The Leafs need to beef up the right side of their defensive core heading into the 2019-20 season. With such a thin UFA market, though, a trade may be more likely for marquee addition rather than free agent signing. Regardless, here are the best options for Toronto and their hunt for a right-shot defenseman.
The Winnipeg Jets’ towering right D man, Tyler Myers is the prized defensive UFA heading into July 1st this summer. He leads all UFA defenders with 31 points and put up a respectable +11 rating with the playoff-bound Jets last year. For the Leafs, he would add size, a right shot partner for Rielly, and solid offensive production from the back end.
The stumbling block on Myers is the interest he’ll garner from countless teams, and thus the increase in his market value. Erik Karlsson already signed his massive deal worth $11m a year, and Myers is likely to benefit from this signing. He’s young, he’s big, he can skate, and he can produce. I expect the Leafs to be hamstrung with the cap and miss out on undoubtedly the best right-shot defenseman in free agency.
The Tampa Bay player and former Maple Leafs seventh-round draft pick, Anton Stralman is exactly what the Leafs need in their D-core. The 32-year-old player is a right shot defenseman but comes with massive NHL experience and from a winning organization (albeit regular season success) in Tampa Bay.
Stralman’s point total won’t attract you to him, but his defensive responsibility and veteran presence should. In a top pairing with Morgan Rielly, Stralman’s defensive prowess and first-pass ability would make him the perfect foil for the Leafs Marauding defensive leader. The Leafs would be silly to not prioritize his signature over Myers’.
Stralman also averaged 20:31 TOI last season which proves he can withstand top minutes. At 32 I expect him to be looking for term over value or at least a balance between the two factors. Perhaps the Leafs can squeeze an extra year at a less onerous value than Marleau’s extra year and get him on long(er) term to provide that veteran presence. Three years instead of two sound okay?
I honestly can’t bring myself to get excited about any other right-shot defensemen in the UFA crop outside of the two mentioned above. A few names people will probably circle will be Chris Wideman, Adam McQuaid, Deryk Engelland, maybe even Erik Gryba and Andy Welinski.
I do think at least one of these players will be signed as a veteran, locker room, seventh defenseman type player. A lot of these guys bring age and size like McQuaid and Engelland but lack speed and skill, the two things Dubas seems to be circling when recruiting players.
Ron Hainsey is also worth mentioning and I believe (even though he’s a left-shot) will be the first name on the list Dubas and Babcock will be pursuing as a free agent. The Leafs know how he plays, and know how important he was to their penalty kill last season. Surely if the Leafs can get him on a one-year deal then he would be back in the Blue and White to start the season.
*please take note that Dion Phaneuf wasn’t on this list.