The Toronto Maple Leafs could look to solve the right side of their defence by asking Rasmus Sandin and Mikko Lehtonen to play their off-side, something both are willing to do.
For years, the Toronto Maple Leafs have been searching for answers to the right side of their blue line and it’s becoming ever so clear that finding a solution is easier said than done.
There are certain positions NHL teams covet more than ever and when you look at how they construct their rosters, most have that clear-cut top centre, a workhorse defenceman and a capable starting goaltender. In the Leafs’ case they have some of those pieces, but when you look at the blue line there’s a lot to be desired.
Remember the trade for Dion Phaneuf during the 2009-10 season? That was supposed to be the solution to the team’s backend but it never really took off.
It is hard to criticize Brian Burke for that move considering he didn’t exactly break the bank to get it done. However, it does highlight the struggle most teams have when they try to find the solution to a specific problem.
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Here is the thing about righthanded defencemen, when you look at how many there are in the league, it’s slim pickings. Some teams are fortunate to have a capable top pairing right shot defender and those who have multiple have built that internally.
When you look at the Leafs’ history of righthanded defenceman since the 2005-06 season, you will be surprised to learn that Cody Franson leads the group in points with 115 and Luke Schenn has the most games played with 310. You can easily point to the drafting as the main reason why this team does not have that bonafide top pairing right-shot defenceman.
You could say that by taking Timothy Liljegren with the 17th overall pick in the 2017 NHL Draft, it was the first real investment the team was putting into that position since Schenn was taken fifth overall in the 2008 NHL Draft.
Going into this season, the Leafs made a serious attempt to address the issue by getting Tyson Barrie from the Colorado Avalanche and were willing to give up Nazem Kadri to get the deal done. While that move doesn’t appear to have provided a long-term solution as many expect Barrie to walk, it serves as a reminder of what the team would have to give up to get a top-four right-handed defenceman on the trade market.
With Justin Holl looking like a capable third-pairing defenceman the real challenge the Leafs will have this off-season is finding a replacement for Barrie and Cody Ceci. This is why any defenceman that gets brought in by Kyle Dubas now will have his handedness looked at first before anything else.
This brings us to the newest signing in Mikko Lehtonen; as we brought up when he was signed, the Leafs are getting a quality piece for their blue line based on the scouting reports we are seeing. In his first news conference, Lehtonen made it clear that he has experience playing on the right despite being a left shot and he wouldn’t mind playing his off-side and you can bet the Leafs had that discussion with him.
It is a tactic the team has done in the past with Morgan Rielly, Ron Hainsey, Travis Dermott and even Matt Hunwick when he was on the team. We also know that Jake Muzzin has said playing his off-side isn’t his preference and we got the same sense from Rielly as well, but for Lehtonen to say it isn’t a problem for him is encouraging.
The topic was also brought up to Rasmus Sandin, who told Sportsnet that he doesn’t mind playing on the right side since he has done it at different points in his career. So that is another option the team might consider down the road.
It would be unfair to ask Sandin to play his off-side in the NHL considering he hasn’t solidified himself as a full-time NHLer yet and you would hope that Liljegren can take the next steps in his development too. If Lehtonen can grab one of the spots on the right side, it would certainly make the job easier for the front office going into the off-season.
Another thing to consider is that the Leafs also have a logjam of left-shot defencemen and it seems unlikely to see Rielly or Muzzin going anywhere, so the team might look to turn a surplus into a potential solution. A team that might be looking to upgrade their right side might look at a package the Leafs could offer with a player like Dermott and other pieces to land a right-shot defenceman.
Now, we also know that Dermott has experience playing the right-side so that might be a saving grace for him if the Leafs expect Sandin to make the team next season. It’s tough to see where the Leafs will go with their roster considering the salary cap will probably not go up as high as the league was projecting.
What do you think about the possibility of the Leafs using either Lehtonen or Sandin on the right side? Should the team still make it a point to look for an external solution? Let us know in the comments below.