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Photo Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Ranking defensive trade targets for the Leafs

Between now and the trade deadline I’m sure we have more than enough time to throw as many names against the wall to see if they stick when it comes to who can be the best defensive pickup. Rather than doing that individually for each player over the course of the next month, I thought I’d speed date the non-playoff team defensemen and see who could be the best fit. The hope is that I’d learn a little something about myself along the way.

The approach is a simple one. A twenty-point scorecard with 10 points allocated by contract/player attributes, and 10 points allocated by performance. The end result is a list that will likely upset everyone. I mean I made it and I’m angry at it.

The criteria for the scorecard is as follows:

Performance: Take the score of each player from Evolving Hockey‘s player cards and divide it by 10 for a score based on the maximum of 10 points.
Usage: This was a three-point scale. The top pairing guys are 3 points, the top 4 guys get 2 points, sheltered defensemen get 1 point, and barely in the lineup scores zero.
Cap Hit: Again this was out of three. If the contract is under $1M it scores 3 points. Under $2M it scores 2 points. Under $4M it scores 1 point. Everything else is a zero.
Contract Status: Out of 3. If the player has term it’s a 3. If they have an expiring RFA status contract it’s a 2. Expiring UFAs are a 1. And if the contract is an albatross it’s a zero. This is a bit of judgment, but players like Vlasic are what I have in mind here.
Handedness: If you shoot right you get a point. If you don’t, you’re basic.

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After that, I looked at 100 defensemen on teams that are presently on the outside of the playoffs. That led me to an important decision and that was to recognize that some of these players aren’t going anywhere under any circumstance. That meant removing Thomas Chabot, Rasmus Dahlin, Dougie Hamilton, Esa Lindell, Miro Heiskanen, Noah Dobson, Adam Pelech, Moritz Seider, Adam Boqvist, Erik Karlsson, Quinn Hughes, Zach Werenski, and Seth Jones from my rankings.

Also excluded were bubble NHL/AHL players and players who have been on the LTIR all season. I felt like including them would cause my brain to explode. That led to this list of the top ten non-playoff team defensemen:

Defenseman Team Total Score Usage Cap Hit Contract Status Handedness Evolving Hockey Player Card
Jonas Siegenthaler NJ 14.7 1 2 3 0 8.7
Travis Sanheim PHI 14.5 3 0 3 0 8.5
Connor Murphy CHI 13.9 2 1 3 1 6.9
Luke Schenn VAN 13.9 1 3 3 1 5.9
Shayne Gostisbehere ARZ 13.6 2 0 3 0 8.6
Artem Zub OTT 13.6 2 1 3 1 6.6
Ryan Graves NJ 13.4 2 1 3 0 7.4
Jani Hakanpaa DAL 13.4 1 2 3 1 6.4
Gustav Lindstrom DET 13.2 1 3 3 1 5.2
Kevin Shattenkirk ANA 13.1 1 1 3 1 7.1

So some of these players like Sanheim, and Zub are unlikely to be available or could come at a very high cost to acquire. Others like Gostisbehere are very much available and would be worth pursuing. Most notably on this list is that all of these players are under contract beyond this season. 6 out of 10 are right shots, and 5 out of 10 have been playing in a top-four role consistently. Only three of these contracts would be a challenge to make work from a salary cap standpoint.

It’s worth pointing out that some of these players definitely give some pause. A player like Luke Schenn, while statistically showing his worth this year, has been partnered with Quinn Hughes for much of ice time, and has significantly reduced numbers away from Hughes.

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Since I ranked 100 defensemen, I don’t want to just leave you with a list of 10 and that’s that. I also want to share the best bargains out there at the trade deadline. These are the top ten players that scored a 3 on their cap hit.

Defenseman Team Total Score Usage Cap Hit Contract Status Handedness Evolving Hockey Player Card
Luke Schenn VAN 13.9 1 3 3 1 5.9
Gustav Lindstrom DET 13.2 1 3 3 1 5.2
Mark Pysyk BUF 11.8 1 3 1 1 5.8
Mario Ferraro SJ 11.4 2 3 2 0 4.4
Alex Romanov MTL 11.3 1 3 2 0 5.3
Andy Greene NYI 11 1 3 1 0 6
Jacob Middleton SJ 10.7 1 3 2 0 4.7
Chris Wideman MTL 10.1 0 3 1 1 5.1
Jamie Drysdale ANA 10 1 3 3 1 2
Gavin Bayreuther CLB 9.7 1 3 3 0 2.7

As much as I personally would not pursue Luke Schenn, here he is, atop the list. Lindstrom is also a duplicate from the other list and a player that I’d assume can’t be easily pried out of Detroit. The same is likely true of some of the other entry-level contract players on this list, but names like Mark Pysyk, and even Andy Greene stand out as savvy depth adds that shouldn’t cost much.

