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Photo Credit: Ed Mulholland-USA TODAY Sports

Is Sami Vatanen still an option for the Leafs?

When we hop in the way back machine to a time when Sami Vatanen was on the Ducks, and the Leafs were in the early stages of realizing they needed to find help on their right side, it seemed that there were constant trade rumours connecting Vatanen to the Leafs. As we began exploring those rumours it turned into a realization that Hampus Lindholm should be the true target despite the side he plays, then it evolved into Josh Manson as the Leafs target, and for a brief time it seemed that Brandon Montour might be the answer as well. In short Leafs fans like Ducks defensemen despite the fact that it’s been Randy Carlyle and Dallas Eakins developing them.

Somewhere along the way Sami Vatanen was moved to New Jersey, and then on to Carolina, and now Vatanen is ready to hit free agency at a time when the Leafs are still desperate for someone who can play on the right side.

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So, I mean, that’s not ideal, but Vatanen’s xGA/60 is certainly lower than a lot of Leafs defensemen despite Vatanen playing on a really bad Devils team. And while Vatanen wasn’t a huge physical presence, his numbers would be an upgrade over a number of the Leafs defensemen as well. Muzzin, Dermott, and Holl were marginally more physical, and only Dermott had as low of an expected goals against number as Vatanen. The versatility of Vatanen could be worth exploring for the Leafs. He’s not on the same tier as someone like TJ Brodie, but he’s likely to come at a friendly price.

We’ve seen a steady progression of Vatanen’s numbers getting worse, and age will do that, but it’s also worth considering that the Devils were pretty bad last season and Vatanen held his own until being dealt to Carolina. In his seven playoff games for Carolina this year he had a 1.94 xGA/60. It’s important to note that the Canes sheltered Vatanen more than he has seen since the early days of his career, but the numbers still support that he can manage a top four assignment.

The other piece that needs to be considered is price. Vatanen carried a $4.875M cap hit on his last contract, and he made $4.5M last year in salary a drop from his $5M on the previous three years of his contract. With the flat cap, a less than ideal time in New Jersey, and the realities of age it doesn’t seem likely that Vatanen will be seeing a raise.

Evolving Hockey Salary Projections
Term AAV
3 Year Deal (Predicted) $4,581,000
2 Year Deal $3,533,000
1 Year Deal $2,030,000

None of these seem too bad, and given the uncertainty of how much hockey will be played and whatnot, the fact that the Leafs can afford to pay the majority of a contract in signing bonus rather than regular salary probably works to Toronto’s advantage on getting players on reasonable deals. The option to frontload as much as possible might also be something that benefits Toronto, and while even the three year $4.5M option seems reasonable, the Leafs could go even cheaper.

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While Vatanen might not be the first choice for the Leafs, or even the second or third, but he might be the one that fits the circumstances the best, and is at least a player the Leafs front office has done some due diligence on.