Slowly the Alex Pietrangelo ship seems to be sailing. The Jake Allen trade gave the Blues half of what they’ll need to put towards re-signing their star defenseman, and that seems like it will set the Leafs fans for some disappointment if we continue to put our eggs in that basket. It’s time to move on, look forward, and realize rebuilding the defense by committee might be the better option than landing one big fish anyway.
1. TJ Brodie
Trodie Jodie Brodie was a known target of Kyle Dubas last summer. In an alternate universe where Nazem Kadri waived his no trade clause to head to Calgary, Brodie would already have been a Leaf. The left shooting, but right side playing defenseman. Brodie has been a 20 plus minute defenseman for the past eight seasons. Brodie is a capable offensive player, but isn’t a liability in his own end either. He has averaged over 2 minutes a game of short handed ice time over the past three seasons. His lack of physical play might be a drawback in the eyes of some, as is him being 30. Though that last one didn’t deter the Leafs from re-upping Muzzin.
Brodie isn’t going to be cheap, but he’s going to cost a lot less than Pietrangelo, and likely pretty close to the cost of Muzzin. That might still be a challenge to fit into their cap situation, but after Pietrangelo and Krug he’s probably the best available defenseman in free agency.
2. Brenden Dillon
Let’s say the Leafs decide to chase some defensive toughness, well, Dillon is probably the most appealing option in that area. His possession metrics aren’t bad, you can’t teach 6’4, and have you seen those hit totals? Ugh.
Dillon’s a left handed, left side defenseman, and the Leafs already have Rielly and Muzzin in the top four, and Sandin, Dermott, or Lehtonen occupying that third pairing spot. Unless the plan is to move Rielly to the right side again, I’m not sure how the Leafs can make a case for Dillon, despite the fact that he seems to what has been missing from the blueline.
3. Dylan DeMelo
In many ways I’ve convinced myself that DeMelo is the perfect defensive partner for Morgan Rielly. He’s got a good head on his shoulders. He’s not prone to mistakes, but he can also keep up with the play and moves the puck up ice. While people appreciated DeMelo in previous years, it seemed that the 2019-20 season put him on the radar around the league and he’s probably not going to come as cheap we’d hope. That being said, DeMelo seems like he could be one of those players that signs for way less than anyone expected and we’ll collectively lose our shit that the Leafs were never in on him.
DeMelo at times seemed to be the number one guy on the Jets blue line by default. Ditto for the Sens, and he was up to the task. If he survived those traumatic bluelines he might be ready for the Leafs.
4. Ben Hutton
Sure things would be a lot better if Hutton was right handed defenseman, and that would make him a great fit for the Leafs third pairing, and great option to move up in the lineup. Instead I’m asking you to consider that perhaps automatically putting Rasmus Sandin in the lineup on the third pairing for the Leafs isn’t the best idea or should be treated as a given, and picking up an afford versatile defender like Hutton might make a ton of sense.
Hutton isn’t a standout and he seemed to struggle to find work last season, but really there are a lot of similarities to DeMelo, he just shoots from the wrong side.
5. Dustin Byfuglien
It remains to be seen if Byfuglien will ever play in the NHL again. We don’t know the status of his conditioning, and the fact that it will be close to two years from him playing in a competitive hockey game by the time he returns probably puts Byfuglien in the too risky category.
That being said, why not swing for the fences and see if the Leafs can have the same luck they’ve had with bringing in veteran forwards like Ennis and Spezza, and bring in Byfuglien in a limited capacity. Worst case scenario he can be moved up to the wing, and play a depth forward role for the Leafs, and be a strong net presence or point shot on their second power play unit.
Sadly at a glance this appears to be the best of free agency, not accounting for any restricted free agents who aren’t qualified by their teams. Players like Travis Hamonic and Chris Tanev has injury histories and price tags that combine for an unappealing option. Sami Vatanen’s numbers are heavily influenced by a bad New Jersey team, but seems to be a buyer beware situation as there aren’t many cases where defenseman came to Toronto and rediscovered their game. Mark Pysyk seems destined for a career as a forward now, although he might be a fun option in that capacity. Players like Zach Bogosian, Kevin Shattenkirk, and Trevor van Riemsdyk could be products of the system that they are playing in or benefiting from sheltering. And since it probably needs to be stated, Radko Gudas has most certainly lost a step and can’t be the ferocious defender of the Leafs zone that we’d want him to be.
If anything looking at the unrestricted free agent crop is probably making an important case for the Leafs preparing to trade for a defenseman. Players like DeMelo, and Hutton could definitely upgrade a blueline that already has a strong foundation in Rielly and Muzzin, and maybe that would be enough.