We are less than a month away from the NHL Trade Deadline and the rumours and rumblings continue with some of the top names on this year’s list.
The Toronto Maple Leafs have been connected to a number of names at both the forward and defense positions as they can look to add a piece in both areas. One name that they have shown interest in is Columbus Blue Jackets’ defender Vladislav Gavrikov. As they’re down in the standings, they’re definitely a team that are sellers and Gavrikov is a very intriguing name.
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Gavrikov would be a major boost to the Maple Leafs defense, should general manager Kyle Dubas look to make a move. The team is quite familiar with him as he was a strong shut-down defender for the Blue Jackets as they beat the Maple Leafs in the playoff bubble in 2020. While he would be a great addition, there needs to be a cautious approach in acquiring him.
Gavrikov is a defensive specialist so his production may not be as high, but he does have an impact in terms of overall effectiveness. He has a very unique skillset that a team like the Maple Leafs could very much be in search of. He’s determined and plays the type of hockey that teams want in the playoffs as he lays it all on the line and can eat minutes in multiple situations.
While the Blue Jackets have struggled this season, Gavrikov still makes his presence felt. He averages 22:23 of ice time per game and over three minutes on the penalty kill. He is ninth in hits (53) and takeaways (18) and third in blocked shots (84). Even though he isn’t dynamic with the puck, he plays a simple game that the Maple Leafs can benefit from. As this player card shows, he has a decent impact offensively and his transitional play.
There’s the possibility that Gavrikov be an improved version of Ilya Lyubushkin. While Lyubushkin was physical, he did get caught out of position leading to odd man rushes. While the physicality and big-time hits made fans excited, he didn’t have the best footspeed and could get beat easily, especially if he was out of position.
Gavrikov is the complete opposite as he’s positionally sound and still provides the size to be tough to go up against. He has the awareness to defend well against the rush and be a factor at breaking up zone entries. Even offensively he would provide a little more upside. While he may not get back to where he was offensively last season with 33 points, a career high, the odd goal and points every now and then would help.
Given how the team has had inconsistencies with their puck management, Gavrikov could be an option to try and help them in that regard. Those smarts are just what would make the Maple Leafs much better on the backend as they can use that stability and composure on defense.
Be Wary of the Price
In the final year of his contract at $2.8 million, the value is great as the Maple Leafs could take on his salary. Though given the rumoured asking price, that might put them off.
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According to TSN’s Chris Johnston, the price for a defender like Gavrikov is said to be a “first-round pick, plus”. While teams would want to try and sell high at the deadline for key rental players, history has shown that it doesn’t work out for the team acquiring the player.
The Florida Panthers made a big gamble in giving both a valuable prospect in Ty Smilanic and a first-round pick in 2023 for Montreal Canadiens defender Ben Chiarot and it was already looking like a bad move from the start. Chiarot had a 42.8 CF% in the post season with the Panthers as they went onto a second-round sweep against the Tampa Bay Lightning. As a result, the Panthers would be in a top-15 spot for the draft as that pick now benefits the Canadiens.
With the Maple Leafs and Lyubushkin, they gave up a struggling Nick Ritchie as well as a choice of a third-round or second-round pick for the defender. This would probably be more in line with what the Maple Leafs would want to do as Gavrikov is a more reliable defender and has slightly more upside than Lyubushkin. Instead of giving up a first-round selection, a second or third-round pick would be a fairer price given his role as a player to provide a depth presence on the team.
The Maple Leafs made the smart choice to not make an overpayment for a depth defender at the 2022 deadline. The last time they gave up a first-round pick, it didn’t end well with Nick Foligno being injured and not providing the impact needed. Although, at the time, it did seem like a great move given how things were unfolding for them.
While Dubas needs to start taking some risks with his transactions, this shouldn’t be one of them, as he has stated that he doesn’t want to trade assets for a rental. Gavrikov is a steady physical defender that can play playoff hockey, but given how things unfolded for the Panthers and his current price, a first-round pick for that type of player is a big risk.
Strong Depth Addition
Although he’s a left-hand shot, Gavrikov would still be a great addition to the Maple Leafs blue line. With his strong and overall defensive game, he’s another option to be inserted into the lineup as they’ll have more depth at the position.
While he may be in a depth role, he could serve as an option to be Muzzin’s replacement as he has a similar game and may provide a little more consistency within his own end. Though, given how deep they are at the moment and Connor Timmins signing a contract extension, Gavrikov may not be a priority at this point.
Whether Dubas goes after Gavrikov or not, he’d be getting a reliable defender that excels within his own end and can provide the offense every now and then. Though, the price may not be what Dubas will be willing to pay as it may not be worth it to invest in a rental. If it’s at the right price, then Gavrikov would be an excellent addition to the Maple Leafs.
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