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Photo Credit: Kelvin Kuo / USA TODAY Sports

We’re probably focusing too much on Anaheim’s defencemen

Defencemen that play for the Anaheim Ducks have been in discussion across the Leafs blogosphere over the past few days. What else is new, though; it’s been that way for the past several months. But as the various drafts near and the Leafs are still supposedly looking for a defenceman, the two sides keep getting linked to each other.

I get it; the teams trade a lot with each other. Just look at their history over the past few years:

  • January 11th, 2017: Leafs trade Jhonas Enroth for a 7th round pick
  • July 8th, 2016: Leafs trade Jonathan Bernier for a conditional pick
  • June 20th, 2016: Leafs trade 1st, 2nd round picks for Frederik Andersen
  • March 2nd, 2015: Leafs trade Korbinian Holzer for Eric Brewer, 5th round pick
  • November 16th, 2013: Leafs trade Jesse Blacker, 3rd, 7th round picks for Peter Holland, Brad Staubitz
  • March 15th, 2013: Leafs trade David Steckel for Ryan Lasch, 7th round pick

It’s safe to say that the two sides have familiarity with each other, and that’s skipping the other 9 trades they’ve made in the cap era and free agents that have jumped from one side to another, and the coaches and front office executives that have gone opposite ways…

It’s only logical to assume that another move will come. It helps especially that the Ducks have a surplus of defencemen that need to be protected in the upcoming expansion draft, which has led many to believe that they’ll have to make a decision soon, leaving someone up for grabs.

But you have to ask yourself three questions before committing to this train of thought.

The first one, to me, is pretty obvious: would any of their core defencemen be ideal fits?

Hampus Lindholm is of the right age, steady in every sense of the word, and has the mobility to keep up with the team. But he’s a left-handed shot; not a total dealbreaker, but given that he’d probably cost the most to acquire, it seems pointless to pay out the nose for somebody who plays in a spot where you already have Jake Gardiner and Morgan Rielly. Lindholm has a good case for being the best of the three, but it still creates a logjam. Having one of them switch sides is a possibility, but that goes against Mike Babcock’s preference for handedness balance and is believed to have a negative impact on possession.

Much of the same applies to Cam Fowler (the handedness, mobility, and age), but he’s a step down as far as controlling the flow of play. That wouldn’t be the end of the world if he wasn’t due for a monster extension.

12. Cam Fowler prediction: he re-signs in Anaheim for something around eight years and a $6.5 million average. When he slipped to 12th in the 2010 draft, one of the reasons was that he didn’t interview well. He admitted at the time he was uncomfortable with the process. As an awkward 19-year-old myself, I was sympathetic. Have always wanted to see him do well to overcome that, and he’s earned it. [Friedman, 30 Thoughts]

If we’re talking $6.5 million on a long term after giving up assets, you may as well just try the free agent market instead.

This leaves us with Sami Vatanen and Josh Manson. Tyler Dellow of the Athletic covered Vatanen the other day; noticing in particular that he seems to be carried a by his partners. To add to that point, thinking solely from a “how will they get used” perspective, it’s hard to believe that this current Leafs coaching staff is going to put their right-handed hopes into a 5’10, not-overly-physical defenceman unless he’s absolutely racking up points. While Vatanen is good in this regard, he isn’t in the elite tier.

Katya over at Pension Plan Puppets is much more positive about Manson, and she’s far from the only one. If you take the “get into Babcock’s mind” approach that we just used with Vatanen, Manson is a perfect fit. He’s a tough-as-nails defenceman with shutdown elements to his game, he’s big (6’3, 215), and at 25 years old, he’s that perfect in between for deciding whether a player is a “kid” or a “vet”.

My biggest concern there, I suppose, would be buy-in to the Leafs’ style of play. After all, they’re poised to be the fastest, highest event, highest scoring team in hockey over the next few years, and Manson is the antithesis of that. He’s been a relative positive in generating offence (shots/attempts) compared to his teammates, but he seems to do the bulk of that when playing with Lindholm, who has been the best player on the team in that regard over Manson’s career.

It’s enough to make you wonder if he’s capable of generating without a supporting cast, and while that seems unimportant from a shutdown guy, he’d be playing a bigger role in Toronto and with a bigger role comes the necessity to blend in. It can’t be a Matt Martin / Nikita Soshnikov / Brian Boyle situation where the players get to pad defensive stats by playing on a line designed to kill time; you’re not getting Manson to play on your third pair if you’re going to pay premium assets. For what it’s worth, there’s been some gossip that it would take just that; the Ducks like him a lot (hardly shocking on a Carlyle team) and for one more year, he’s a cheap spot on a team up against the cap. Teams have inquired and backed away quickly upon hearing the cost; I can’t imagine being able to slide in quietly and grabbing him cheap.

Which brings us to our next point. How pressed to the wall are the Ducks? This is important to note if you’re going to be bidding for a player; the entire point of going after this group is that you’d be getting somebody below market value, right?

Anaheim’s situation looks rough, so long as you play by the given rules. Having those four defencemen essentially locks them into going the eight skater route, and the Ducks have four players on No-Movement clauses over the age of 30; Corey Perry, Ryan Getzlaf, Ryan Kesler, and Kevin Bieksa.

This leads many to believe that they’ll have to expose at least one of those defencemen and one of Rickard Rakell or Jakob Silfverberg. But no-movement clauses can be waived at a moment’s notice. Bobby Ryan made us all laugh when he said he wasn’t worried about the draft because his contract wouldn’t be worth it to them. He’s far from the only one who would be lava to the Knights without a sweetener, including two of the players mentioned in the prior paragraph. The Ducks’ situation is simple to solve with co-operation: getting Kesler (5 years left at 6.875M) and Bieksa (1 year left at 4M) to waive their NMC’s would allow them to get this group through the next few weeks, eliminating the degree of urgency.

Last to consider is the return. If they can’t get these players to waive, and one of the defencemen hit the market, what are you prepared to give up for them? You can’t send them a non-exempt defenceman back if they’re going to use this to go 7/3/1 (which also means you’re now against the clock to either move Connor Carrick or lose him), and you can’t send them more than one or two forwards. You have to dive into rookies, prospects, and picks at this point; I’m not completely adverse to that idea, but given that the point of going after a non-elite edition is to avoid doing that, I’m not sure how many would be on board.

Not to mention, this won’t be a single horse race if a player does get confirmed to be for sale. Many teams in the league are in the same boat as far as wanting to upgrade goes; if the Ducks are going to be the most obvious seller, they’ll have multiple people looking to buy, and given what happened last June, it’s doubtful that the league isn’t still in silly season as far as evaluating the typical mid-age, above average but not elite defenceman.

All of this said, it’s still very possible that Toronto and Anaheim end up linking up on a deal. But let’s be realistic about this; Anaheim isn’t up against the wall just yet, there will be other teams involved if they get to that point, and the prizes at stake are nice, but not quite the holy grail. Hyping up a blockbuster between these two as a near-foregone conclusion that gets daily talk might be fun for the water cooler, but it’s not the hill that I’d die on right now.

  • Kevin

    It goes without saying that fans are pre-occupied with the Leafs and Anaheim as trade partners. If the reports are correct and the price of Anaheim’s defencemen are going through the roof, the Leafs may end up targeting lower profile defencemen or even forwards. The most important thing is to improve when upgrades are available, especially when the market prices may be down due to the expansion draft. Can the Leafs get a good deal on say Calvin de Haan or somebody else from the islanders? What about Calle Jarnkrok as center depth? There will be good players, better than some of the players the Leafs may currently want to protect on their roster, that can be had for well under market value.