The Toronto Maple Leafs find themselves at 12-6-4 through the initial 22 games of the season, securing the fourth spot in the Atlantic Division. Despite this respectable record, the team has been grappling with injuries and inconsistencies, particularly on their defensive end. The voids left by these issues have been temporarily filled with stopgap measures, including players like William Lagesson, Simon Benoit, and Max Lajoie.
While these short-term solutions have managed to stanch the immediate bleeding, the team is reportedly exploring options for more permanent fixes. One such consideration is the acquisition of Chris Tanev from the Calgary Flames. However, amidst these deliberations, it is crucial for the Maple Leafs to also explore the free-agent market for potential solutions, with defenseman Ethan Bear emerging as a viable candidate.
While not necessarily a top-four defenseman like Tanev, Ethan Bear presents an intriguing option for the Maple Leafs in the free-agent pool. With NHL experience and a right-handed shot, Bear has previously drawn interest from teams. Rather than hastily pursuing a trade that might involve parting with valuable assets, the Maple Leafs could benefit from a closer examination of Bear’s potential contributions.
Bear, a fifth-round pick by the Edmonton Oilers in 2015, made his debut in the 2017-18 season, playing 18 games and notching four points. Over the following seasons, he had stints with the Oilers, Carolina Hurricanes, and Vancouver Canucks, accumulating 16 goals and 63 points in 251 regular-season games. Although his playoff experience is limited to eight games with the Oilers, Bear could offer a solid temporary solution for the Maple Leafs, especially with key players like Timothy Liljegren and Mark Giordano currently sidelined.
Beyond Bear’s offensive production, which averages 0.25 points per game over his career, he brings valuable defensive intangibles to the Maple Leafs lineup. This could prove crucial during the playoffs, considering the team’s struggles in the second-round series against the Florida Panthers last season. Bear’s career average of just under 19 minutes per game, coupled with 1.24 hits per game and 0.79 blocked shots, highlights his defensive prowess. In a season where defensemen Cale Makar and Quinn Hughes dominated Calder Trophy voting, Bear quietly secured a respectable 10th place finish in the same category during the 2019-20 season.
Examining Bear’s performance at even strength over his career reveals a Corsi For Percentage (CF%) slightly above 50. While this statistic suggests a balanced contribution, it’s worth noting that the majority of Bear’s starts have been in the offensive zone, potentially skewing his possession analytics. Despite this, Bear’s well-rounded skill set, combined with his defensive capabilities, positions him as a valuable asset for the Maple Leafs, providing a more comprehensive solution to their ongoing defensive challenges.
In conclusion, while the Maple Leafs weigh the option of acquiring Chris Tanev through a trade, the free-agent market offers a compelling alternative in the form of Ethan Bear. As injuries and inconsistencies persist, a more thoughtful approach to securing defensive reinforcements could involve exploring the potential benefits that Bear brings to the table, both offensively and defensively.