Right as the entire nation of Canada was sitting down to watch their country play its first World Cup game in 36 years, the Toronto Maple Leafs decided to swing a trade. Convenient timing.
After losing T.J. Brodie and Morgan Rielly to injury in a matter of two weeks, the Maple Leafs swung a deal to add some depth to their back end, acquiring defenseman Conor Timmins from the Arizona Coyotes in exchange for minor-league forward Curtis Douglas.
A second-round pick (32nd overall) of the Colorado Avalanche in 2017, Timmins’ only real cup of tea in the NHL came in 2020-21 when he played in 37 games for the Avs, tallying seven assists. The 6-foot-2, 202-pound right-handed defenseman was traded to the Coyotes ahead of the 2021-22 season in a package for goaltender Darcy Kuemper. He had been with the Coyotes since that trade, but a season-ending knee injury in November 2021 limited his time in the NHL to only eight games between last season and this season.
His health is going to be a concern in Toronto, which I’ll get to a little later on in the piece, but for now, let’s take a look at Timmins’ path to the Maple Leafs, what he could provide to the team, and why they traded for him.
Timmins’ Path to NHL Riddled with Injuries, but Strong Potential
A native of St. Catharines, Ontario, Timmins was a fourth-round pick of the Sault St. Marie Greyhounds (a team that general manager Kyle Dubas notoriously has connections to) in the Ontario Hockey League’s (OHL) 2014 Priority Selection. He made his debut in 2015-16 and was widely seen as a projected first-round pick after an impressive sophomore season where he recorded 61 points in 67 games. The Maple Leafs actually interviewed Timmins ahead of the draft, and it wouldn’t be far out to suggest they would have drafted him had Timothy Liljegren not dropped into their lap at 17th overall.
Nevertheless, Timmins slipped out of the first round for the Avalanche to select at 32nd overall. He went on to play out his final junior season with the Greyhounds, tallying 41 points in 36 games while mostly being paired with current Maple Leafs defenseman Rasmus Sandin. Unfortunately, a concussion in what was ultimately his final OHL game kept him out of the entire 2018-19 season due to lingering symptoms. He was cleared to return in 2019-20, and spent the majority of the season with the American Hockey League (AHL)’s Colorado Eagles, where he had solid offensive numbers to the tune of 27 points in 40 games.
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As I mentioned earlier, the 2020-21 season was the least injury-riddled and the most productive for Timmins. He played in 37 games for the Avalanche, and on top of his seven assists, had a Corsi-for rating of 55.2% as a 22-year-old. After being moved to the Coyotes in the package for Kuemper, Timmins played six games before a knee injury ended his season. He suffered a minor injury with the Coyotes in October of this season, but was assigned to the AHL on a conditioning stint on Nov. 8 and appears ready to return to action. He can’t be assigned to the Toronto Marlies without passing through waivers, so I’d expect to see him remain with the team even when players start getting healthy.
What Timmins Brings to the Maple Leafs
It’s no secret that the primary reason the Maple Leafs swung this deal was to bring in some extra depth after losing three of their top four defensemen. However, I see this as a trade that could benefit them long-term more than one that will single-handedly save their broken defensive corps. The number one hurdle that the former Greyhound has needed to jump time and time again is the injury bug, and it has undeniably slowed down his development as an NHLer.
The Maple Leafs have been known to dabble in “low-risk, high-reward” moves in the past. Sometimes, they work, such as the signing of Michael Bunting, other times – think Alex Galchenyuk – not so much. The fact of the matter is, Timmins possesses two traits that every coach would take on their team, a right shot from the back end and solid size. When you look beyond that, he’s generally been very good analytically throughout his pro career, and he can produce elite offensive results when healthy. And, with Rielly out of the lineup for a minimum of 10 games, he’s got an opportunity to step in and play to his strengths in a way that could help out the team.
Your knee-jerk reaction might be to say that the Maple Leafs need a defensive-minded defenseman more than somebody more offensive-minded, but the team has actually been solid defensively in 2022-23 aside from the odd mental lapse. They’re tied for seventh in the league in goals against per game with 2.70, and they’re fifth in shots against with 28.2.
When you look at the offense generated from the back end, however, there’s a huge drop-off after Rielly’s 16 points in 20 games. Sandin is the second-highest-scoring defenseman on the team with six points in the same amount of games. Say what you want about his defensive abilities, but the Maple Leafs need more offense than that from their back end, and if Timmins can stay healthy, he could help with that.
The issue is, that’s a massive if. Timmins has essentially missed two of his last four seasons due to separate injuries, so it seems like a lot to ask the injury bug to leave him alone. But, if he can keep his time on the injured reserve to a minimum, it will do wonders in helping his development.
Timmins Comes at a Low Price, Could Make Debut This Weekend
The lack of a 2021-22 season seemingly tanked Timmins’ trade value, so it was smart for the Maple Leafs to pounce on a deal at this stage. He was the primary piece of that package for the goalie that ended up helping the Avalanche win a Stanley Cup only a year ago, so to acquire him for somebody who may only cap out as a fourth-line forward at the NHL level is some good work on the value front.
It’s unfortunate to see Douglas go. Given his size at 6-foot-9 and his ability to play centre, he was a bit of a unicorn prospect for the Maple Leafs. But at the same time, his offense has almost totally dropped off this season with only one assist in 13 AHL games thus far, and his skating leaves a lot to be desired, at least for him to be able to maintain an NHL job. I know fans will have flashes of the Mason Marchment trade given Douglas’ size and ability to drop the gloves now and then, but the two situations aren’t remotely similar.
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Head coach Sheldon Keefe hasn’t commented on the trade yet, so it’s impossible to know when fans will get their first look at him in the lineup. But, given that they have a back-to-back this weekend, first against the Minnesota Wild on Friday, and then against the Pittsburgh Penguins (again) on Saturday, I’d imagine he’ll make his debut in one of those games. The team is using Mac Hollowell in the lineup right now, who would normally be their tenth defenseman at full health, so it’s not like there’s a long list to leapfrog. Either way, it will be interesting to see what kind of role he’s used in, and how he handles the opportunity.
Alex Hobson is a writer and a radio producer for 610 CKTB. He has been writing about sports since 2015 and has been with The Hockey Writers since October of 2020. He covers the Toronto Maple Leafs, World Juniors, and the NHL Entry Draft, and is also part of the Sticks in the 6ix Podcast, presented by THW. He also makes weekly appearances on THW’s Maple Leafs Lounge Roundtable. For interview requests or any other inquiries, you can follow Alex’s social media pages listed at the bottom of his articles like this one.