Would Niklas Hjalmarsson be the right player for the Toronto Maple Leafs to target?

Stan Szeto-USA TODAY Sports
Stan Szeto-USA TODAY Sports
Stan Szeto-USA TODAY Sports

The Toronto Maple Leafs are having their strongest season in a long time but they could still use help on the blue-line heading into the playoffs.

The Leafs (38-20-5) sit comfortably in 3rd place in the Atlantic Division with 81 points thanks to a high powered offence featuring the likes of Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner, William Nylander and James van Riemsdyk.

But they are still conceding plenty of chance to opposing teams, being out-shot 2146 to 1996, or roughly 34 to 32 per game, this season.

This is not a great difference, but one shot can change a game and in the playoffs this could determine how far the Leafs go.

With the trade deadline fast approaching, the Maple Leafs have been linked with trades for a number of defenceman - with the goal of reducing the number of shots they face being a big driving force for this.

The latest name thrown into the hat is Arizona Coyotes' Niklas Hjalmarsson.

The Coyotes acquired the 6-foot-2, 196lbs Hjalmarsson from the Chicago Blackhawks ahead of the 2017 draft.

The move was somewhat of a shock given how little the Coyotes gave up for the 3-time Stanley Cup champion.

They sent defenceman Connor Murphy and center Laurent Dauphin to the Blackhawks, with only Murphy playing any NHL minutes this season.

Hjalmarsson meanwhile has played 34 games so for in Arizona, but has averaged 21 minutes of ice time - being a key component along the blue line when healthy.

With the Coyotes struggling once again this season, it could be reasonable that they would look to make deals ahead of the deadline with the draft firmly in mind.

But is he the right kind of player for the Leafs?

The Player

Hjalmarsson is a highly experienced player at 30 years of age, having played in 658 regular season games and a further 128 playoff games.

He has good size at 6-2 and would slot in perfectly along the Leafs blueline, with the likes of Morgan Rielly, Jake Gardiner and Nikita Zaitsev.

While he isn't going to produce much offence (5 assists so far this season) he is a very defensive-minded player and his HERO chart suggests he would be a strong first or second pairing guy.

Adding a guy like Hjalmarsson, who has seen everything hockey has to offer and won three Stanley Cups, would be a huge boost to Mike Babcock's defence.

He is set to become a UFA after the 2018/19 season, when he will be 32, but would be a good medium-term rental to give the team some real stability in front of their own net.

The Cost

First we should take a look at Hjalmarsson's contract situation.

His current contract sees him cost $4,100,000 in cap room whilst being paid $4,000,000 in real terms.

The Leafs recently offloaded Eric Fehr and Nikita Soshnikov and, along with the LTIR relief they are still receiving this season, would be able to take on a contract of that size in the short-term.

If the Leafs were able to make a deal that saw them offload a winger that is surplus to requirements, that would free up even more cap room whilst also helping the Leafs reduce the number of talented wingers waiting for their opportunity.

Given the relatively small amount that Arizona gave up for him last summer, and his appearances and output this season, the Leafs may not be required to give up too much to get a deal done.

A talented prospect and a pick may be enough to tempt Arizona into a deal, with the team sitting firmly at the foot of the NHL.

Building for the future is very much the direction Arizona will need to take, while the Leafs are moving closer to being in a 'win-now' situation, making a player such as Hjalmarsson much better suited to the Canadian team.

But is the Swedish defenceman the right player for the Toronto Maple Leafs?

Let us know your thoughts in the comments and follow James on Twitter @JamesRJReeve.