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The Great D Search Is On; Leafs vs. Senators

December 7, 2023, 9:49 PM ET [206 Comments]
Mike Augello
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The Toronto Maple Leafs finally get back to action after a five-day respite as they travel to Ottawa for the second installment of the Battle of Ontario against the Senators. The Leafs(22) and Sens(20) have played the least amount of games in the league and will be very busy the rest of December.

The Leafs will play a dozen games the rest of the month, with only one set of back-to-back games in New York next week. Joseph Woll, who has been excellent in four straight starts, will start in goal for Toronto with Ilya Samsonov still recovering from an unspecified illness.

The news on Wednesday that defenseman John Klingberg will be having season-ending hip surgery later this month has started the engines on trade rumors connecting the Leafs to all sorts of defensemen. GM Brad Treliving indicated that he has been looking at the trade market, but that Toronto has limited assets after going for it last season with trades for Ryan O’Reilly, Jake McCabe, and Luke Schenn.

Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman confirmed what many have suspected about the Leafs pursuits. The club is looking for a right-handed defenseman and someone with size and snarl, but that might have to wait until the summer in free agency. Toronto currently has depth issues and may resolve them with a low-cost add.

Calgary’s Chris Tanev continues to be mentioned as a possible target, but interest in the 33-year-old as the deadline approaches will only increase and might price Toronto out. If the Leafs have an inkling that they could sign the GTA native in the summer, then trading assets for a rental in a year where the club may have too many flaws to be a top Stanley Cup contender would not be the way to go.

Another name getting mentioned is former Philadelphia Flyers blueliner Rasmus Ristolainen. The 29-year-old is not the same defenseman who logged heavy minutes for the Buffalo Sabres for eight years before being dealt to Philadelphia. Ristolainen has played only five games this season after missing the exhibition schedule, in October and most of November with suspected concussion issues.

The rebuilding Flyers are committed to Ristolainen for three more seasons at $5.1 million, which might make GM Daniel Briere flexible in terms of the asking price or even retaining salary, but any team interested in the big Finn would likely want to see him stay healthy over the next couple months before taking on that term and salary.

Other potential depth moves could be San Jose’s Matt Benning, who has played part-time for the Sharks this season and is signed for two more years at a $1.25 million AAV, or free agent Ethan Bear, who is almost back to full health after injuring his shoulder during the World Championships.

It is clear that Treliving aims to upgrade the Leafs defense, which was made apparent by the rumored discussions of trying to get both Nikita Zadorov and Tanev from Calgary. What is now in question is when will he do that and how much will it cost.

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