Since the moment Oliver Ekman-Larsson’s name entered NHL’s trade chatter, he was immediately linked to the Toronto Maple Leafs. Justly or not, the Leafs are so desperate for a defenceman of his quality, that any mention of such a player availability automatically puts them on the team’s radar. Whether or not there’s any truth to the OEL to Toronto rumors or not, we can only speculate. What we DO know however is that the Leafs have a plethora of blue line choices past Ekman-Larsson in the NHL’s Western Conference.
In his latest column for Hockey Buzz, Mike Augello identifies three additional defensemen out West who could be a fit on the Leafs’ blue line.
The first is Ekman-Larsson’s teammate, and regular defence partner, Nicklas Hjalmarsson. The 30-year-old veteran defenceman was acquired by the Arizona Coyotes from the Chicago Blackhawks this past offseason in an effort to kick star the Coyotes’ blue line. The result has not been pretty. Hjalmarsson has managed just 19 games due to injury and the Coyotes have the second worst goals against per game of any team in the NHL.
If Ekman-Larsson is deemed to be too costly of a pickup, could Hjalmarsson be a cost-effective solution? It’s believed that the ask for Ekman-Larsson is at LEAST a 1st round pick plus two high-end prospects. The Leafs would likely lost players like Connor Brown and Kasperi Kapanen, plus their pick from this upcoming draft… pretty steep. But Hjalmarsson could likely be had for a mid to high draft pick… MAYBE a prospect? Here’s the catch, Hjalmarrson has a limited no-trade contract and Ottawa Sun reporter Bruce Garrioch recently broke the news that Hjalmarsson would prefer to not play for a Canadian team.
Moving right along… how about Vancouver Canucks defenseman Erik Gudbranson? The Leafs have been connected to Gudbranson in rumors ever since the big man hit the trade block and for good reason. He’s a right-shooting, 26-year-old defensive defenseman with some size and snarl to his game. Unlike a lot of big men, Gudbranson’s not afraid to use his size. He’s 6’5”, 220 lbs and plays a tough, grinding game in the corners and in front of the net. No one will ever mistake him for Drew Doughty or Erik Karlsson, but Gudbranson isn’t on the ice for offence… he’s out to patrol his team’s defensive zone.
It’s likely that the Canucks would accept a mid to high round draft pick in exchange for Gudbranson’s services. And, because he’s slated to become an RFA rather than a UFA this upcoming offseason, the Leafs could decide to retain him long-term. Sort of a “try before you buy” situation presents itself with Gudbranson. At the very least, the Leafs have to consider this option.
The final option is San Jose Sharks veteran Paul Martin. Over the weekend, Sportsnet analyst and NHL insider Elliotte Friedman reported that the Sharks are actively looking to trade the veteran defenseman. Yesterday, the Sharks placed Martin on waivers for the second time this season.
The 36-year-old Martin has played sparingly this season due to injury, getting into just three games all season. The veteran blue liner recently played 4 games in the AHL with the team’s affiliate the San Jose Barracuda, picking up an assist during the stint. Martin is a veteran of 859 NHL games split between the Sharks, Pittsburgh Penguins and New Jersey Devils. Never much of an offensive contributor, Martin prefers to play a patient defensive game and has worked well alongside partner Brent Burns the past two seasons.
Mercury News reporter and Sharks insider Curtis Pashelka reports that some teams are indeed interested and have inquired about acquiring Martin.
“There has been interest from some pretty good teams, some top teams,” Martin’s agent, Ben Hankinson, told Pashelka. “It’s early in the process, but definitely at least a handful of teams have interest and we’re trying to see if there’s a fit.”
As for Martin, he just wants to play. If that’s in San Jose, or elsewhere… it doesn’t matter. He just wants to play.
You can hear it in Martin’s voice. He’s at a loss for words. He doesn’t know what his future holds… he just wants to play. Could the Leafs be his best opportunity to close out his career with a Stanley Cup? He’s signed for an additional season at $4.5 million, but if the two sides could agree to part ways at the end of the season, it could make for a fairytale ending.