The trade price attached to many defensemen around the National Hockey League these days is, in a word, exorbitant.
Most teams would like to add at least one more Top-4 rearguard, and for years we’ve seen general managers prefer to add a fifth or sixth-type defenseman as insurance for a hopefully long playoff run.
Hockey Insider Elliotte Friedman made a Friday morning appearance on Toronto’s Sportsnet 590, during which there was a fairly lengthy discussion on the hometown team.
The Leafs woke up in fourth spot in the tight Atlantic Division, only two points back of the Ottawa Senators and Boston Bruins – who are tied for second place. The Leafs also have four games in hand on the Bruins.
The Leafs have a legitimate shot to be in the running for a playoff spot this season, which is actually a bit ahead of schedule with the franchise’s rebuild. Part of the 590 dialogue revolved around how there needs to be a fine line with the Leafs’ mentality in that regard, and we’ll get to that shortly.
It’s no secret the Leafs are in dire need of another key defenseman. With the team potentially in the running for a post-season berth, Friedman was asked who the team could potentially target to help boost their chances – and what the prices would be for that kind of player.
“For defensemen right now, it’s expensive,” noted Friedman. “You look at what Edmonton had to give up to get a defenseman last year. That’s what they’re kind of doing with a guy like van Riemsdyk – is if he goes, they’re hoping it’s for a defenseman. I mean look – and I’m just throwing this out there – I think if for any reason a guy like Nylander could get them a defenseman too, I wonder if they would think about it.
“Defensemen – the market got set by Taylor Hall for Adam Larsson last year. Defensemen are very, very hard to come by. Now, when you’re looking at rental-type players, I’m just trying to think. Colorado, they’re looking to keep defensemen. They’re not looking to (trade them away) so much.
“Probably the guy who is going to get a lot of attention, and he doesn’t get a lot right now, is Michael Stone in Arizona. He’s an unrestricted free agent after this year. Pretty decent player. I think he’s a name you’re going to hear a lot.
“It’s interesting. It sounds like a lot of teams are trying to get their hands on Brandon Carlo, the young defenseman from Boston, but so far they’ve resisted Jacob Trouba and Gabriel Landeskog deals for him. So that tells you that if you want a young player or a young player with term, it’s going to cost you and it’s going to cost you big.
“But a rental like a guy like Michael Stone? You’re right. I’m not sure the Leafs will want to pay that price because even though I think they’re going for it as a team this year, they still do look at the big picture.”
There was a particularly interesting section of the discussion where Friedman honed in on a key variable for the Leafs’ mindset regarding trying to make the playoffs this season.
“I look at it this way. This is a bonus this year,” began Friedman. “But I think when you’re a team – and this is where a team has to be careful. You can look at it from an organizational standpoint and say, ‘It’s not the end of the world if we don’t make the playoffs this year.’
“But – one thing I’ve learned covering sports over the years is that it matters to your players. And you’re sitting here with Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner and Morgan Rielly and these guys who are going to be their key part of their team, you hope, forever and ever amen. And you send them the message that, ‘Hey, making the playoffs this year isn’t that important to us because we’re still in the middle of a rebuild.’ You never want to give your players an excuse to think that winning doesn’t matter to you.
“So I don’t necessarily think the Leafs are going to go out and get someone. I agree with you that they’re not going to fool around with their long term plan, but right now Mike Babcock and Lou Lamoriello are pushing their buttons like, ‘We’re in a playoff race.’
“You have to convince your players that it matters to you. You have to show your players that it matters to you because you never want them to think of your organization, ‘Hey, it’s not important that we get in this year.’ You never want your players to think that.
“So the way I look at it is we can look at it from outside and say, ‘You know what? They’re still in Year Two of a rebuild. That’s fine.’ But I think internally you’re telling your players… ‘Guys. We’re two points out with four games in hand.’
“That’s the way it goes. Right now you’re telling your players, ‘Guys, we’re in the race. And you better play like we’re in the race.’”
The Leafs are in New Jersey to face the Devils Friday night, will host the Montreal Canadiens Saturday evening, and then will begin the team’s five-day bye week.
Source: Sportsnet 590
For reference: Covering the Insiders