Despite blue-line injuries, GM in no rush to trade
Since Klingberg exited lineup for good, replacements have some of best defensive stats on team
With defenceman John Klingberg now out for the season with hip surgery to be scheduled for the end of the month, GM Brad Treliving let it be known that he’s in the trade market.
It’s just that he’s in no rush. “It’s no secret we’ve investigated what the market is, and what those costs would be,” said Treliving. “Would we like to help ourselves there? For sure. But having said that: What’s the cost? And what’s the availability of players out there that ultimately can come in and make a difference?
“So credit to the guys that we have who have come in and are playing hard.”
Klingberg, sidelined by bad hips, will have season-ending surgery by the end of the month.
“That’ll effectively end his season,” said Treliving, adding that rehab “is safe to say will be in the five-to-six month range.” That most likely rules Klingberg out for the post-season.
The 31-year-old right-handed Swede signed a one-year deal over the summer hoping to re-ignite his career, but he re-injured an old ailment in the fifth game of the year and never quite recovered.
“He’s disappointed, like any player you’re disappointed,” said Treliving. “He was hopeful that this wouldn’t be the case. But once you make that determination and once it’s finalized, you go to step two, which is getting through the procedure and getting ready for rehab and going from there.”
Depending on your point of view, the Leafs have either passed on or missed out on Nikita Zadorov, a hard-nosed left-shot defenceman Calgary traded to Vancouver for a couple of draft picks. Zadorov’s agent had suggested in a tweet that Zadorov wanted to come to the Leafs.
There are other defencemen who could be on the move, including:
Calgary’s Chris Tanev, a rightshot defenceman from Toronto who is an unrestricted free agent this summer.
Philadelphia’s Sean Walker, another right shot blueliner who is also a pending UFA. He’s 29 and though the Flyers are overachieving, GM Danny Briere is all about building for the future.
Andrew Peeke of the Columbus Blue Jackets. He’s 6-foot-3, physical and signed for $2.75 million (U.S.) until 2025-26.
But there’s no hurry. For one thing, Klingberg wasn’t playing that well. Hobbled by that injury he was trying to play through, Klingberg was minus-7 with five assists in 14 games.
And help is on the way. Timothy Liljegren is skating again and will soon be back from a high-ankle sprain injury suffered Nov. 2. Conor Timmins, who is in the same mould as Klingberg as an offensive-minded puck-moving defenceman, has already returned. Mark Giordano remains out with a broken finger.
And the Leafs defensive numbers have gotten better, not worse, since Klingberg last played.
The Leafs have allowed 20 goals in the last seven games without him, or 2.85 a game. They allowed 53 goals in the first 15 games, or 3.53 a game. The penalty kill was operating at 74 per cent, though Klingberg wasn’t used very much in that role. In the last seven games, it’s operating at 95.5 per cent efficiency.
In fact, the players with the best defensive numbers are largely the replacements for Klingberg, Liljegren and Giordano: Simon Benoit, William Lagesson and Timmins.
Benoit and Lagesson have NHL credentials in their past, both had poor training camps, both spent time with the AHL Marlies, but both are impressing since getting into the lineup.
“I try to play hard, play physical, and don’t try to complicate things too much,” said Lagesson. “I keep it pretty simple out there and bring the energy to the table.”
Benoit (64.85) and Timmins (63.98) lead the team in expected goals percentage at five-on-five, basically meaning good things are happening for the team when they’re on the ice. Klingberg was at 42.02, worst among Leaf defencemen.
“We’re just trying to just play simple, play hard and manage to stay in the lineup,” said Benoit. “
Coach Sheldon Keefe has learned to trust them more, earning more minutes as they’ve acclimatized themselves to the Leafs’ system.
So the depth that the under-theradar signings over the summer of Benoit and Lagesson have provided Treliving time. He can at least make the case to other GMs that the Leafs are not desperate to replace Klingberg. That Klingberg is out for the season guarantees Treliving some salary cap relief that he can use — when the deal is right — to add a player or two.
The talk in town about what the Leafs need won’t stop, as Treliving acknowledged.
“I know there’s lots of speculation out there, and I’m learning that Toronto gets speculated on a lot,” said Treliving. “We’re going to be cautious.”
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