Maple Leafs Potential Trade Targets: Seven Defensemen

The Toronto Maple Leafs’ new GM Brad Treliving is looking to add at least one defenseman to the roster after losing key players in free agency and due to injuries, with potential targets including Chris Tanev from the Calgary Flames, Andrew Peeke from the Columbus Blue Jackets, and Alexandre Carrier from the Nashville Predators, among others.

‣ The Toronto Maple Leafs have struggled defensively this season after losing key players in free agency and adding players known for their struggles in their own end.
‣ GM Brad Treliving now has the opportunity to pursue an impactful defense-oriented blueliner due to John Klingberg’s injury and the cap space that it frees up.
‣ Several veteran defensemen, including Chris Tanev, Andrew Peeke, Alexandre Carrier, Nikita Zadorov, Will Borgen, Mario Ferraro, and Travis Sanheim, could potentially be good fits for the Leafs.

The 2023-24 Toronto Maple Leafs had warning signs before they even hit the ice. They lost Luke Schenn, their best defenseman in the 2023 playoffs, and Ryan O’Reilly, a top defensive forward, in free agency. Alex Kerfoot, a key penalty killer, also walked. As new GM Brad Treliving revamped Toronto’s roster, he brought in players known for their defensive struggles, including defenseman John Klingberg and forwards Max Domi and Ryan Reaves.

It shouldn’t be a shocker that the Leafs fell to the NHL’s bottom half in shots, shot attempts, and scoring chances allowed per 60 at 5-on-5. They also had the league’s 19th-best penalty kill this season. This team was built to win (and lose) track meets. They’re not the 1994-95 New Jersey Devils. So, Treliving’s quest to find at least one defenseman isn’t a “how did we get here?” situation. The Leafs were already there going into the season.

With Klingberg battling a hip injury and heading to long-term injured reserve, $4.15 million in cap space comes off the books. This might be lasting cap space given Klingberg is no lock to return this season. Treliving now has the flexibility to pursue a defense-oriented blueliner – maybe even two, if he can make the money work. The urgency increased with Tuesday night’s Mark Giordano injury.

So, which veteran defenseman makes the most sense for the Leafs? Let’s consider these names, ranked by a combination of hockey fit and how plausible they are as targets.

1. Chris Tanev, Calgary Flames: Age 33, shoots right, contract $4.5 million, 2024 UFA (10-team no-trade list). Tanev had to be No. 1 here. Treliving signed Tanev to a four-year deal in 2020 when he was GM in Calgary. Tanev is exactly what Toronto seeks. He’s a modern, mobile defensive defenseman who blocks shots at will. Only four players have more blocks over the past five seasons. Tanev ranks among the league leaders in shorthanded minutes per game. He had one of the best on-ice scoring chance differentials in the league at 5-on-5 despite tough matchups. Plus, he’s a right shot and a direct replacement for the injured Klingberg and Timothy Liljegren.

Tanev does have a 10-team no-trade list, but he’s played his entire career in high-pressure Canadian markets. Toronto isn’t likely to scare him off. He’s from Toronto, so it’s hard to imagine the Leafs being one of his vetoed destinations.

2. Andrew Peeke, Columbus Blue Jackets: Age 25, shoots right, contract $2.75 million through 2025-26. Peeke plays a straightforward game in a 6-foot-3, 210-pound frame. He’s not an offensive player, but he’s very physical. The Leafs could use a blunt instrument like him. The acquisition cost wouldn’t be too high. After logging more than 21 minutes a game last season, he’s been squeezed out by the upgraded D-corps in Columbus, playing just 14:55 and suiting up only four times this season. He’s clearly expendable for GM Jarmo Kekalainen. The Leafs could accommodate his cap number even if the Blue Jackets didn’t retain any salary.

Peeke’s underlying numbers have been pretty ugly in his career, but they’ve come while playing on some bad Columbus teams. He’s also been used in challenging assignments against opponents’ top forwards. His most commonly faced opponents over the previous three seasons were Sidney Crosby’s line and Alex Ovechkin’s line. So, Peeke might fare better on a stronger team in a third-pair deployment.

