The Toronto Maple Leafs need defense. That’s what the prevailing thought has been for the last several seasons, and after Morgan Rielly suffered a broken foot recently that will keep him out for quite a while it isn’t changing anytime soon. Today, Bob McKenzie was on TSN radio talking about the Maple Leafs’ current search for help on the back end:
I think it’s a very specific need. I think it’s a right-shot [defenseman] or a left-shot who has a lot of experience playing on the right side. It’s also somebody who has a significant amount of term on his contract, and by significant I would probably say the low end of the bar would be what they did with [Jake] Muzzin. That is someone who has the rest of this season and another full year before they get to unrestricted free agency.
That is obviously a very precise ask and one that the Maple Leafs have seemingly been unable to find in recent years. One of the first things that former head coach Mike Babcock remarked after the team traded a first-round pick and two prospects for Muzzin last season was how the veteran’s handedness—that is, left-handedness—made him an imperfect fit on the roster. GM Kyle Dubas went out and found Tyson Barrie in the offseason, but he has had mixed results on the ice and is scheduled for unrestricted free agency at the end of the season.
So is Cody Ceci, who is turning into a failed experiment of his own after coming over from the Ottawa Senators. If those two leave, the organization will be down to just Justin Holl and Timothy Liljegren among right-handers with any NHL experience (and the latter has just ten minutes at that) signed for the 2020-21 season.
Once again Mathew Dumba is brought up in the conversation with McKenzie along with other speculative names. The Minnesota Wild defenseman is signed through the 2022-23 season but carries a $6MM cap hit, something that might be too expensive for the Maple Leafs to handle as they try to navigate the salary cap with three of the highest-paid forwards in the league on the roster.
Obviously there is an appetite to acquire a defenseman at this point, but it’s clear that the Maple Leafs have a very specific type of player in mind. With now just a month left before the deadline, it is still to be seen whether they can even find that player around the league, let alone land him in trade.