The Toronto Maple Leafs are finally competitive in a year everyone expected them to be quite the opposite. Their youth movement, consisting of players like Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner, has guided them to a red-hot start to begin the 2016-17 season.
The Maple Leafs have compiled a 17-12-8 record for a total of 42 points, which is their best start through 37 games since they went 20-13-4 throughout the 2012-13 lockout shortened season. They ultimately made the playoffs that year for the first time in 7 seasons, but they haven’t been back since.
This year, Toronto’s young core is only 2 points out of the last playoff spot in the Atlantic Division and 3 points out of a Wild Card spot. It’s been because of their offence, with the Maple Leafs ranked 6th in the league in goals with 112, a substantial improvement from last year’s mark of 99 goals through their first 37 games.
While the Maple Leafs’ offence is looking the best it has in years, there is still an issue on the other side of the ice. Their lack of a strong defensive presence seems to be their missing piece, as Toronto continues to blow leads, while looking like a team not ready to take the next step towards becoming a playoff seed.
A prime example of their defensive woes came in their game on Tuesday night against the Washington Capitals. Entering the 3rd period, the Leafs were up 4-2, but just 3:39 minutes into what seemed to be an easy win, they found themselves in a tie game after allowing Evgeny Kuznetsov and Dmitry Orlov to score.
Marner would look like the hero after he responded with a goal at the 8:21 mark of the 3rd period to give the Maple Leafs the lead, but his team’s defence couldn’t seal the deal once again. Moments later, John Carlson scored to send the game into overtime, where the Maple Leafs would watch their night go to waste after an Alex Ovechkin game-winner.
Another example of them giving up a lead came during the Centennial Classic where they were up 4-1 in the 3rd period, but ultimately found themselves in a tie game only 7 minutes later. Luckily for the Maple Leafs, they were able to salvage their important night with a clutch OT game-winner from Matthews.
It’s apparent that the Maple Leafs have their problems on defence, and if they want to capitalize on their strong offensive lineup, they need to make a trade for an experienced defenseman. At the moment, there doesn’t seem to be a smarter and more realistic place to turn to than Cam Fowler of the Anaheim Ducks.
The Ducks have been reported to be looking to ship out one of their defensemen as they try to create cap space to re-sign Hampus Lindholm in the offseason. The Digital Journal reports that Fowler is the most likely candidate to be moved, and with his $4 million salary there’s plenty of reason as to why the Leafs should be interested.
The 25-year-old is on the second last year of his contract, giving him and the Maple Leafs enough of an opportunity the see if they would make a good fit. But the way he’s played up to this point of his career, there shouldn’t be any doubt that Fowler could add a strong presence to their defensive unit. This year, he’s also on pace for a career-year, having already registered 9 goals and 13 assists through his first 40 games.
Fowler isn’t a defensive juggernaut like Drew Doughty or Erik Karlsson, meaning the Maple Leafs won’t have to give up too much to be able to acquire him. Giving up a player like Matthews or Marner would be out of the question, instead they should try offering other young prospects like Kasperi Kappanen, Jeremy Bracco, or Tobias Lindberg.
A deal like this would also usually involve a depth player like Ben Smith or Matt Hunwick, since the Ducks are also looking to improve their lineup as they get closer to the playoffs. While the price might seem high at first, Fowler is a skilled defenseman that would be able to help the Leafs secure games. Adding Fowler to a defensive line that already stars Morgan Rielly and Jake Gardiner would definitely bolster Toronto’s defence, while it would also give their young offensive line a boost considering his ability to score when truly needed.
— NHL Public Relations (@PR_NHL) December 20, 2016
Fowler would be essential in helping the Maple Leafs continue progressing, because of his previous experience in making the playoffs. The defenseman has been to the playoffs in 5 of his past 6 seasons, meaning he definitely knows what it takes to win. Fowler could help the Maple Leafs take the next step towards the playoffs, while also implementing a hard-working defensive culture for Toronto to build on.
The young defenseman has put up some decent stats since his NHL debut in 2010. Throughout his first 7 seasons in the league, Fowler has played 453 games, while accumulating 200 points, 157 assists and 43 goals. Those numbers don’t jump off the page, but he’s a valuable asset who knows how to find his teammates, while he’s also a strong asset to have on a power play.
The Maple Leafs seem to be just one player away from taking the next step with their young and powerful offensive core, and Fowler looks to be that missing piece. They can’t allow any of their leads to go to waste any longer, or their chances to enter the playoffs will continue to feel like a distant reality. With the Ducks looking to ship out Fowler, the Maple Leafs need to act quick and finally address their defensive woes.
All stats for this article are from www.hockey-reference.com
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