Toronto Maple Leafs Blueline Needs Boost Before Deadline

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NEWARK, NJ - JANUARY 06: Morgan Rielly #44 and Connor Brown #12 of the Toronto Maple Leafs defend against Taylor Hall #9 of the New Jersey Devils during the third period at the Prudential Center on January 6, 2017 in Newark, New Jersey. The Maple Leafs defeated the Devils 4-2. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

With the first half of the 2016-2017 season complete, teams are beginning to plan for the NHL trade deadline. General managers will decide whether to buy or sell, with many opting to add key players from around the league. For the Toronto Maple Leafs, the blueline will be where they are searching for a much needed boost.

A Struggling Leafs Blueline

The Maple Leafs have proven their worth this year, having accumulated 63 points in 56 games and a respectable 26-19-11 record. However, a struggling defensive core continues to be a weak point that has led to many mishaps and losses. Failing defensive performances have resulted in late game crunches far too often.

Not every Leafs defensemen can be found guilty of substandard performance. Morgan Rielly has remained consistent throughout the season. His production continues to progress despite suffering from a high ankle sprain in early February. Rielly often finds himself to be Toronto’s leader in minutes played, leading to the allocation of ice time for inexperienced defensemen. Consequently, his absence led to multiple weak performances from Toronto’s struggling defensive core.

Trade Deadline Standpoint

From here on, the Leafs will have a chance to acquire blueline backup in preparation for the playoffs. Fortunately for Brendan Shanahan and Lou Lamoriello, adding players under a strict cap bracket won’t be an issue. The Leafs decided to place Joffrey Lupul, Nathan Horton, and Stephane Robidas on Long-Term Injured Reserve (LTIR), earning them extra cap space to be played with.

Of course, the move will be beneficial if Toronto decides to take on a ‘buyer’ role. With teams getting ready to sell, quality defensemen are carrying hefty price tags. Kevin Shattenkirk, Michael Stone, and Johnny Oduya are all said to be available but have been pegged with expensive cap hits.

Possible Trade Targets

Kevin Shattenkirk has been reported to be willing to consider Toronto and Montreal as possible trade destination’s. The 28-year-old Blues defensemen is heavily interested in capturing a long term deal. His next contract will be massive, and plenty of teams willing to scoop up a top defensemen as the deadline approaches.

As TSN’s Bob McKenzie stated on The Bobcast,

“If he’s going to be a rental player I don’t think the Leafs want to go down that road, they’re thinking more long term.”

Shattenkirk may stay with the Blues for the rest of the season until he can hit the open market on July 1. In the midst of his best season to date and earning the title of top UFA available, Shattenkirk will be a hard option to ignore.

Detroit’s Brendan Smith is affordable and can expect to be moved accordingly. Smith can log plenty of minutes and has gained experience through Niklas Kronwall. He has history as a top four defenseman, and would likely replace Nikita Zaitsev and play with Rielly. For this reason, he could find himself in Toronto if the Leafs decide to take a cheaper route.  He also has a history with Mike Babcock.

All things considered, the Toronto Maple Leafs will need to get serious about filling holes on the back end. They must actively search for a caliber defensemen, or else the NHL playoffs will be hard to come by for Toronto.

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