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10 Likely, Less Likely, and Unlikely Ways to Improve Maple Leafs Blue Line

10 potential candidates for the Maple Leafs blue line. Unfortunately, not all are as likely as others.

Savard Pietrangelo Benning

The Toronto Maple Leafs need help on their blue line. Unless you’re not a hockey fan, or are a hockey fan living under a rock, you’ve heard the multiple reports and testimonials by many NHL insiders suggesting as such. That said, the names that get bandied about when it comes to the Leafs options on defense are varied.

We’ve decided to take a look at 10 total likely options, less likely and very unlikely ways the Leafs might be looking to improve things at that position:

Likely: Josh Manson

There’s been buzz for a while that the Anaheim Ducks and Toronto Maple Leafs might make for good trade partners. And, if the Ducks are looking to completely rebuild, they may choose to send out their alternate captain.

Manson is a very strong candidate for the Leafs if he becomes available. He’s big, he shoots right, he would pair well with a player like Jake Muzzin and he’s not terribly expensive at $4.1 million next season.

He’s got two years left on his current deal, so he’s not really a loaner and the Leafs could give something back in trade. move some salary, and not feel like they traded for a rental.

As the Nick Bjugstad trade proved on Friday, there aren’t a lot of trades that are simple on paper. Unlike that deal, this is one that shouldn’t be too tricky to make work. The Leafs move a forward or high-end pick, the Ducks move a d-man. Both sides get something out of the deal.

Less Likely: Matt Dumba

The salary is too high, but that the Minnesota Wild will likely retain some of Matt Dumba’s $6 million cap hit over the next three seasons could make this deal work if the Leafs are interested. If the Leafs move Andersen, the Wild won’t have to retain too much.

Dumba has a lot of what the Leafs are looking for. He’s a right shot under contract for a while, he can work a power play — which is what Toronto was looking for and failed to get out of Tyson Barrie — and he’s young, which means there’s no need to replace him if he meshes with the team.

 “I am hearing from a lot of sources that they are shopping Dumba,” Wild insider Michael Russo said on the Sept. 3 episode of his podcast, The Russo Hockey Show. So we know he’s available, it’s just a matter a making the right deal.

Unlikely: Alex Pietrangelo

Pietrangelo is the sexy name everyone is talking about for the Maple Leafs and there’s certainly a chance he tests the free agent market if he can’t work out a deal with the St. Louis Blues. But, Toronto will be hard-pressed to land him even if he’s out there.

The Leafs are seemingly always in on big ticket players but we cited James Mirtle’s report on how the Leafs could make Pietrangelo work and it’s complicated, to say the least. So many things have to fall correctly for this ever to become a reality, it’s just not a very likely scenario, even if he’s the ideal candidate for the Leafs.

Likely: Mark Borowiecki

Now that Mark Borowiecki has said he’ll be testing free agency, it makes sense to wonder if he’d make for a good fit in Toronto. And he does, if only because the Leafs could wind up missing on all their big swings and signing a couple of depth defenseman who can get the job done, hopefully improving the blue line by committee.

Borowiecki won’t be expensive, he’s an excellent leader and while he’s not a big offensive guy, he did score seven goals and 18 points last season. He says he wants to test free agency, but there might be something appealing about staying in Ontario and close to home.

Less Likely: Colton Parayko

We’ll call this a less likely case, but not completely unlikely, because we already noted that Pietrangelo is probably going to stay in St. Louis. That means, with Justin Faulk and Pietrangelo on the blue line, Parayko could be a casualty of the Blues cap issues. If so, the Leafs should be waiting to offer something of value in return.

He’s six-foot-six, 230-pounds and for some reason, his name keeps coming up in trade rumors.

The only real hurdle here is that he’s sort of the opposite of what the Leafs might look for in a contract to take advantage of a flat salary cap NHL. The Leafs are one of the few teams who can pay more in salary than a player’s actual cap hit (Parayko makes $3.35 in real dollars on a $5.5 cap hit) so many teams will be in on Parayko if he’s out there. The Leafs would have less competition in trade if he made way more than his cap hit.

Related: Three Possible, Likely Crazy Trade Targets For the Edmonton Oilers

Unlikely: Oliver Ekman-Larsson

Like Pietrangelo, Ekman-Larsson would be a flashy trade piece and get a ton of talk but it’s not terribly realistic. While the Coyotes will look to shed salary and recoup picks, the Leafs simply can’t afford him if what the Coyotes want back are draft picks and not a lot else.

The Leafs need to move salary to make someone like Ekman-Larsson work. Not to mention, he’s got a lot of control over where he goes. He’d had to waive to come to Toronto and there’s no guarantee he’d do so.

Likely: Brett Pesce

The Carolina Hurricanes and Toronto Maple Leafs make a lot of sense in the same conversation, especially if the rumors are accurate that the Hurricanes are interested in goaltender Frederik Andersen.

Pesce is coming off a serious injury and the Hurricanes have a stacked blue line. They could afford to move him and for the Leafs, his $4.025-million cap hit through 2023-24 is attractive and affordable if Andersen goes the other way.

Pesce is a stay-at-home, top-four defender and excellent penalty killer. This is really what the Leafs need, even if they’d have liked to add a little offense. If Pesce is out of the question, Dubas can always take a run at UFAs Joel Edmundson, Sami Vatanen and Trevor van Riemsdyk but that’s a little more tricky since no salary would be going back the other way.

Less Likely: David Savard

The Maple Leafs know well what kind of player David Savard is. He’s gritty and physical and his shot-blocking and penalty-killing savvy was on full display in more than one instance against the Leafs. And, when you get play against by a player you wish you had on your roster, it’s natural to wonder what he might cost to acquire.

If the Blue Jackets make it a priority to add goals this offseason, a blueliner they don’t want to move could shake loose. And, Savard being a UFA in a year’s time could trigger the Blue Jackets to see what kind of value they could get in return.

For the Leafs, he’d essentially be a rental and the team would then look at him at the end of next season and try to work something out if he plays well.

Related: Hurricanes’ Dougie Hamilton Watching Pietrangelo Negotiations Closely

Unlikely: Rasmus Ristolainen

At $5.4 million for one more season, Rasmus Ristolainen is likely too expensive for the Maple Leafs unless they move Frederik Andersen straight across in any deal. That’s possible considering there’s not a lot to work with in Buffalo between the pipes.

So too, Ristolainen has already said he expects he could be moved. “If changes will happen, I know I’m one of the first ones probably who is going to get traded,” Ristolainen said. And, there always seems to be change in Buffalo where the team now has a new general manager and some decisions to make to try and get that franchise back on track.

Likely: Matt Benning

Like Borowiecki, Matt Benning out of Edmonton makes sense if the Leafs are looking to add a couple of pieces that can improve their blue line but won’t do a lot by themselves. Benning doesn’t get a lot of love around the NHL but he’s steady in a 7th-defenseman role and he’s an RFA who shouldn’t cost the Leafs a lot to extend.

He’ll probably cost the Maple Leafs somewhere between $1.5 and $2.5 million and his underlying numbers are pretty good, which is something Dubas looks at. If the Oilers are really keen to move out salary and Toronto and Edmonton are in the market to make a “hockey trade”, it could be Adam Larsson who becomes available.

Next: Update On Patrik Laine Trade Talk Out of Winnipeg

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