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Klingberg’s season ending surgery is the conclusion to one of the most bizarre signings in Leafs history

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Photo credit:Nick Turchiaro-USA TODAY Sports
Jon Steitzer
2 months ago
No one wants to see someone’s year come to a close with season ending surgery and with a giant question mark around if their career will continue at all. Still, now that we’re at the likely end of John Klingberg’s time in Toronto, (I’m presuming after how he was received by Leafs fans he’s not looking to return next year) it’s worth looking at a signing that doesn’t require much hindsight to tell us it was bad and the confused reaction to the addition of John Klingberg to the Leafs might have been the one time that all Leafs fans were on the same page.
The sales pitch on Klingberg was that the Leafs were in need of another puck moving defenceman and that Morgan Rielly wasn’t the best fit for the Maple Leafs top powerplay unit, largely because Toronto needed a heavier shot there. Both of those things are valid, but I’m sure most people with have put a defenceman who is sound in the Leafs end with perhaps a bit of snarl to their game ahead of a powerplay quarterback on a team that already has Nylander, Marner, Rielly, Timmins, Liljegren, and also added Domi to move the puck around. There also seemed to be a misconception that Klingberg was bringing a booming point shot to the powerplay when NHL Edge numbers now confirm that Morgan Rielly shots with about the same velocity as Klingberg does. Klingberg was not what the Leafs needed and also came with a bunch of red flags.
Last season in Anaheim was a massive red flag around Klingberg and maybe how bad the Ducks were led Brad Treliving to believe his results were a product of that system. On the Ducks Klingberg had goals and expected goals for percentages below 40%. His Corsi wasn’t much better. Both his Corsi and Goals For enjoyed a dead cat bounce when he arrived in Minnesota, and his goals for percentage significantly improved based on the heavy sheltering the Wild could afford him. His average icetime in Anaheim was the lowest of his career (including his rookie season) before he arrived in Minnesota and saw his 5v5 ice time cut by another two minutes a night. There was no reason to believe that Klingberg was good and considering that Klingberg warranted only a 4th round pick with 50% salary retention, it should have been painfully clear that signing Klingberg was a bad idea.
It would be nice to say that Klingberg’s 14 games as a Leaf were forgettable but unfortunately that isn’t true. His complete lack of defensive awareness will likely haunt a generation of Leafs fans for years to come. Klingberg demonstrated an unprecedented ability to find himself facing the wrong direction on any given play or to arrive near the net just in time to scoop the puck out of the goal. Again, the defensive deficiencies were expected, maybe not to the 3.68 GA/60 level, but they were expected. While Klingberg’s Corsi doesn’t look bad, every other number that people routinely check would at best be described as a tire fire. Amazingly he was still better than he was in Anaheim.
Really, not since Jeff Finger has there been a more puzzling Leafs signing that played out in as predictable a fashion. It would be interesting to know if Cliff Fletcher was advising on this one as well and possible mistook Klingberg for Shayne Gostisbehere.
The signing is made worse by the fact that the Leafs were supposedly targeting Mathew Dumba and Treliving moved onto Klingberg only because Dumba’s price on July 1st was too high. Dumba ended up signing for $250k less than Klingberg and depending on how the season plays out for the Coyotes, could very well still be who the Leafs bring in, although with losing an asset in the process.
That’s the key point to remember here is as well. Klingberg’s unfortunate injury isn’t a do over opportunity for the Leafs. It’s great that they will have that cap space available but replacing Klingberg with a competent top four defenceman could very well cost the Maple Leafs a first round pick or a quality prospect. It wasn’t a minor mistake and signing that went bad because of an injury, it would be like if Kyle Dubas started his time in Toronto by trading for Jared McCann and then leaving him exposed in the expansion draft. Coming out the gate so poorly is something Treliving needs to put in the work on to make up for and as much as we cursed John Klingberg for 14 games, he is what he is, and everyone seemed to know that except for the Leafs GM. This is on Treliving and hopefully his bosses are reminding him of that.
As for John Klingberg, hopefully he has the fullest of recoveries and is able to play hockey next season for any team but the Maple Leafs.

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