Jani Hakanpaa’s injury last season raises concern about an otherwise promising Leafs signing

Photo credit:Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports
Jon Steitzer
10 days ago
There is something to be said for lived experience and for Brad Treliving that experience is seeing the price he had to pay for size on the Leafs blueline at the trade deadline. For all the criticisms of Kyle Dubas’s handling of draft picks, Brad Treliving spending a 2nd and a 3rd round pick on one playoff round of Ilya Lyubushkin and Joel Edmundson is equally ridiculous but the cost of being in the prime competitive window for your team’s core.
It’s attacking the need earlier that signing Jani Hakanpaa makes a lot of sense. A 6’6, 225 lb specimen makes a lot of sense and that right shot is a bonus, even if the style of hockey played by Hakanpaa barely requires a stick. Hakanpaa’s time in the NHL has consisted of throwing hits and blocking shots, he’s a dream option for the Leafs and the type of player that normally gets thrust into playing with Morgan Rielly. This time, through better planning, Hakanpaa will find his spot on the second or third pairing instead, giving Toronto some signs of depth and genuinely looking like their blueline has been upgraded.
Hakanpaa was essentially utilized as a fifth defenceman by the Stars last season (playing primarily with Esa Lindell). As part of his responsibilities, he was one of their top penalty killers, a role the Leafs could benefit from. His on-ice numbers don’t stand out, but puck control isn’t part of Hakanpaa’s game. He’ll need to work with someone who has that skill set if he’s being used in a top-four capacity but will be fine if used as a 3rd pairing defender against bottom-six forward competition. When you consider that Hakanpaa looks to be an upgrade on either Lyubushkin or Edmundson and he came in at half the price, it’s important to ask, “What’s the catch?” The catch is his recent injury.
As reported on July 1st by Steve Simmons, “The Leafs signed him to play but many doubt he will. It’s said to be bone-on-bone with not much knee left. It’s said to be trouble. Two years ago, Hakanpaa was playing 18 minutes for the Stars. He might have played his last NHL game in March. If he plays again, plays at all for the Leafs, it will shock those who were around in recent seasons.” The fact that the Stars moved on from Hakanpaa and felt comfortable replacing him with former Leaf Ilya Lyubushkin at a $3.25M AAV certainly supports the fact that they either don’t think Hakanpaa will be coming back or if he does, he won’t be playing at the same level.
I don’t think the Hakanpaa contract falls into the “too good to be true” category or a case of the Leafs not doing their due diligence. This seems like a calculated low-risk gamble by Brad Treliving. The Leafs can go the Long Term Injury route with Hakanpaa until he is ready to go. The Leafs have Simon Benoit who can function fairly well as a stop-gap option. If Hakanpaa comes in and isn’t playing at an NHL level, burying his contract on the Marlies will only carry a $350k hit that doesn’t hurt, beyond the fact the Leafs will be penny-pinching as always.
It’s also worth noting that Hakanpaa wouldn’t be seeking a contract if he didn’t think he’d be able to play.
The risk/reward on Hakanpaa balances out and Hakanpaa will have had six months to receive treatment and rehabilitate by the time training camp rolls around. There is good reason to be optimistic that Hakanpaa will be ready but also plenty of reason to be concerned as knee injuries tend to be ongoing issues.
Data from Natural Stat Trick.

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