Toronto in the Market for a Top Four Defenceman

USATSI_9837785_154158418_lowresWith another weekend of hockey action in the books, the Toronto Maple Leafs find themselves in a fight once again. They’re currently 25-18-11 in the Atlantic Division, which puts them nine points behind the division-leading Montreal Canadiens and just seven puts ahead of the last place Detroit Red Wings.

As you can imagine, things are tight.

Because of the relative snugness of the division, the Maple Leafs find themselves in position for a playoff spot. What’s more, they may even secure a divisional spot – especially if things keep going south in Montreal.

And with things so close, Toronto could find themselves in an interesting position come trade deadline day.

Right now, the club has a need for a top-four defenceman. A backup goalie might also be in the works.

The Leafs have an estimated $5.5 million in projected cap space to work with as of March 1, but they have a small army of pending unrestricted free agents to contend with. Among them are Ben Smith, Curtis McElhinney, Brooks Laich, Milan Michalek, Roman Polak, Matt Hunwick, and Colin Greening. Zach Hyman, Frank Corrado, Nikita Zaitsev, and Connor Brown are restricted free agents.

As is usually the case in Toronto, rumours have been aplenty.

Among the biggest has been the possible movement of William Nylander, which seems to have sprouted from some chatter regarding an “off” relationship with head coach Mike Babcock. But most analysts are assured that this rumour is mostly bunk, especially given how central the 20-year-old has been to the team’s fortunes.

The more likely scenario is that the Maple Leafs can and will part with some draft picks on March 1. That may or may not even include a number one draft pick, which the club can make do without given their current crop of young stars.

Keven Shattenkirk and Johnny Oduya are probably the best and most probable targets for Toronto. Reports have Shattenkirk willing to accept a trade to either the Maple Leafs or Habs, which could set up a neat regional bidding war for the St. Louis blueliner.

Last year, Toronto pulled the trigger on the Dion Phaneuf trade. They also sent Polak to the San Jose Sharks before securing his services again, so there is certain precedent in trading and acquiring defencemen.

Right now, the Maple Leafs like what they have and it’s unlikely we’ll see major changes on trade deadline day. But they could make some moves to fill gaps, which means Shattenkirk could wind up in the blue and white before the dust settles.

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