The Toronto Maple Leafs need a right-handed defenceman like a fish needs a bicycle: A lot.
The team’s weaknesses on the blue line have been a recurring storyline this season, especially with veteran defender Ron Hainsey, a left-handed shot, playing the right side on the team’s top pairing. Meanwhile, the squad’s two regular right-handed blueliners, Nikita Zaitsev and Igor Ozhiganov, have been underwhelming at best.
A team that’s sitting outside of the playoff picture at the moment with a wealth of talented right-handed defenders is the Carolina Hurricanes. According to TSN’s Darren Dreger, the Leafs are quite interested in their embarrassment of riches.
While Dubas held court with Toronto media, other members of Leafs management attended the Canes/Flames game last night. Toronto continues to scout Carolina’s available D.
— Darren Dreger (@DarrenDreger) January 23, 2019
The names Dougie Hamilton and Brett Pesce are the two that keep finding their way into this conversation. Hamilton was acquired in a trade with the Calgary Flames last summer, but have faltered a bit since arriving in Raleigh. Following four straight seasons of at least ten goals and 40 points, the 25-year-old only has seven goals and 17 points in 49 contests so far this season and only one in his last six. A change of scenery may be what he needs.
With Hamilton’s cap hit at a pretty reasonable $5.75 million until the end of the 2020-21 season and the Leafs with just over $5.1 million in space available right now according to CapFriendly, the right trade could make Hamilton’s move north of the border a reality.
If Toronto is looking for more of a shutdown option, Pesce could be their target. At a cheaper rate of $4.025 million until the end of the 2023-24 campaign, the 24-year-old isn’t flashy but gets the job done consistently and can log big minutes. He’s only collected three goals and 11 points in 40 games this season. That shouldn’t be what people focus on, though. The guy’s +14 on a team with an overall goal differential of -12.
Producing offence isn’t his job; however, that is an area the Hurricanes have struggled in. Although their average of 35.8 shots per game leads the league, the 2.73 goals a game that they average puts them 27th.
With a pretty solid record of 6-3-1 in their last ten, Carolina has moved within six points of the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. If they want to make a push for that postseason berth, they’ll need to find a way to bulge the twine on a more consistent basis.
As a result, this really is a situation that has the potential to benefit both sides. The Leafs need to boost their defensive corps with a talented right-handed blueliner. Carolina has a few of those. On the other side of the equation, the Hurricanes needs an individual (or two) that can produce offensively. Toronto has a few of those.
Precisely who the Leafs would be willing to give up, or what for that matter (talk about moving their first-round pick in the upcoming draft has gained some momentum), depends on what happens to the Hurricanes between now and the Feb. 25 trade deadline. If Carolina is no longer in the playoff hunt and end up becoming sellers, it’s more likely that they’ll be interested in prospects or picks. If they plan to push for the postseason, a proven NHL producer will likely be in the discussion.
Although their names haven’t come up in trade rumours as often, right-handed defencemen Justin Faulk ($4.833 million until the end of 2019-20) or Trevor van Riemsdyk ($2.3 million until the end of 2019-20) could also be options for Toronto to go after.
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