On moving on from Holland and pursuing a shutdown defenceman

Updated: January 11, 2018 at 1:21 am by Jeff Veillette

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Photo Credit: Kirby Lee/USA TODAY SPORTS

For the first time in quite some time, an actual trade rumour has surfaced involving the Toronto Maple Leafs. Darren Dreger was on TSN’s Insider Trading yesterday, and spoke of Toronto’s excess and needs heading into the immediate future.

In his transcribed words, via archived video on TSN.ca:

“The Toronto Maple Leafs are trying to get some business done. The Leafs, and this will come as no surprise to any Toronto Maple Leafs fan, they have Peter Holland on the trade market. He’s been in and out of the Leafs lineup. Lou Lamoriello is also looking for a shutdown defenceman. There’s a lot of teams on the market for a d-man, but anyone who’s watched the Maple Leafs play knows that they need some help there.”

That’s a hefty double dose. 

On Holland

For some Leafs fans, the idea that the Leafs may move on from Holland at an absolute low point is a little bit saddening. Last season, Holland’s shooting percentage fell to a career low 6.5%, as the 25-year-old was only able to convert nine times on 138 shots. Compared to his career average, he had the team’s second-biggest loss of typical goal totals last year; normal shooting would have seen him at about 17 or 18. 

This year, the wheels fell off even further. In seven appearances this year, he’s put up just a lone assist, and he’s played fewer than ten minutes in his last four appearances. Perhaps the tagger for him was the game against Minnesota on October 20th; he was a -1, took no shots, and played just 9:30, just his third sub-10 minute game since November 2014.

Most importantly was his luck at the draw; Holland went just 1 for 10 on faceoffs that night. Despite that being one of just two nights this year where his faceoff rate fell under 50% (matching or exceeding in the other 5), those defensive zone draws became Priority 1 for Mike Babcock and Ben Smith was claimed off waivers four days later. Smith has since, under similar zone starts, been the team’s worst shot differential player by a significant margin, and is producing at a lower rate, but has been good at the dot and existent on the PK and survives in the lineup as a result.

I’m not overly sold that Holland will drive much value on the market as a result. The Leafs waived him with clearance in the summer, though the fact that it was an arbitration tactic with a hearing just days away probably scared a team that would’ve been interested away. But the fact that he’s barely played, and that he was a once-rated player who now can’t make it on a struggling fourth line can’t be that appealing to the other 29 franchises.

On A Shutdown Defenceman

For the sake of this exercise, I’m going to assume that the Leafs would be looking for a numbers-inclined shutdown player. After all, if they simply wanted players who ate up minutes, waited for the puck, and tried to block shot attempts or throw hits, they’d just stick with Matt Hunwick and Roman Polak, who are about as old-school shutdown as you can get this year. Instead, here are the Top 30 players in 5-on-5 Shot Attempts against since 2015/16, relative to their teammates:

Rk Player Team CA60Rel Rk Player Team CA60Rel
1 Josh Manson ANA -10.4 16 Niklas Hjalmarsson CHI -4.7
2 Fedor Tyutin COL -9.5 17 Tobias Enstrom WPG -4.5
3 Hampus Lindholm ANA -8.7 18 David Schlemko SJ -4.4
4 Drew Doughty LA -7.3 19 Brendan Smith DET -4.4
5 Mattias Ekholm NSH -6.2 20 Kevin Shattenkirk STL -4.1
6 Brian Campbell CHI -6 21 Jeff Petry MTL -4
7 Dalton Prout CLB -5.9 22 Mark Giordano CGY -3.9
8 Cody Franson BUF -5.8 23 Mike Green DET -3.8
9 Brayden McNabb LA -5.5 24 Aaron Ekblad FLA -3.7
10 Anton Stralman TB -5.3 25 Ryan Ellis NSH -3.6
11 Matt Niskanen WSH -5.2 26 Adam Larsson EDM -3.6
12 Oliver Ekman-Larsson ARI -5.1 27 Marc-Eduard Vlasic SJ -3.5
13 Chris Tanev VAN -5.1 28 Brett Pesce CAR -3.5
14 Mark Pysyk FLA -4.9 29 Brian Dumoulin PIT -3.3
15 Erik Karlsson OTT -4.8 30 Dmitry Orlov WSH -3.3

I’m assuming a big swing play would involve a player of this calibre, so let’s play a bit of “Guess Who” to whittle down the list a little bit. To see how feasible this is.

  • First, let’s get rid of every current superstar. Doughty goes, Karlsson goes, Stralman Goes, Ekman-Larsson goes, Giordano goes, Vlasic goes, and Ekblad goes. The list of 30 is now down to 23.
  • Next, let’s take the players from expected contenders. Out goes Campbell, McNabb, Niskanen, Hjalmarsson, Shattenkirk, Petry, Dumoulin, and Orlov. 23 down to 15.
  • We expect that the Panthers, Predators, and Sharks, like the Leafs, are actually good and should bounce back. Sorry Pysyk, Schlemko, Ekholm, and Ellis. 11 left. 
  • Cody Franson likely won’t fancy a reunion, so that’s 10. Larsson was just acquired by the Oilers, so make it 9. The Canes, as we saw yesterday, have a clear cut plan for a neutral-zone driven defensive corps, so I doubt Pesce goes anywhere. Now 8. Smith and Green are interesting, but even if the Red Wings sell, they likely won’t look within the division. Now 6. Cheveldayoff never trades anybody, so that’s 5.

You’re down to Fedor Tyutin, Dalton Prout, Chris Tanev, Hampus Lindholm and Josh Manson. Tyutin seems a bit on the older side for the Leafs’ current core at 33. Prout is intriguing, in the sense that Columbus isn’t using him much and the fact that he isn’t scared to come to his teammates’ defence as well, but he doesn’t really add much offensively, from a production or shot generation perspective. Tanev might be a crown jewel for the Canucks to sell if they decide to tear things down, but it seems more likely that they’ll try to re-arrange the deck chairs for now and that would mean giving up a JVR-Calibre forward to make it happen. 

The Ducks pair would be amazing; both are absolute fancy stat darlings, Manson has a bit of his dad’s sandpaper to him, and Lindholm is lights-out fun to watch. You’d have to imagine, though, that the cost for either would be astronomical.

I suppose there are other defencemen that the Leafs could’ve kicked tires on, but if I had to guess, with all of this considered and Dreger’s known connections to former Leafs GM and current Ducks scout Dave Nonis, that the Leafs probably called in to see what Manson’s availability was. The 25-year-old fits the shutdown mould better than just about anybody else you can find, and appear to be under-utilized by the Ducks, averaging just 18:42 a night over his 119-game career. This year, he’s 5th in average TOI among Anaheim defencemen.

Perhaps Holland was even part of that offer, too. The Ducks don’t necessarily need forwards, but it seemed like in Randy Carlyle’s final months as Leafs coach, he warmed up more and more to the Caledon native; from November 1st, 2014 to Carlyle’s firing, Holland had 14 points in 28 games, including two game-winning goals and played an average of 16:09 a night, above his full season average by over a minute. Not to mention, Holland himself was a former Duck, drafted by the team while Carlyle was still around and traded to the Leafs in the early-going of the 2013/14 season.

I highly doubt the conversation went anywhere, but that’s my guess at how this all came together. While the Leafs wait for that shutdown player to fall into their lap though, perhaps a good start would be to more dress Martin Marincin and Frank Corrado and let them get back into a comfort zone. After all, they were Toronto’s best shot suppressors using the same metrics last year.