Maple Leafs should look to Habs for more defense

Recently, Shane Seney of The Hockey Writers suggested that the Toronto Maple Leafs look to the Dallas Stars, and in particular their defenseman John Klingberg, in an effort to improve their defense. While we can certainly see the merits of such a deal, we’re not convinced Klingberg would be the right fit for the Maple Leafs.

Klingberg is an attacking defenseman and Toronto has been there before

Klingberg is an excellent offensive defender; however, he is not considered to be so strong defensively. Looking through the Dallas press reports, it appears the loss of Alex Goligoski, who played for the Stars from 2010 to 2016, provided the solid defense that allowed Klingberg to leverage his offensive strengths.

John Klingberg, Dallas Stars (Jess Starr / The Hockey Writers)

After Goligoski joined the Arizona Coyotes for the 2016-17 season, Klingberg began to struggle. This season, things have gotten so bad that Klingberg has reportedly called for a trade.

As Maple Leafs fans, we have to admit that “great offense, not so good defensively” sounds all too familiar. Morgan Rielly has had the same label for years. Fortunately, this season Rielly has improved his defensive game considerably; Yet Rielly is counting on TJ Brodie to carry the load defensively on this pair.

Related: Maple Leafs Not Getting What They Need From Muzzin Or Holl

Then there was Tyson Barrie. Barrie was the same type of offensive player. Having Rielly and Barrie in the Maple Leafs definitely didn’t work. After enjoying a stellar 2020-21 season, Barrie’s defensive struggles have been pointed to as one of the reasons the Edmonton Oilers are sinking fast in the Pacific Division.

The Canadiens have the kind of player the Maple Leafs need

The Maple Leafs have taken this route before. If the Maple Leafs really want to bolster their defense with a good all-around player who could help them chase the Stanley Cup this season, they need look no further than the Montreal Canadiens.

Ben Chiarot Montreal Canadiens
Ben Chiarot, Montreal Canadiens (Jess Starr / The Hockey Writers)

An article by Eric Engels from Sportsnet on Dec. 3 talked about Chiarot’s value. Engels noted that Chiarot was a “six-foot-three, 234-pound defenseman who has been Montreal’s most stable player this season.”

Engels added that Chiarot “was playing over 25 minutes and offered more proof of why he’s one of Gorton’s best trading chips… The 30-year-old, who is in the midst of his prime, averaged nearly 23 minutes per game, blocked 233 shots and thrown 283 hits since arriving in Montreal in 2019. ”

Related: The NHL’s Top 100 Prospects – Mid-Season Ranking

Interestingly enough, Chiarot is more than a home defender. He can also add secondary scorers, in 135 games with the Canadiens, he has scored 15 goals and 34 points.

Chiarot’s story against the Maple Leafs and in the playoffs

Thinking back to last season’s playoffs, in the Canadiens’ 22-game run to the Stanley Cup Final, Chiarot averaged 25:15 minutes per game – two seconds more per game than Shea Weber. Chiarot had just two points in the playoffs and was minus-6, but he was relied on for the vast majority of heavy defensive minutes and started 66% of his shifts in the defensive zone.

Chiarot is a left-handed defender, but he’s played both sides in his career. He would be a huge improvement over Justin Holl, playing alongside Jake Muzzin, and give the Maple Leafs a strong physical defensive pair in the top four.

Jake Muzzin Toronto Maple Leafs
Jake Muzzin, Toronto Maple Leafs (Amy Irvin/The Hockey Writers)

As a bonus, Chiarot’s salary cap is only $ 3.5 million on a deal that expires at the end of this season. He could be the perfect hire for the Maple Leafs. Although he turned 31 in May, as a UFA we expected Chiarot’s next contract to be out of the Maple Leafs’ lineup this offseason.

The cost of Chiarot in a trade

We believe that Chiarot will generate a lot of interest as UFA. We also think Canadiens interim general manager Jeff Gorton would have a ton of suitors for Chiarot. As a result, the cost to acquire it would be high.

Seney’s article on Klingberg suggested the Stars deal might look like this. “The Maple Leafs acquire Klingberg, Pavelski and Holtby from the Stars in exchange for Holl, Engvall, Mrazek and prospect Nick Robertson. ”

Related: Bruins Sign Rask For One-Year Deal: Report

For this deal to work, the Stars would have to keep half the salaries of the three upcoming players. The only real draw for Stars general manager Jim Nill on the deal would be Nick Robertson. Even then, Nill would bet Robertson could put his injuries behind him and become a top-six forward in the NHL despite his 5-foot-9, 165-pound frame.

Holl and Engvall would be considered bottom-ranked and bottom-six players at best. Mrazek could fill the backup goalkeeper role if he can stay healthy. The Maple Leafs really need to increase their share for the deal to work.

What would it take for the Maple Leafs to sideline Chiarot from the Canadiens?

What would the Maple Leafs have to offer Gorton to snatch Chiarot from the Canadiens? There should be a nice “shiny toy” in there for seduction.

Here is a scenario that might work. The Canadians would get Ilya Mikheyev, Travis Dermott and Topi Niemelä. The Maple Leafs would have Chiarot and Mathieu Perreault. Montreal would keep $ 1.5 million in salary.

Topi Niemelä Kärpät
Topi Niemelä of the Maple Leafs (in a Kärpät uniform) (Kärpät)

This transaction may seem like a high price to pay, but it boils down to one question: “How badly do the Maple Leafs want to run for the Stanley Cup this season?”

A look at what the Maple Leafs should give up

If we look at the players heading to Montreal, Mikheyev will be a UFA at the end of this season. As a UFA, he’ll likely sign for more than the Maple Leafs can afford.

Dermott is entering his prime but seems to be at his ceiling with the Maple Leafs. Timothy Liljegren is battling him for third place on the right side and is three years younger.

Niemala is, depending on who you listen to, either the Maple Leafs’ top prospect or second in the standings. He’s the shiny toy that makes this business really work for Gorton.

Watching who the Maple Leafs would get

Other than Chiarot, why would the Maple Leafs want Perreault? Even at 34, Perreault can play several roles. He can play center or wing; he’s a great forward failure and he’s determined to chase the puck. He signed a one-year contract at $ 950,000. He can adequately fill a bottom-six background role for the Maple Leafs this season.

Related: The Maple Leafs Made The Right Choice With Campbell Over Andersen

As a bonus, the Maple Leafs would clear more than $ 3 million in salary cap space for next season. This money will be needed to re-sign Jack Campbell, Rasmus Sandin and Liljegren.

[Note: I want to thank long-time Maple Leafs’ fan Stan Smith for collaborating with me on this post. Stan’s Facebook profile can be found here.]

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