consider things from Minnesota’s perspective, do the Wild make more sense?
The Wild are ridiculously deep, and that depth puts them in a lot of trouble for the expansion draft. There is a case to be made for both the 7-3-1 and 8-1 protection schemes, but GM Chuck Fletcher told the Star Tribune’s Michael Russo that it was logical to assume that the team would protect seven forwards and three defencemen.
Including no-move clauses, Minnesota would doubtless prefer to protect:
- Forwards (9): Zach Parise (NMC), Mikko Koivu (NMC), Jason Pominville (NMC), Charlie Coyle, Mikael Granlund, Nino Niederreiter, Eric Staal, Jason Zucker, Erik Haula
- Defence (5): Ryan Suter (NMC), Jared Spurgeon, Matt Dumba, Jonas Brodin, Marco Scandella
- Goal (1): Devan Dubnyk
One problem would be solved by getting Pominville to waive his no-move clause. He almost certainly won’t be claimed. There is some risk to Pominville if he takes that course of action, though Minnesota could always threaten to buy him out if he declines to waive (and that might be a logical course of action if he’s untradeable anyway).
One way or other, I expect the team will clear that particular hurdle, which would mean they could protect all of those important forwards other than Haula. That’s not ideal, but that’s certainly survivable.
The bigger issue is on the blue line. Suter and Spurgeon are both locks to be protected, leaving three players competing for the other spot.
Three vulnerable defencemen
We can probably eliminate one of those three from the start. Scandella fell to fifth on Minnesota’s depth chart during the regular season and has not been the same since being separated from Spurgeon two years ago. It would appear that Spurgeon was the player primarily driving results on that pairing:
- 2013-15 with Spurgeon: 972 minutes, 53% Corsi
- 2013-15 without Spurgeon: 1,350 minutes, 49% Corsi
- 2015-17 with Spurgeon: 104 minutes, 56% Corsi
- 2015-17 without Spurgeon: 2,271 minutes, 47% Corsi
Scandella is 27 and carries a $4.0 million cap hit and $4.42 million average salary over the next three years. He’s a solid player, and doubtless the Wild would prefer trading him to losing him for nothing, but he isn’t irreplaceable and he is getting paid. He also lacks the upside of younger rearguards Dumba and Brodin.
The chief objective for Minnesota should be to move one of those two players and protect the other. It’s less clear which of the two the team should try to keep, and either might be of interest to the Leafs.
Brodin is a left-shot defender who has spent a lot of time on both sides of the ice. He turns 24 in July, so he isn’t yet in the prime of his career, but in some respects his stock has fallen a little: After years playing first pairing minutes as Suter’s partner, he’s moved into a second-pairing role over the last two seasons, eclipsed by Spurgeon.
Still, he’s valuable. He’s mobile, intelligent, and good at moving the puck; these positives make up for a lack of physical dominance or high-end offence. He’s been tested in tough minutes from a young age and outside of a sophomore slump his shot metrics have been solid in most years. He’s possibly underrated from an offensive perspective; his hourly offensive numbers jumped last year at 5-on-5 and he’s always been a competent second power play unit defender.
The Wild won’t want to trade him. But then, they won’t want to trade Dumba, either.
Dumba is in some ways a more natural target for the Leafs because as a right-shot he’s naturally playing on his strong side. He’s a year younger than Brodin, and in the final season of a cap-friendly contract with an annual value of $2.55 million. Last season saw him step into a top-four role for the first time, averaging 20-plus minutes per game, mostly with Scandella as a partner.
Even so, Dumba is not yet at Brodin’s level when it comes to versatility or playing in defensive situations. His shot metrics look decent at first blush, but need to be considered in the context of his more sheltered role. Where he compensates for that is on the offensive side of the puck.
Dumba has posted double-digit goal totals over each of the last two seasons. He’s one of just 28 NHL defencemen to post more than 4.0 points/hour on the power play while playing over 300 minutes in 5-on-4 situations over the last four years. He’s also a physical presence, despite his small-ish frame, leading Minnesota’s blue line in hits.
It’s difficult to know which of these two players the Wild value more. Although radically different in how they play the game, both are good young defencemen with impressive upside, and Minnesota can’t shield them both from the Golden Knights.
Do Brodin or Dumba make sense for Toronto?
Each player offers something different to Toronto while at the same time not checking all of the boxes that the Leafs would like to see filled.
Brodin is a more natural fit for the role open in Toronto. The Leafs could use a matchup defenceman, and while he isn’t a perfect fit he does have long history in those kinds of minutes and could conceivably be a long-term solution there. It would likely mean keeping him on his off-hand, though.
Dumba is a better fit positionally. Coach Mike Babcock’s preference for right-shot defenders on the right side and left-shot defenders on the left is well-known and entirely sensible. Toronto already has Nikita Zaitsev, though, and there is a lot of overlap between Dumba and Zaitsev both in terms of skillset and ideal deployment.
Either could be available, and either could be workable, but neither is an ideal fit for the Leafs’ needs.