What the Maple Leafs are getting in Erik Gustafsson

Photo credit:Timothy T. Ludwig-USA TODAY Sports
Nick Barden
1 year ago
Erik Gustafsson and Boston’s first-round pick are headed to the Maple Leafs in a trade that sends Rasmus Sandin to the Washington Capitals.
The 30-year-old is joining Toronto with quite interesting numbers, both statistically and analytically.
Let’s begin with the easy stuff. Gustafsson has spent most of his season, if not all of it, on Washington’s second pairing. With John Carlson out, the 30-year-old has also quarterbacked the Capitals’ first power play unit.
Gustafsson, in both of those roles, has put up 38 points over 61 games this season. Only 11 of those points have come on the power play, with all of them being assists.
At six-feet tall, the 30-year-old doesn’t bring a lot of weight, but as I just mentioned, he will bring a lot of offense to the table. I believe Toronto will have a lot of success with him, if he’s in the lineup full-time.
What makes this more interesting is that his cap hit is only $800,000, which is $600,000 less than Rasmus Sandin’s $1.4 million cap hit, allowing Toronto to be closer to activating Matt Murray (if that’s what they’re even trying to do).
Analytically, there’s a lot to be excited about with Gustafsson. On Washington, the 30-year-old led all defenceman (with 500+ minutes) on the team in five-on-five CF% (54.28), GF% (56.67), xGF% (53.74), and SCF% (54.36).
He’s a very valuable player at both even-strength and on the power play. The Maple Leafs might find success if head coach Sheldon Keefe decides to try him on Toronto’s second power play unit.
He played a unique role in Washington with John Carlson out with an injury. And with that opportunity, again, he played a key part in the Capitals’ success this season. Gustafsson was arguably their best defender with Carlson out.
At even strength, on the power play — wherever Keefe may need him — the 30-year-old will play a key role for Toronto come April.
The biggest question is, though, will Gustafsson be in the Maple Leafs’ lineup come the beginning of the playoffs? Sandin, before being traded, was the odd man out on the left side, so what makes the 30-year-old any different?
Gustafsson immediately enters the Maple Leafs organization as the best point-producing defenceman this season. With 38 points on the year, he has produced more than all of Morgan Rielly, Mark Giordano, Timothy Liljegren, TJ Brodie, Justin Holl, and both the newly acquired Jake McCabe and Luke Schenn.
There’s definitely a scenario where Gustafsson wouldn’t fit in the lineup, especially with all the pieces GM Kyle Dubas has brought in. However, with his point-producing and the fact that he put up good numbers within Washington’s top-four, it should be essential that he’s in the mix.
Down the left-side, the Maple Leafs have Brodie, Rielly, Giordano, Gustafsson, and McCabe (who played on the right-side at practice on Tuesday). With likely more to come from Dubas, this defence might not be fully shaped yet.
But acquiring Gustafsson was a smart move by Toronto, and one that could have plenty of benefits in the future.
(Statistics courtesy of NaturalStatTrick.com)

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