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Could Travis Dermott or Justin Holl be part of Maple Leafs’ blueline changes?

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The Toronto Maple Leafs have shuffled their blueline early in the season and there are reports that the Maple Leafs might be looking to deal a veteran defencemen.

Elliotte Friedman of Sportsnet and 32 Thoughts fame, has suggested that Travis Dermott could be available. Dermott, 25, started the season on the third pair but recently moved up the depth chart to play on the right side with Morgan Rielly. Unfortunately, Dermott’s results were notably better on the third pair, alongside Rasmus Sandin.

To wit, when Dermott was with Sandin during 5-on-5 play, the Maple Leafs controlled 61.1% of shot attempts and 71.6% (!!!) of expected goals.

When Travis Dermott has played with Rielly in 5-on-5 situations, the Maple Leafs have controlled 47.2% of shot attempts and 44.9% of expected goals. These are in very small samples, so don’t take this to mean that Dermott could not possibly play higher in the lineup based on 47 minutes alongside Rielly. But that would also explain the Maple Leafs having some concerns on the blueline.

Dermott is 24, with another year remaining on a contract with a $1.5 million cap hit.

Maybe not just Dermott on the block

Nick Kypreos on Sportsnet 590 The Fan has said that the Maple Leafs are also considering Justin Holl as a trade chip. Holl has been healthy scratch for the past three games after a difficult start to the season alongside Jake Muzzin on what was supposed to be Toronto’s shutdown pair.

When Holl was playing with Muzzin, the Maple Leafs controlled 44.2% of shot attempts and 43.2% of expected goals during 5-on-5 play. That sounds bad. It’s even worse when they were outscored 12-2, prompting Toronto’s defensive changes.

A Holl deal is especially challenging for the Maple Leafs because they made a very conscious decision to protect him in the expansion draft. Protected ahead of Jared McCann, whom the Leafs had acquired from Pittsburgh. McCann would have been a significant shot in the arm for Toronto’s forward depth. But there was (and probably still is) some concern about Toronto’s lack of right-handed shooting presence on the blueline. Moving Holl would have only exacerbated the issue.

There are two left-shot defencemen that have been getting time on the right side for Toronto this season. Travis Dermott and T.J. Brodie are handling the top-four spots on the right side currently. The right-shot defencemen on the roster are Timothy Liljegren, playing well since getting inserted into the lineup, and Holl. Dealing Holl, then, would take away yet another right shot defenceman.

Holl is 29 with one more year left on a contract that comes with a $2 million cap hit.

Target?

It will not be easy to acquire a right shot defenceman that plays with more bite than their current crop of blueliners. Someone like Anaheim’s Josh Manson has an expiring deal and might offer some of what the Leafs would like. He has a cap hit of $4.1 million to go with a 12-team no-trade clause. That does not mean that there is no way to get that done but it would require some creativity. Keep in mind that contending teams are not going to be lining up to move their physical top-four right shot defencemen. Teams tend to like those guys.

Prospects

There is also the possibility that the Maple Leafs will consider giving prospects a chance to compete this season. They called up Kristians Rubins when there was uncertainty over Dermott’s status the other day. Filip Kral, Brennan Menell and Mac Holloway are other possible options.

While the critics were loud during Toronto’s slump earlier in the season, they’re understandably quieter during a four-game winning streak. That helps reduce any external pressure that the organization might feel about making changes on the blueline. So, while Toronto might be considering ways to upgrade their defence, it also might not be a pressing issue.

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