My former TSN colleague Frank Seravalli recently wrote about his top players to be traded and the list included Toronto Maple Leafs defenceman Justin Holl.
Justin Holl is 29 years old. He has one season remaining with a $2 million cap hit on his current contract. He also has a 10-team no-trade clause.
Holl has zero points, 37 blocked shots and 41 hits in 18 games this season. He has never been a huge offensive contributor, but did have 20 points (2 G, 18 A) in 55 games last season.
Holl has struggled during 5-on-5 play this season, ending up on the wrong end of shot attempts (49.1 CF%), expected goals (49.9 xGF%), and goals (48.3 GF%) for a Maple Leafs team that is breaking much better than even.
Does it make sense to trade Holl?
For a Maple Leafs team that naturally expects to be a contender this season, moving Holl only makes sense if there is an upgrade to be found for the Toronto blueline.
While Seravalli noted that Toronto will soon be bringing goaltender Petr Mrazek back from LTIR, that should not put an immediate financial strain on the team. When Mrazek went on LTIR, the Maple Leafs did not add salaries at Mrazek’s level, so there should be a net gain in terms of salary cap space.
The Maple Leafs are not exactly flush with cap space and may want more room as the deadline approaches but moving Holl just for salary cap space is probably not going to return positive value this season.
And there is too much riding on this season for the Maple Leafs to sacrifice current value for future value.
If the Maple Leafs were to move Justin Holl, the first lineup change would likely see Timothy Liljegren inserted into the top six on a regular basis. Liljegren has been in a rotation with Holl and Travis Dermott. One of those three has been scratched in 23 of Toronto’s 24 games this season.
Liljegren has been very effective in a third pair role this season, to the point that he deserves a regular spot in Toronto’s top six. He has two assists in 14 games and the Maple Leafs have outshot and outscored the opposition with Liljegren on the ice during 5-on-5 play.
In that case, Toronto would at least need viable options to fill the seventh spot on the blueline. Maybe those options could come internally, from the Toronto Marlies. When was the last time that a contending team traded a blueline regular to replace them on the roster with an unproven AHL player? Standard procedure for most NHL contenders is to add established NHL defencemen, not subtract them.
That being the case, would the Maple Leafs be interested in an upgrade on the right side of the blueline? Is that even possible?
Among pending unrestricted free agent right-shot defencemen, Anaheim’s Josh Manson, Dallas’ John Klingberg, and Pittsburgh’s Kris Letang are very appealing. As long as the Ducks, Stars, and Penguins are playing competitive hockey, though, those teams probably won’t move their proven right shot defencemen, either.
Buffalo’s Colin Miller is another option. He does have one of the Maple Leafs’ preferred criteria in that he played junior hockey for the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds.
Miller’s teammate, Mark Pysyk, is another right shot defenceman who could be available and has performed well under trying circumstances.
Like most other veterans in Arizona, defenceman Anton Stralman could be available, too. He has struggled in recent seasons but has been better early this year with the Coyotes.
If the Philadelphia Flyers don’t turn things around, they could have a couple of right shot defencemen available. Rasmus Ristolainen is the bigger name and comes with a lot of risk given his previous results. Justin Braun is a no-frills defensive defenceman who would seem easier to acquire.
Can the Maple Leafs stand pat on the blueline?
Going through the list of possibilities, there are not a lot of easy upgrades to be found. Certainly not in the price range for a team without a lot of wiggle room under the salary cap.
The Maple Leafs rank second with just 1.92 goals against per 60 minutes during 5-on-5 play. But that has been dependent on the great play of goaltender Jack Campbell. The Maple Leafs rank 17th in shot attempts against per 60 minutes (54.5). They rank 12th with 2.24 expected goals against per 60 minutes.
This does not mean that there is no way that the Maple Leafs would move Holl. It is more an indication of how complicated that kind of move could be. In the end, getting better results from Holl might be the most effective path forward.
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