As the Toronto Maple Leafs were bounced from the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs by the Boston Bruins in Game 7 on Wednesday night, the team’s needs couldn’t be more clear. The Maple Leafs defence played below-average hockey the entire series and were caught wandering around aimlessly on many occasions. This proved detrimental to the Leafs hopes to win their first playoff series in over a decade.
Toronto Maple Leafs Defence Targets
Addressing the defence will be number one on the to-do list for the Leafs brass this offseason. Jake Gardiner quite possibly had his worst game of the entire season on Wednesday night. While he plays the left side, it’s the right side that needs a make-over. Ron Hainsey is too old and just not skilled enough to play top pairing minutes.
Nikita Zaitsev had a rough season after signing a 7-year, $31.5M contract extension last off-season, and isn’t top pairing defenceman either. Roman Polak is a liability and nothing more than a number six or seven depth defenceman. They do have a promising prospect in Timothy Liljegren, but he is still a season or two away from being ready. They will need to look at free agents or possibly acquire someone via trade if they really want to revamp their defence group next season.
If John Carlson hits the open market on July 1st, GM’s will be lining up to talk to the highly-coveted free agent. Carlson had a career year putting up 15 goals and 68 points this season and will be seeking a hefty raise from the $3.9M he made last season. While the Washington Capitals will surely do everything in their power to keep him, cap restraints might force them to let him walk. The Leafs will certainly do everything possible to sign him this summer.
Mike Green would be the second option for the Leafs if they miss out on Carlson. Although he is on the wrong side of 30, Green proved last season he can still provide the offence he’s been known for over his career. He put up 33 points in 66 games for the Detroit Red Wings this season. This is something the Leafs certainly need on their back end on the right side. He may not be a top-pairing guy like he was earlier in his career, but is certainly capable of top four minutes.
Oliver Ekman-Larsson has been linked to the Leafs several times in the last two seasons. The rumour started once the Maple Leafs won the Auston Matthews draft lottery, as many thought the Arizona Coyotes would offer Ekman-Larsson plus to get the hometown boy. The Leafs obviously have no interest in moving their franchise centre. However, would they be willing to look at a different scenario to acquire the highly talented defenceman?
Ekman-Larsson continues to put up points with 14 goals and 42 points this season. He is an elite puck mover who has great speed. He moves effortlessly around the ice and his mistakes with the puck are few and far between. He’s the complete package with the way the NHL is trending for defenceman. It would certainly cost the Leafs a fine penny to acquire his services.
Mathew Dumba couldn’t have picked a better time to have a career year. A restricted free agent this summer, Dumba put up 14 goals and 50 points this season. He’ll certainly require a huge pay increase from the $2.5M he made last season. Jason Zucker is also due for a new contract and will require a huge pay increase as well. Hard pressed against the cap, the Minnesota Wild will have to get creative if they want to keep both players around. It’s possible Minnesota has no interest in moving Dumba, but it won’t stop the Leafs from making the call. The Wild would be able to get a huge return for Dumba. With a new GM in town for Minnesota, I’m sure they’ll be listening.
What’s Next for Toronto
Taking the Bruins to seven games was just a testament to how good the team really is. Their star players never showed up. Their defence was atrocious the entire series. Still, the Leafs managed to bring the Bruins to a seventh and deciding game. Any of these defenceman listed could help turn the Leafs fortunes around. If the Leafs address the defence in the off-season as expected, they will become legitimate contenders for Lord Stanley’s Cup.
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