Of course, at the end of the day it’s the player performance that matters most, and here are the players with the highest Evolving Hockey Player Card scores:

Defenseman Team Total Score Usage Cap Hit Contract Status Handedness Evolving Hockey Player Card
Jonas Siegenthaler NJ 14.7 1 2 3 0 8.7
Travis Sanheim PHI 14.5 3 0 3 0 8.5
Shayne Gostisbehere ARZ 13.6 2 0 3 0 8.6
Ryan Graves NJ 13.4 2 1 3 0 7.4
Kevin Shattenkirk ANA 13.1 1 1 3 1 7.1
Damon Severson NJ 13 2 0 3 1 7
Cam Fowler ANA 10.8 3 0 0 0 7.8
Josh Morrissey WPG 10.7 3 0 0 0 7.7
Oliver Ekman-Larsson VAN 9.3 2 0 0 0 7.3

We couldn’t do a top ten here, but there are the 9 defensemen that scored a 70 or higher on their Evolving Hockey player card. Only Shattenkirk and Severson are right shots, and players like Morrissey and Ekman-Larsson come with questionable contracts. The case for Shayne Gostisbehere is certainly building.

It’s probably worth exploring some of the names that we’ve frequently heard connected to the Leafs in the past couple of months…

Defenseman Team Total Score Usage Cap Hit Contract Status Handedness Evolving Hockey Player Card
Luke Schenn VAN 13.9 1 3 3 1 5.9
Damon Severson NJ 13 2 0 3 1 7
Carson Soucy SEA 11.8 1 1 3 0 6.8
Mark Pysyk BUF 11.8 1 3 1 1 5.8
Colin Miller BUF 11.4 2 1 1 1 6.4
Justin Braun PHI 11.3 1 2 1 1 6.3
Scott Mayfield NYI 10.7 2 2 3 1 2.7
Vince Dunn SEA 10.6 1 1 3 0 5.6
Dylan DeMelo WPG 9.8 2 1 3 1 2.8
Adam Larsson SEA 8.9 2 1 3 1 1.9
Ilya Lyubushkin ARZ 7.5 1 2 1 1 2.5
Jakob Chychrun ARZ 7.3 3 0 3 0 1.3
John Klingberg DAL 7 2 0 1 1 3
Josh Manson ANA 6.4 2 0 1 1 2.4
Calvin de Haan CHI 6.2 2 0 1 0 3.2
Anton Stralman ARZ 5.5 2 0 1 1 1.5
Ben Chiarot MTL 3.1 2 1 0 0 0.1

Yeah, if you weren’t down on Ben Chiarot before, now is your chance to really be bummed out by him. Similarly, Klingberg, de Haan, and Manson don’t measure up well.

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Admittedly when judging defensemen the lottery bound teams are going to be shelled and that’s what I remember myself when I talk myself into Jakob Chychrun being a great option for the Leafs. In reality he’s likely a great long term option, he has played better than most of these players in the past and has the most time to build a great career, but in reality the smarter decision is probably to look at someone like Carson Soucy and bring him in at the fraction of the cost. Soucy has been consistent enough with two previous teams that he should be able to adjust to another new system.

If the Leafs do decide that the rental route is the way to go, here are some of the options that are a bit more appealing than Manson, Klingberg, or Chiarot…

Defenseman Team Total Score Usage Cap Hit Contract Status Handedness Evolving Hockey Player Card
Mark Pysyk BUF 11.8 1 3 1 1 5.8
Colin Miller BUF 11.4 2 1 1 1 6.4
Justin Braun PHI 11.3 1 2 1 1 6.3
Andy Greene NYI 11 1 3 1 0 6
Marc Staal DET 10.7 1 2 1 0 6.7
Chris Wideman MTL 10.1 0 3 1 1 5.1
P.K. Subban NJ 9.7 2 0 1 1 5.7
Brett Kulak MTL 8.6 1 2 1 0 4.6
Hampus Lindholm ANA 8 3 0 1 0 4
Mark Giordano SEA 7.6 3 0 1 0 3.6

Not only does it look like Buffalo might be a good option in this regard, but I was surprised to see that Marc Staal might not be a bad option either. The amount of salary retention steps that would go into acquiring Subban’s contract probably push him out of consideration, but all three of Pysyk, Miller, and Braun could make a strong case for taking a band-aid solution to the blueline, and going with low cost rentals.

Perhaps the biggest takeaway here is that there seem to be plenty of options, and likely plenty of willing sellers. Most of these teams are all but mathematically eliminated and will be looking to seasons that seemed to be over by the halfway point in a number of these situations. It should be a buyers market, but when you consider that most teams (including the Leafs) will be looking to dump bad contracts and/or have salary retained in these deals as well, the sellers have a chance to regain some control. This year doesn’t seem like it’s about pinpointing who you want, it’s about casting a wide net and finding the best price.

I’ll leave you with the bottom ten players to avoid at the trade deadline…

Defenseman Team Total Score Usage Cap Hit Contract Status Handedness Evolving Hockey Player Card
Travis Hamonic VAN 2 1 1 0 0 0
Danny DeKeyser DET 2.3 1 0 1 0 0.3
Ben Chiarot MTL 3.1 2 1 0 0 0.1
Nick Leddy DET 3.5 2 0 1 0 0.5
Tyler Myers VAN 3.8 2 0 0 1 0.8
Nikita Zaitsev OTT 4.1 2 0 0 1 1.1
M.E. Vlasic SJ 4.3 1 0 0 0 3.3
Robert Hagg BUF 4.9 1 2 1 0 0.9
Keith Yandle PHI 5.1 1 3 1 0 0.1
Zdeno Chara NYI 5.2 1 3 1 0 0.2

Data sourced from PuckPedia and Evolving Hockey

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