It’s a bit of a running joke in our twitter mentions at this point. Every aged, underperforming free agent that comes available there seems to be a TLN article asking if the Leafs should be in on them. I get it, you’ve seen that story before. It’s also less than a week to free agency and we’ve had a month of nothing to do but think about how the Leafs need to improve. The reality is that even as a very talented team, the Leafs have proved time and time again that talent isn’t going to carry them as far as we want them to go. Roster changes are needed.
The truth behind roster changes being needed brings us to the truth that leads to us exploring the lesser players that are available. The Leafs aren’t exactly sitting on a ton of cap space at the moment. In fact their cap space disappears very quickly once you potentially sign Travis Dermott and Ilya Mikheyev. It’s at best around $5M the Leafs have to work with unless they are making some other changes we don’t know about. That’s why we shop the bargain bin. That’s why we talk about downgrading to Lundqvist in net, amongst other reasons. That’s why we consider if Wayne Simmonds can be a fit. And that’s why today I’m writing about Brandon Montour, a defenseman who didn’t exactly thrive in Buffalo.
It’s been two years of steady decline from Brandon Montour, who hasn’t had the luxury of the strong defensive partnerships in Anaheim, nor the strong goaltending, and more of defensively centric system, although RAPM accounts for a lot of that transition. What we’re seeing is Montour personally struggling to go along with his team’s struggles.
With PuckPedia putting Brandon Montour at a $3.375M contract that needs to be qualified, and considering the fact that Montour is arbitration eligible, there is no chance that the Sabres will qualify him and we can expect Montour to hit unrestricted free agency on October 9th.
While it’s great that he’s going to be available for just a contract and nothing more, that doesn’t necessarily mean that the Leafs should pursue him. Toronto may have had past interest in him, but the question remains if that was a dodged bullet or do the Leafs have the potential to turn Montour around? And in asking that, can you name a struggling defenseman who came to Toronto and found their game?
Montour isn’t huge. He is more physical than most of the Leafs defensemen, and he’s more inclined to block shots than a lot of them too. He isn’t offensively atrocious either. And at 26 he potentially has a lot of hockey left. He’s good for around 20 minutes of ice time a game, although with how he’s been playing perhaps the Leafs would want to ease him in on substantially less time than that in a bottom pairing role.
At times it feels like I’m trying to sell you on a slightly more offensive, slightly less physical version of Cody Ceci, and that’s a problem. The upside in that, is I’m not talking about paying Montour $4.25M, I’m saying something in the ballpark of $2M (bonus driven, of course) to see what Montour can do.
Montour provides a right side safety net and a swing for the fences opportunity. Bringing him in as third pairing guy with the potential to be more is the most realistic option for considering him a fit and while I’m not counting on Montour being a Leaf, I wouldn’t be surprised if his agent at least receives a brief call from Kyle Dubas on Friday.