3. Alexandre Carrier, Nashville Predators: Age 27, shoots right, contract $2.5 million, 2024 UFA. Carrier had serious potential just two years ago. He accumulated 30 points in 77 games in his first full NHL season, making the All-Rookie Team and finishing 10th in the Calder Trophy vote. He seemed to be emerging as one of the better young two-way defenders in the game. But he struggled to meet elevated expectations last season and suffered a pair of injuries, limiting him to just 43 games. At this stage, Carrier feels like more of an unpredictable commodity. Could he get his career back on track with the right team?

As an undersized defender who can move and does a bit of everything effectively when he’s at his best, he could turn into a T.J. Brodie type. But the Leafs would be unwise to pay a sure-thing price for Carrier, especially given his contract expires after this season.

4. Nikita Zadorov, Calgary Flames: Age 28, shoots left, contract $3.75 million, 2024 UFA. Zadorov, along with teammate Tanev, is another obvious trade target. He’s a massive 6-foot-6 and 248 pounds. He’s a punishing hitter. He moves well for a man his size. He can kill penalties with his rangy wingspan. On the other hand, because he has such a unique set of physical tools, there should be plenty of competition for his services, driving up the price. He also struggles to stay out of the penalty box. Over the past three seasons, among NHL blueliners with at least 100 games played, he takes the 10th most penalties per 60 minutes at 5-on-5. It’s hard to assist the PK if you’re the one in the box.

5. Will Borgen, Seattle Kraken: Age 26, shoots right, contract $2.75 million through 2024-25. Borgen doesn’t play a ton of minutes on a deep Seattle blueline, but he’s a bludgeoning force when he’s out there, cracking the 92nd percentile among defensemen in hits per 60 since being claimed by Seattle in the 2021 expansion draft. He plays a simple, unselfish defense-first game and kills penalties, albeit not on Seattle’s No. 1 unit. And despite his relatively small ice time share, he’s accustomed to taking on elite players. He also qualifies as a two-year rental carrying a reasonable cap hit of $2.75 million. He might not be as exciting as a few of the bigger-name options out there, but Borgen could be a steal.

That said, the Kraken intended to be competitive this season after coming within one victory of the Western Conference Final last spring. Despite their sluggish start to 2023-24, they’re tied for the No. 2 wild-card spot in the West. Would it actually make sense to trade Borgen, who is currently playing in their top four alongside Jamie Oleksiak?

6. Mario Ferraro, San Jose Sharks: Age 25, shoots left, contract $3.25 million through 2025-26. Ferraro is one of those players who makes you double-take when you look up his bio. He’s only six-foot – and listed at 5-foot-11 in some places. But he plays bigger than that. He’s willing to get his nose dirty. He has quietly munched major minutes on the floundering Sharks in recent seasons, more the result of being pushed up the depth chart on a bad team than earning true top-pair status on merit. He could handle being a second- or third-pairing role on a contender. He’s similar to Jake McCabe last season in that he’s a rugged blueliner who hasn’t been tested much in high-stakes games because he’s been stuck on bad teams. Ferraro has yet to play an NHL postseason game, just like McCabe when the Leafs acquired him last season.

Ferraro carries a $3.25 million cap hit for two more seasons after this one. Is that a bug or a feature? It’s debatable.

7. Travis Sanheim, Philadelphia Flyers: Age 27, shoots left, contract $6.25 million through 2030-31 (Full no-trade clause through 2027-28). For fun, let’s throw an ambitious target onto this list in Sanheim. He feels like more of an off-season option given he carries a cap hit north of $6 million and a full no-trade clause and is in Year 1 of an eight-year extension. An acquisition this complicated isn’t easy to execute mid-season. The Leafs would have to pay up with a package including major draft capital and prospects. Sanheim would also have to waive his NTC. And there’s no way the Flyers would retain salary on someone with seven years left on his deal after this season. Still, if the Leafs decide they have to do something drastic to change their team makeup? Sanheim would change the identity of their D-corps with his well-rounded, all-situations game and ability to play a massive amount of minutes. Treliving is no stranger to bold trades, either.

Alex Thompson
Alex Thompson
Alex Thompson is a Senior Writer for HockeyMonitor. With a background in Sports Media, Alex joined the team in 2022. He focuses on providing the latest hockey news, game scores, and fresh NHL trade rumors.

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