Should the Leafs be interested in Patrick Wiercioch?

While the focus on defence appears to be on the right side of the ice for the Toronto Maple Leafs, a notable name from across the province has come up in discussions. According to a report in the Ottawa Sun, there’s a greater-than-zero chance that 25-year-old Patrick Wiercioch is fast tracked into unrestricted free agency.

From Bruce “Malkin to the Kings” Garrioch:

While qualifying offers to restricted free agents aren’t due until the end of June, the indication in NHL circles is unless the Senators have a change of heart they won’t tender one to the 25-year-old defenceman. This means Wiercioch will have to shop himself around as a unrestricted free agent on July 1.

With a cap hit of $2 million last season, the Senators would have to hand over a $2.7 million qualifying offer to retain Wiercioch’s rights because that’s what he made in real dollars in 2015-16. It’s believed Senators general manager Pierre Dorion told Wiercioch in his exit meeting in April it was doubtful the club would keep him.

First off, it’s a little funny that once again, a plan by Eugene Melynk to keep from spending money in the moment has backfired on his team. This disproportionate qualifying offer is entirely a result of back-loading Wiercoich’s contract.

The particularly interesting part comes later in the article, though. Garrioch goes on to state that the Sens will try to trade him before it becomes time to qualify him, but that they don’t find the odds of that working out to be likely. Most shocking though is the suggestion that the native of Burnaby might not even be able to find a one-way contract, and could have to settle for a deal that pays him less if he were to head to the AHL for the first time since the lockout component of the 2012/13 season.

As horrific as Ottawa’s defence has been for the past few years, Wiercoich has been one of the more consistent exceptions. In every year that he’s donned the Red, Black, and White, he’s had better than team average possession numbers. In particular, he has been consistent in helping move the puck into the offensive zone and generating shots; only Erik Karlsson and Dion Phaneuf (who only played 20 games in Ottawa) had a higher rate of on-ice shot attempt generation this season. 

His most frequent defensive partner over the span of his career in Ottawa has been Cody Ceci. Ceci gets the lion’s share of the praise between the two, but interestingly it’s Wiercoich who benefits most from

GF60 GA60 GF% CF60 CA60 CF% OSZ%
Together 1.99 1.86 51.7 55.78 57.12 49.4 54.2
Wiercioch Apart 2.39 2.17 52.4 62.45 54.3 53.5 54.3
Ceci Apart 2.2 2.43 4.75 52.77 59.3 47.1 46.8

Wiercioch’s struggles are mostly on the offensive side; though that’s the zone where he’s best at putting his teammates, he himself had no goals and just five assists last year, a career worst despite playing 52 games. He was third among Senators defencemen in on-ice Goals For Percentage this year, despite having the third-lowest on-ice shooting percentage at 5-on-5. Decreased usage on the powerplay didn’t help his cause either; Wiercioch went from being involved in approximately 45% of Senators powerplay minutes (with Erik Karlsson, no less) to being on for just 19 minutes of man-advantage time this year.

If Garrioch’s presumption that Wiercioch could be picked up for a contract low enough to warrant a two-way deal (so, likely under $950,000) is true, then the Leafs should be all over this. While the Leafs have quite a few defencemen in the system, giving the younger ones another year to ripen while adding a play-driving large (6’5) body who is still before the age of decline sounds like a pretty solid idea. He would make Matt Hunwick more expendable than he already was, and can either be re-signed or flipped as necessary.

With that said, I’d be shocked if there weren’t teams with plans in place. The Florida Panthers are one that I could see making a serious pitch; the organisation kicked tires on him at the trade deadline but ultimately weren’t confident enough as a group to move forward with the decision to give up assets for him. With their deck chairs being rearranged to make room for the more analytically-inclined members of the board and the potential to pick him up for free, I wouldn’t be shocked in the slightest him in their jersey next year.

At this cost, though, it’s worth it for the Leafs to at least look into it.

  • Metal thrashin dad

    Though his numbers look OK, they are not spectacular by any means. His size is intriguing for sure (something the Leafs lack in their prospects)

    On the other hand, the Leafs are in a position where they can lose defensemen to waiver wire (e.g. Percy).

    Also, since the Leafs do need help on D, I would rather they make a trade for somebody young and potentially elite like Barrie or Lindholm/Vatanen rather than target ‘projects’ like Wiercioch.

  • wiercoch over hunwick any day of the week please leafs be smart. he’d be great on the top pair with rielly as gardiner plays with zaitsev. he has more offence than marincin too. put marincin-carrick on the bottom pairing and the defence looks excellent. keep corrado as a spare and keep the young guys developing in the ahl.

  • Metal thrashin dad

    To me Wiercoch falls into the Marincin mould. I think he is a very effective player possession-wise and can be a solid 2nd/3rd pairing guy. With Gardiner/Rielly on the Left side already, and the dearth of depth defenceman (bottom 4 guys) on the Leafs already (Marincin, Carrick, Corrado, Hunwick), it doesn’t look like there’s room for him.

    If he would sign a deal around the $950k, I would easily bring him on and either let him earn a spot or try to put him through waivers.

    Or if there was some real demand for a player like Marincin in a trade, Wiercoch could probably replace what he provided.

    Short answer – love the player, and bring him on if you can.

  • Metal thrashin dad

    The only way the Leafs can consider this is if they deal some of their potential waiver wire losses…otherwise Percy and I think Harrington could be gone for nothing.

  • Metal thrashin dad

    Wiercioch played for Team Canada at the World’s last year with Sid Crosby & the boys. He was a nice addition, … , were I the Leafs I’d try for him. Big guy with a great reach. He’d be a good addition.