Trade season has begun in earnest as Chris Tanev has officially been traded to the Dallas Stars for a second-round pick, prospect Artem Grushnikov, and an additional conditional third-round pick.

Chris Tanev was the top-rated right-handed defenseman known to be available on most trade boards. The Leafs have clear ties to him — their GM was the one that signed him in Calgary in the first place — and Brad Treliving was rumoured to be interested in reuniting with the defenseman who was a workhorse on his Flames teams.

It got complicated because the Leafs don’t own a second-round pick in any of the next three drafts. Because of that, Calgary reportedly asked the Leafs for a first-round pick, a price that clearly proved to be too much for a player who’s a pending UFA and already 34 years of age. The Leafs don’t have second-round picks to offer, and if they weren’t going to trade their first, they couldn’t really offer much of note unless they were going to offer up one of their top prospects. Moving a top prospect would make even less sense for a team in the Leafs‘ position than trading their first-round pick.

Contract status and price aside, Tanev was a logical fit for myriad reasons. He’s right-handed, he’s been successful matching up against top-line players, and he’s an excellent penalty killer who can drive play up the ice. It’s hard to find players who check as many boxes as Tanev does in regard to the team’s needs, and the fit would have been easy to picture on a Leafs blue line that has been running a healthy unit of:

Brodie – Liljegren
Benoit – McCabe
Rielly – Lagesson (where Tanev would have slotted, thus pushing this pairing up the pecking order and the second pairing to a more logical third-pairing role)

The Leafs need to add quality on defense. Their penalty kill has also cratered this season (23rd), and one reason why is the lack of quality right-handed penalty killers on defense. It is the one area where losing Justin Holl — and not replacing his role in any real capacity — has legitimately hurt the Leafs. The type of quality they need to add on defense at this rate is specifically quality that’s right-handed. 

TJ Brodie essentially improved overnight when he moved to the left, but they lack a partner for Morgan Rielly. Last playoffs, Rielly paired with the right-handed Luke Schenn on what turned out to be the Leafs’ best pairing. It’s totally fair to wonder if the Leafs should have paid up and legitimately solidified their defense for this season to give themselves the best possible chance they can in this spring’s playoffs. 

So, what options remain?

Today, TSN released an updated trade board that included these other right-handed defensemen on their list:

  • Sean Walker
  • Matt Dumba
  • Alex Carrier
  • Ilya Lyubushkin
  • Tyson Barrie
  • Andrew Peeke
  • Adam Boqvist
  • David Savard

Not only was Tanev a logical fit, but he’s clearly head and shoulders above everyone else we know to be available. Lots of fans have speculated about Adam Larsson in Seattle, but Elliotte Friedman has reported he is not available, and this would make sense from the Kraken’s standpoint; he’s signed to an under-market value contract through next season, and they are still in the mix of this year’s playoff race. 

Colton Parayko is another player whose name has been out there, but he’s signed for six more seasons and will be turning 31 this spring, to say nothing of whether he is even available in the first place. Maybe a change of scenery turns him back into the player he once was, but if an acquiring team loses that gamble, it becomes a crippling contract. It is a move the acquiring GM better be 100% sure about before pulling the trigger.

Those players aside, the rest of the trade board is a list of options who are largely unproven as quality, minute-eating top-four defensemen as well as a few players who are past their best-before date in Matt Dumba, David Savard, and Tyson Barrie. 

There are some quality left-handed defensemen available — specifically Noah Hanifin, who would make sense because he’s a real needle mover. At this point, though, indications are that the pending UFA only wants to play in the United States. Jakob Chychrun’s name is also out there, but whether the Senators would even entertain trading him within the division is anyone’s guess.

With the way this is shaping up, it seems far more likely that Treliving chases value rather than taking a big swing. The question is if — in the process of doing so — he can actually unearth a hidden gem of sorts who is capable of more than he has shown to this point, similar to Simon Benoit. It’s not easy, but when he doesn’t have a second-rounder for three straight years or a first-rounder next year, he’s bringing a knife to a gunfight.


Further Listening: In the trade deadline edition of the MLHS podcast earlier today, we went over some of the alternatives to Chris Tanev for filling the Leafs’ needs on the blue line.