Leafs Should Target Bouwmeester

*This article originally appeared at thehockeywriters.com/mapleleafscentral

If Dave Nonis plans on being active before the trade deadline on April 3, Jay Bouwmeester should be a primary target.

The 29-year-old comes with a hefty cap-hit at $6.68 million, which runs through next season, but he’s exactly what the Toronto Maple Leafs require: a first-pair defenseman capable of playing tough minutes.

Bouwmeester ranks third among NHL defensemen in Corsi QoC (quality of competition) at even strength, behind only Dion Phaneuf and Mike Weber.  He averages over 25 minutes of ice-time per game with over three of those minutes coming on the penalty kill. Acquiring a player of his ilk would do wonders for Phaneuf who, as mentioned, plays the toughest minutes among NHL defensemen.

Carl Gunnarsson hasn’t been as effective as he was last season with Phaneuf and it has become a glaring issue. At this point, he’s certainly a better option than Korbinian Holzer or Mike Kostka, but it’s clear the Leafs require an upgrade at the position. That’s no slight against Gunnarsson, however, as the Leafs would do well to retain him this summer as a second-pair defenseman. But if they ever hope to ever reduce their shots against, currently ranking last in the league at even-strength, acquiring a player like Bouwmeester would be a good start.

Aside from his defensive game, Bouwmeester can chip in offensively as well. This season he has six goals and 15 points in 32 games. Among defensemen who have logged at least 400 minutes of total ice-time this season, the Edmonton native ranks 17th with a points/60 rate of 1.08. Basically, he can produce anywhere from 25-30 points while still logging tough minutes. It’s also worth noting that he played easier minutes (Corsi QoC under 1.0) during his time with Panthers and put up 37 and 42 points in the 2007-08 and 2008-09 seasons, respectively.

The Leafs can absorb Bouwmeester’s cap-hit with under a million to spare, and with the two compliance buyouts they can utilize in the off-season it shouldn’t be an issue. If the club were to use those buyouts on John-Michael Liles and Mike Komisarek, for example, they’d free up $8.37 million off the cap. That’d leave the Leafs with a blue line that would like something like this:

Phaneuf-Bouwmeester

Gunnarsson-Franson

Gardiner-Fraser/Kostka

There are three defensemen there capable of playing tough minutes and most can chip in offensively too.

The asking price for Bouwmeester shouldn’t be too ridiculous considering his cap-hit and the decreasing salary cap next season. According to Sportsnet’s Roger Millions, there are currently six teams bidding for his services. For the Leafs’ sake, hopefully they are one of those teams.

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