Rumours are still circulating that the Leafs aren’t done remolding their team. More specifically, it’s the defense that’s lacking in elements that new GM, Brad Treliving prefers, which is a bigger, sturdier, nastier group to play against.
This would be in stark contrast to what was built under the previous GM, Karl Dumba, or something like that, who preferred a shorter, weaker and more timid group of defenders.
One would think that I’m exaggerating, but for years we’ve seen a single token defensive defender amongst the group that was expected to do all of the heavy physical lifting and it simply didn’t work. From Zach Bogosian, to Ilya Lyubushkin, to Luke Schenn, the defense always had that one guy, but it quickly stopped short of players that are willing to clear the front of the net after that.
At the moment, the team boasts a blueline that includes:
Morgan Rielly: 6’1″ 222lbs
T.J. Brodie: 6’2″ 187lbs
Jake McCabe: 6’1″ 205lbs
John Klingberg: 6’3″ 190lbs
Mark Giordano: 6’0″ 205lbs
Timothy Liljegren: 6’1″ 192lbs
Connor Timmins: 6’2″ 202lbs
All of those stats are taken from the Maple Leafs home page and have spurred the debate over the years that the Leafs defenders aren’t small. In fact, we’ve been told that they average out to be a bigger group than most. While that argument was thin at the time, even when you could add in the likes of 6’3″ 225lb Jake Muzzin and/or the 6’4″ tower that is Justin Holl, its simply not true at all at this point in time. The Leafs have a single defender over 205lbs and that’s Morgan Rielly, who plays like a guy that’s 195lbs. In fact, the only guy on the list that doesn’t play like a smaller version of himself is Jake McCabe. Credit where credit is due, people are often shocked to find out that McCabe isn’t 6’3″ 225lbs because of the physical game he brings to the ice. We see you Jake. Keep up the hard work.
Without a doubt, this group is in need of some bite and that’s made even more obvious when you learn that, aside from Jake McCabe’s 163 hits last year, it’s Timothy Liljegren(!!) that laid the body the most last season, with a total of 107 meaningless hits. I can’t remember a single one.
It’s a tough pill to swallow, knowing that your team has the weakest blueline in the NHL, but we are told that things are set to change. At the moment, all eyes are on Nikita Zadorov….
Yeah, that Nikita Zadorov.
Also, @LeafsSeason is on top of things these days. Thanks for the tweets skipper.
While Zadorov would be a welcome addition to the club, adding him and nobody else would continue the trend of yesteryear, that saw the team with one big defender and not much else. I would argue that they could use Zadorov and at least one more big bodied defender, to even out the fluffiness of Rielly and whoever else survives the purge that has to occur in order to truly change the makeup of this team.
Which brings us to something that I’ve been saying for weeks now, that T.J. Brodie and Timothy Liljegren may want to have a go-bag packed this summer, just in case.
I don’t have anything against either player. In fact, if they do trade Liljegren, I could see it making the Leafs look stupid in 3-4 years time. He has improved steadily over the years and, while he isn’t a young pup at 24 years old, he isn’t at an age where you can just shrug and say that he is through with developing his defensive game either. What would be ideal is if the Leafs could find a similarly aged defender that fits what the Leafs are looking for and, for some reason, that players team is willing to make a swap. Great in theory. Doesn’t make sense in practice, as the ideal scenario rarely does. Also, because I did look for examples, there really isn’t anything out there that makes me go “thats the guy!!” that doesn’t seem ridiculous from the point of view of the other team. The few players out there that are playing in the NHL, are of a similar age and play the type of game the Leafs would look for are clearly not available, such as Brandon Carlo of the Boston Bruins…. so there’s that.
It’s possible that because you won’t get good value for Liljegren due to his dwindling, but still existant potential and the fact that his play is solid but not spectacular (as in he isn’t a top PP or PK contributor and doesn’t log massive 5v5 minutes), that he could receive a stay of execution. That is, unless the team disagrees with me and believes that Timothy has already reached his full potential. Obviously they know better than I do, so maybe my concern lies with the fact that we are a fanbase that has suffered from giving up on young players to early in the past and that has come back to bite us in the ass.
T.J. Brodie, on the other hand, would come with his own set of problems if you chose to move on from the veteran defender. For starters, he’s the teams best blueliner at actually defending. He has been logging a ton of minutes and can be played against top competition. If, for example, they wanted to trade him in a deal for Zadorov, they wouldn’t be bringing back a defender that is capable of playing those minutes as effectively. With all due respect to Zadorov, he just can’t shut down the offense like Brodie can. On the flip side, if they did move Brodie and took Zadorov back, it would open up some cap space, which is something the team is currently short on and the team would certainly become far more physical. It’s an interesting predicament to be in for sure and all of it can be solved if they’d just decide to move on from William Nylander.
This will be the summer of Nylander for sure. He’s going to get all of the press coverage and attention as his contract negotiations drag on. Meanwhile, the longer they go without having Nylander signed, the more trade speculation will increase.
It’s quite possible that the issue with the blueline will have to be solved through multiple alleyways. First, moving Nylander for a defender with size that can play Brodie’s minutes, and possibly adding Liljegren to any deal for a middle 6 winger to replace some of Nylander’s offense, coupled with moving Brodie in a deal for Zadorov to open up capspace and continue to make the Leafs a bigger team, would be essentially cure every problem they’re facing. At that point they could also look towards adding another depth defender, such as Cal Foote or Simon Benoit to the mix, which would give them to ability to plug in Connor Timmins if more offense is needed during the season, or Foot/Benoit if they’re looking for more size in the group.
All of this is far more easily said than done, so I’ll say it bluntly. The point of all of this is to show that the situation is a little more complicated than “we need size, lets get Zadorov” because of the cap situation and the players that would have to move in order to add him and/or open the capspace at the same time.
If Treliving isn’t done shaping the defense, he has his work cut out for him.