One Leafs defenseman could experience a career resurgence in 2023-24
BY DEAN CHAUDHRY JULY 22, 2023 (5:17 PM)
Not exactly what the Toronto Maple Leafs needed on the first day of free agency, as some viewed the pickup as risky and a waste of $4.15M, but he does improve the back end from an offensive perspective - the sole caveat being that he has to return to his pre-2019-2020 form.
The soon-to-be 31-year-old Swede has always been a prolific offensive-minded defenseman as he registered 42 goals and 214 points in his first 302 games, which spanned his first 4 seasons. At the time, it was the 2nd most points scored by a defenseman in their first 300 games, behind only Erik Karlsson's 224.
Analytically he was also doing very well as he accrued a GAR of 51.2 (5th best among defensemen) and xGAR of 56.1 (7th best).
He finished behind only Victor Hedman, Colton Parayko, Jared Spurgeon, and Mark Giordano in GAR and Spurgeon, Giordano, Brent Burns, Dougie Hamilton, Kris Letang, and Shea Weber in xGAR. Since 2019-20, Klingberg has dropped off considerably with a GAR of 2.1 and an xGAR of 6.2.
In his final 3 years with Dallas - from 2019-20 to 2021-22 - he still put up respectable point totals of 115 in 189 games but was a -53 with 208 giveaways. He priced himself out of Dallas, who offered him a lucrative deal that he turned down to test the free agent waters. He had to settle with Anaheim in free agency on a 1-year deal worth $7M and was then dealt to Minnesota ahead of the trade deadline this past season.
It was no secret that he struggled mightily last season but he was also playing on an Anaheim Ducks team that eventually finished in last place this past season. He didn't improve all that much in Minnesota but he was thrust onto a playoff contender with very little time to adjust.
With an entire summer to get accustomed to Toronto and perhaps even getting a jump start to become acclimated to the system, Klingberg has a very good chance at turning back the clock and being the prolific defenseman he was pre-2019, when he had two top-6 Norris Trophy vote seasons.
The Maple Leafs have a few defensive-minded options to pair him up with including Jake McCabe, Mark Giordano and perhaps even T.J. Brodie - all of whom will be able to mask Klingberg's defensive deficiencies if need be. He will be used primarily on the power play and can be looked upon as the team's top-unit quarterback if they see a fit in changing their units from last year. And hey - if things don't work out by the middle of the season, the Leafs could always look to unload his contract and bring in someone else at the position.
With a much better team around him, Klingberg has a very good chance to return to form and become a dangerous offensive weapon for the Leafs from the blueline.