The Leafs have two defenceman who are unlikely to be resigned for next season in Roman Polak and Matt Hunwick. This means that one third of the Leafs’ defensive corps is currently vacant. There are two ways to fix this problem. You can find help from the inside AKA players from the Marlies, or you can find help from the outside AKA free agents or trades. Trades are hard to predict, especially with the playoffs still going on, so let’s focus on the free agents today.
There are currently 89 defencemen who will become UFAs this summer. From them, you can weed out quite a bit of them due to their age. Obviously if the Leafs want to sign a free agent, he has to be young. They want long term solutions, not short term fixes. Both Polak and Hunwick average around 18 minutes a game, so whoever the Leafs’ want to sign also has to be quite the minute eater.
The five players who are under the age of 30 and play over 18 minutes a game are:
Michael Stone (26 years old)
3G 12A 15P 64GP
He is a big, strong guy with a strong slapshot. Not exactly “offensively gifted” but he is responsible defensively and can kill penalties.
Michael Del Zotto (26 years old)
6G 12A 18P 51GP
He is a great puck mover, and can play on both the penalty kill and the powerplay. He would be a huge upgrade for the back end.
Dmitry Kulikov (26 years old)
2G 3A 5P 47GP
He eats up a lot of minutes, but has been battling a back injury all season. Back injuries tend to be unpredictable so he might be a little less of a threat next season.
Brendan Smith (28 years old)
3G 6A 9P 18GP
He is also a huge guy who can skate pretty quickly and scored three goals in 18 games with the Red Wings and Rangers. He also has a physical side which would be very important to the Leafs if they want to replace Polak’s grit and physicality.
Karl Alzner (28 years old)
3G 10A 13P 82GP
Karl is a huge guy. At 6″3 and 219lbs, he is a train. He doesn’t kill many penalties or score many goals, but he is a responsible defenceman and blocks a lot of shots. (162 this season, which is more than any of the Leafs’ defenders)
The Leafs have a some options in the free agency market to improve their defensive luck, but they are free agents which means that they could fetch a hefty price.
Maybe the solution is right under their feet in the form of the Toronto Marlies? Stay tuned for part 3!
Image retrieved from: https://www.google.ca/search?q=leafs+defenceman+2017&safe=strict&source=lnms&tbm=isch&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwi3rciczs_TAhVq4oMKHdiKARQQ_AUICygC&biw=1423&bih=671#imgrc=dgnJ3LEMyVHGiM: