On Episode 7 of the MLHS podcast, Ian Tulloch and Anthony Petrielli discussed the merits of inquiring on Niklas Hjalmarsson, a 33-year-old pending UFA, as a potential depth add for the Toronto Maple Leafs’ blue line.
Petrielli: I think this is a little bit more of a need than we are giving it credit for — the defense needs help. They are one injury away from Rasmus Sandin or Travis Dermott in the top four.
Tulloch: An injury away from Martin Marincin putting on a Leafs jersey.
Petrielli: Let’s not forget that if Jake Muzzin didn’t get hurt, I am fairly confident the Leafs would’ve beaten Columbus. They shouldn’t have been a Jake Muzzin injury away from not beating Columbus last year. That defense was a little messy.
Tulloch: It is tough when he is your most important defenseman at five on five.
Petrielli: 100%. Adding in TJ Brodie, and another year for Justin Holl, has done a little bit more to supplement it, but I would be concerned if anyone in their top four went down. You’re not going to move Zach Bogosian up. You could maybe squint and justify to yourself that Travis Dermott could move up.
Tulloch: Yeah, Dermott would move up next to Justin Holl onto more of a second pairing.
Petrielli: That is what happened against Columbus, and it wasn’t great. I would want a better option in place. I would definitely be calling Arizona about Niklas Hjalmarsson.
Tulloch: In the last decade or so, he has one of the best expected goals against rate among defensemen. His numbers have always been through the roof when it comes to limiting teams from getting chances from the slot area. He has always been one of those defensive defensemen whose puck-moving numbers are among the lowest in the league, but he is so good at killing penalties, blocking shots, taking away passing lanes, and doing all of the little things that help prevent goals, basically.
I am not sure if he is still someone that you’d love, though. He got lit up in the playoffs last year. Is that just a Covid bubble situation where you try not to take too much out of it?
When the Leafs were looking for a partner next to Morgan Rielly all of those years, Chris Tanev was someone who always came to mind, and Nik Hjalmarsson was always someone who came to mind. Who is someone who can play on that right side and defend? If you give Rielly a defensive specialist to play with, it could get the most out of him.
It has been working pretty well with TJ Brodie, but for me, the perfect lineup is:
Muzzin – Brodie
Rielly – (New defensive defenseman)
Dermott – Holl
In this case, Hjalmarsson would fit in next to Rielly. What do you think you would have to give up to get him? It’s probably not a top prospect at this point.
Petrielli: I don’t think so, either. That would be part of the draw. He can still kill penalties. He is a guy who can close a period out on the final shift. He is going to get a shift in the final two minutes when the team is protecting a lead. We are going to feel generally pretty good that he is out there.
Tulloch: It does feel like they are a defenseman short in that category when it comes to Jake Muzzin’ing a game.
Petrielli: Yeah, they definitely are. And Hjalmarsson can play the left and right side.
Their top four is very stagnant. If they want to sit there and say the top four is set, I think that is to their detriment. They have to be prepared for injury, and I don’t think they are prepared right now for an injury.
Rasmus Sandin is not even healthy right now. We are potentially an injury away from Martin Marincin re-entering the lineup. If Martin Marincin is your seventh defenseman, you are not good. That can’t happen.
Tulloch: I do wonder if Sandin-Liljegren gets a look later in the season. Probably not because they like the Dermott-Bogosian pairing so much, but maybe if there is an injury, they try something like that out.
Petrielli: I feel bad for them. In a shorter year, it is hard to justify. In an 82-game year, you can throw them a game and see. Who cares? Just throw them a game. When the season gets shortened, the games matter. I like the games mattering more as a general concept, but when it comes to a kid on the outside in a situation like the Leafs are…
Tulloch: After this last stretch, the standings are a lot tighter than they used to be.
Kyle Dubas’ midseason address, deadline trade targets, prospect untouchables — MLHS Podcast Ep. 7
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