When the Toronto Maple Leafs and the Ottawa Senators made a trade on July 1st, it was seen as primarily just the swap of two bad defencemen that will see different amounts of time with their new clubs, but now it seems like one of the throw-ins within the deal might see some team up with the big club.
It was initially believed that Cody Ceci might not even find some time with the Leafs, but with his new contract in hand and the severe lack of any defencemen that hold the stick a certain way, he will most likely be on the blueline when the regular season opens.
If that was not enough, one of the other players that came to Toronto in the deal for Nikita Zaitsev, Ben Harpur, might just see some playing time in the NHL next season for a team that actually wants to win some hockey games. Some might be unfamiliar with the player and think that I’m talking about a singer-songwriter that makes songs to enjoy in the bedroom, but the actual Harpur is a 6-foot-6 left-handed defenceman that has played over 100 games in the NHL — I’m surprised too.
Through a total of 103 games, the giant from Hamilton has just a total of seven points — five of those coming from his 51-game season last year. Even though depth defencemen usually don’t see that much time on the ice, Harpur was able to average 17:37 TOI on the dogshit Ottawa Senators and still only get five points. That amount of ice-time is just 56 seconds less on average than Auston Matthews got last season, it’s honestly unbelievable.
While offense is not the name of Harpur’s game, if you can say that he has a certain game that belongs in the modern NHL, he’s even worse defensively. While he was on the ice at even-strength, the Sens had a CF% of 41.37, only four skaters that had more than 400 TOI this past season had worst on-ice shot attempt percentages.
To get a greater sense of what exactly Harpur produces while on the ice, we turn to beautiful vizzes made by people that are incredibly smart.
Provided by Micah Blake McCurdy, his isolated impact model has pumped out just an incredible amount of stress and worry for what Harpur could be on the Leafs next season. A massive dip of offensive production, below league average, while the defenceman is out there and a giant blackhole defensively that lets teams just walk to the front of his own net and get a scoring chance — this is terrifying. He’s even been labeled as an effective penalty kill specialist, but he allows more scoring chances compared to league average while shorthanded.
Not even to mention that Harpur doesn’t draw any significant amount of penalties and has minimal shooting talent, the towering blueliner doesn’t really have a place on the Leafs’ backend. While they have other minor-leaguers like Andreas Borgman, Justin Holl, and even newly-signed free agents like Kevin Gravel and Teemu Kivihalme, those would instantly be better options for depth defencemen on the NHL squad in Toronto.
Borgman, Holl and Gravel have NHL experience and weren’t complete garbage on both ends of the ice. Travis Dermott will be out for at least the first month of the regular season and that’s why these predictions putting Harpur into the lineup exist, but with more than capable defencemen to simply just be there on the bottom pair to start the season, there’s no reason to put this clear AHL-level skater on the blueline.
Harpur didn’t even make the 2018-19 Ottawa Senators opening-night lineup and that was probably the lowest bar in the entire history of modern hockey history. Getting called-up later in the middle of the season, he has never really shown the ability to be more than a minor-league player and that’s no real slight on the player.
This whole decision isn’t even involving the cap or any contract difficulties, it’s simply just being capable at the NHL level and the on-ice production. With what Babcock knows of Borgman and seeing Holl in every practice last season, he might have to calm his love of huge defencemen and put the depth players that haven’t shown to be complete ass in the NHL so far.
It’s not the perfect situation, having one of your best defensive players out to start the season, but slotting Harpur in a lineup that wants to win games and get off to a solid regular season to bounce back from a disappointing playoff performance, is just simply backwards.
Being a part of a team that wasn’t trying to win last season, it could be seen as just an unfortunate scenario for a 23-year-old defenceman, but compared to his teammates, Harpur was just simply uneffective.
Even on the piles of hot garbage Sens, Harpur couldn’t stand out as an effective defenceman.
Letting the opposing teams just walk all over him and then stop him from being even remotely solid in the offensive zone, Harpur had negative effects on both expected goals against and for his own team.
It’s just simply baffling that a team labeled as forward-thinking as the Leafs would pull out a lineup involving this player on their bottom pairing. Even in limited minutes, Harpur would be a negative impact player on the Leafs and be even more exposed — even making minimal passes to very good forwards, something that he couldn’t do in Ottawa, wouldn’t make Harpur look any better.
This goes against everything that Dubas has said publicly about what kind of team he wants, even in desperate situations and injury-riddled bluelines, Harpur should never see the NHL in Toronto.