The Toronto Maple Leafs are in dire straits right now, having lost their first two playoff games against the Boston Bruins handily. Obviously now is a sensitive time, so I don’t mean to stir the pot too much, and relitigating past trade deadlines can always be a little maddening, but why not get these takes off, eh? That’s right, it’s time to reconsider if the Leafs should have traded for Ryan McDonagh. Defense has clearly been an issue for Tronna, and although McDonagh predominantly plays the left side where the Leafs are just fine, he’s more than capable of playing on the right, where the Leafs is … Ron Hainsey, Nikita Zaitsev, and Roman Polak. Woof.
Taking a quick look at the numbers, McDonagh has 41 points in 96 playoff games and his reputation as an effective, smooth-skating two-way defenseman precedes him. Some debate may exist among fans who have seen him only from time to time as to whether or not he’s truly elite or simply good, but I can assure you as a committed Rangers fan that he is more than just average. Looking at his postseason numbers since the 2010-2011 season, he’s logged 9472.56 minutes, his P/60 is 0.85, his GF% is 55.85 (4.31 relative to teammates), and his xGF% is 52.43 (2.63 relative to teammates). The only stat here that’s even vaguely troubling is his 49.1, -0.06% relative CF%, which should be taken with a grain of salt as he played almost all of his minutes in New York with Dan Girardi and spent his career under John Tortorella and Alain Vigneault, the former known for allowing tons of shots so long as they were blocked and the latter know for uh, allowing tons of shots. The point here is that McDonagh is 1. capable of playing big minutes night in night out in the playoffs and 2. highly effective.
Just for comparison’s sake, Ron Hainsey has played 478.7 playoff minutes between Pittsburgh and Toronto with 7 points in 27 games, has a CF% of 43.34 (relative -4.65), a GF% of 50% (relative -1.47) and an xGF% of 52% (relative 5.63). Not so bad, but still not as good as McDonagh, or, at the very least, not as experienced – it’s hard to say what kind of playoff performer he is when he’s played 400 something playoff minutes to McDonagh’s almost 10,000. Roman Polak on the other hand, well. He’s played 773.04 playoff minutes with 2 points in 49 games, has a CF% of 45.77, a GF% of 41.46, and an xGF% of 49.33. Relative to his teammates those numbers were, respectively, -4.08, – 12.57, and -0.52. I don’t think I really had to tell anyone here that he’s bad and hurts the team, but just thought maybe you all would like to know exactly how bad he is for argumentative symmetry.
Now, the big hesitancy with the McDonagh trade was of course the price. Rangers fans (myself included) were clamoring for either William Nylander or Mitch Marner, an understandably untouchable duo. What Tampa wound up paying should be illustrative however; almost no roster players were exchanged (Vladislav Namestnikov was likely included to make the JT Miller portion of the deal even). Instead, the Bolts gave up two prospects, Brett Howden and Libor Hajek, both of whom are good but not exactly blue chippers, as well a first round pick this year and a pick that becomes a first in 2019 if the Lightning win the Cup either this year or the next. Of course, different teams get different deals, but the Rangers were reportedly adamant about trading McDonagh and resisted pulling the trigger until the absolute last minute (literally, the trade went down at 2:59 on deadline day) – the Leafs could have used this to their advantage and told them to take it or leave it, outbidding TB only slightly in order to get the deal done (one imagines at least a lower-level roster player would have been necessary to get this done, but
Connor Brown, a prospect, and one or two picks would honestly have been a fair price to pay for the significant upgrade on defense). The price, in other worse, wound up being substantially less than Nylander or Marner straight up, and Toronto could have bolstered their defense in a big way without trading from their place of strength, their forward depth (at least not too too much).
All of this is to say that a should’ve/could’ve/would’ve here is worth exploring, because if there’s one lesson Lou and co. should learn if this whole thing goes south is that the Leafs need help on defense and when that kind of upgrade is available for that kind of price you do it. There will be other opportunities for sure, but in the here and now the Toronto Maple Leafs are in a bad way, and even if they make it out of this bind they likely will have a hard time going much further with this current D corps. Of course, the Penguins won two Cups with only one elite d-man, but the Leafs are also lacking in either Sidney Crosby or Evgeni Malkin (or Kris Letang for that matter). It remains to be seen if this current configuration will be enough to get over the hump for the Leafs, and with major salary cap issues coming down the pike for the buds and friends, things are only going to get more difficult. Should of traded for Ryan McDonagh, I guess.