Who should Leafs target to improve Defense?

Earlier this week James Mirtle wrote about whether the Leafs should trade some of the future to improve the Leafs defense now (requires subscription).

Specifically he identified the need for a top pairing right side defenseman to play with Gardiner. The second pairing would be Rielly with Zaitsev and the proposed third pairing would be Dermott with Carrick. For that top pairing right side defenseman Mirtle identified 7 potential targets:

  • Justin Faulk, Carolina
  • Jacob Trouba, Winnipeg
  • Josh Manson, Anaheim
  • Tyson Barrie, Colorado
  • Chris Tanev, Vancouver
  • Matt Dumba, Minnesota
  • Travis Hamonic, NY Islanders

All reasonable names and all potential trade candidates for a variety of reasons be they the teams depth on defense or the teams need to enter rebuild mode. Making trades more likely is that some of the above teams are going to have to expose some good defensemen in the expansion draft so why not trade them before losing them for nothing. Regardless of the reason the above list are certainly good candidates to be traded. The question is, who will fill the Leafs needs the best?

What I believe the Leafs need most is a defenseman who is capable of playing against the opposing teams top lines and shutting them down. The Leafs played Rielly and Zaitsev in that role last year and they failed miserably and near the end of the season Babcock took them out of that role. So, when I evaluate which of the 7 defensemen listed above the Leafs should target I will do so solely from the perspective of wanting a defenseman that has played against the opposing teams best offensive forwards and has been successful at shutting them down. To do this I will look at two statistics.

  1. GA60 – Was the defenseman successful in shutting down the opposing teams offense?
  2. OppGF60 – Did the defenseman play against good offensive players?

To attempt to isolate players from team impacts I will look at how each defenseman compared to the other defensemen on their team. Defensemen with >500 minutes of ice time are shown. (Note that I didn’t account for players that may have changed teams, the defensemen listed below are just the players that finished the season on the same team as the defenseman in question). So lets get started.

Justin Faulk

Justin Faulk is nothing more than a Morgan Rielly clone (at least defensively). For years the Hurricanes lined him up against top competition and for years he failed miserably with the worst GA60 on the team. This past season his QoC dropped a bit and his GA60 improved a bit. If you want another Rielly, Faulk may be your guy, but Faulk doesn’t appear to address the Leafs needs in any way whatsoever.

Jacob Trouba

Trouba is clearly better than Faulk but there are still some question marks here. This past season was not particularly good however the two previous seasons were pretty good – particularly 2014-15 when he had tough QoC and pretty solid GA60. I wouldn’t suggest Trouba will certainly fix the Leafs quest for a shutdown defenseman but is almost certainly better than anyone they currently have.  He’d be an upgrade.

Josh Manson

Manson is a bit of a challenge to evaluate because he only has two full years of experience however his numbers are pretty good. Likely a bit better than Trouba’s are. There is more uncertainty in Manson however he will likely be cheaper to acquire. Not my top choice but might be worth a gamble if the price is right.

Tyson Barrie

Barrie has generally not lined up against the opposing teams best offensive players and has generally not been very good defensively either. He is not a very good fit for the Leafs needs – maybe the worst of this group of 7 defensemen.

Chris Tanev

Ok, Tanev is good. Real good. He consistently faces some of the toughest competition and consistently has one of the best GA60’s on his team. That is impressive. This is the exact kind of defenseman the Leafs need and would dramatically improve the team. Not really much more to say than that.

Matt Dumba

We only have three years of statistics for Dumba however that is enough to see that  he probably doesn’t fit the Leafs needs. Not the toughest competition and mediocre defensive results. I might rank him above Faulk or Barrie because he might come cheaper but he isn’t a solution to the Leafs problems.

Travis Hamonic

Hamonic has some mixed results here. He looked outstanding in 2013-14 and 2014-15 facing tough competition and putting up good defensive numbers however the past two seasons have been very Justin Faulk-like facing tough competition but not putting up very good numbers either. Interestingly this drop off has coincided with his trade request (now recinded) due to family matters so one wonders if that had an impact. He also had a knee injury this past season which may have impacted his results as well. He could be worth a gamble in hopes he returns to previous form. There is certainly upside there.

Summary

To me, the answer to whom the Leafs should target is easy. It is Chris Tanev. None of the other 6 defensemen have the proven experience of successfully shutting down the opposing teams top opponents.

After Tanev three guys that might be worth a look at Manson, Trouba and Hamonic. All three might be able to do the job but have some question marks and uncertainty.

Finally, I wouldn’t be putting much consideration into acquiring Faulk, Barrie or Dumba. All have roles to play in the NHL but are not good fits for the Leafs primary need at this time.

Let me finish off by saying that this is a fairly limited analysis of these defensemen. Not considered was offensive ability, contract status, age, or acquisition cost. All do need to be considered in any trade. My primary objective here was simply to find a defenseman most suitable for addressing the Leafs primary deficiency – a quality shutdown defenseman. For that, Chris Tanev is your guy.

This article has 1 Comment

  1. Tanev would be a good fit but he has some injury issues.

    We dont nesdecarily need a RHD there could be some much better fits that shoot left. Rielly could definitely play the right side or potentially the guy we get…Brodin and Scandella out of minny are much better options then Dumba. Brodin has played primarily RD.

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