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Photo Credit: USA TODAY Sports Images

Highs and Lows for 2019: The Defense

Last summer, I did a series that went over all of the Leafs who were likely to play in the NHL that season and explored the floors and ceilings of their upcoming season. And, in the content starved month of August, I’ve decided to bring it back again.

Much like last time, I’ll be looking at the best and worst-case scenarios for all of the Leafs, and in the best-case scenarios, assuming that they won’t be traded and they will be healthy. Obviously, that won’t happen, but it’s easier to assume in this case.

One thing I will be adding is that I will also look at last year’s evaluations and see if they were closer to their floor or ceiling, to give a better idea as to what to expect.

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Today we will be looking at the heavily revamped blueline that the Leafs will be putting out this year.

Morgan Rielly

What happened last year? Last year, Rielly had a career year with 20 goals and 72 points last year, and even got some Norris consideration for his play. My ceiling had him at another 50 point season while improving defensively, and he beat that total while not really improving defensively. He did better than I thought, but not the part of his game that I thought it would be.

Ceiling: I mean, at 25 now, what happened last year was his ceiling. He proved that on a really good team, he could keep up with the play, and did so by playing at a point per game pace for most of the season.

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At this point, the only way his ceiling could get higher is if he gets better defensively, but at 25, that’s highly unlikely, and he’s kind of established himself as an offensive defenseman who can hold his own in top minutes.

But, he put up 72 points last year, who’s to say he can’t this year?

Floor: Actually, regression would like a word. While his elevated point totals aren’t all luck (he actually had fewer power play points than last year despite a 20 point increase in total points), one big thing is his shooting percentage.

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Rielly saw a 9% shooting percentage last year, much higher than his 5.2% career average. While the two year prior he shot under his career average, he’s not going to pot 20 goals next year. What we’re likely to see is him shoot closer to his career average, which when he does that, usually results in about 10 goals.

Overall, I don’t think he’ll have as many assists either, so it’s likely he drops back down to his usual 40-50 point pace he has throughout his career.

Nov 7, 2018; Denver, CO, USA; Colorado Avalanche defenseman Tyson Barrie (4) controls the puck in the third period against the Nashville Predators at the Pepsi Center. Mandatory Credit: Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

Tyson Barrie

What happened last year? N/A

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Ceiling: Definitely the biggest addition to the blueline is Tyson Barrie, who is kind of like Morgan Rielly, but he shoots right. Like Rielly, he had a career year last year with 59 points on an Avalanche team that saw some of their young stars break out. All that tells me is that if you put him on a team with offense, he can put up points.

Depending on the role he plays with the team, it wouldn’t be too outlandish to say that he could have a year similar to last year. At 28, he’s in his prime, so I wouldn’t expect any massive steps up at this point, but performing as he has before isn’t bad either.

So yeah, I’m not going to be too creative with this one. Maybe he actually cracks the 60 point mark, but something in the 50s is very much the ceiling for Barrie.

Floor: Of course, there’s a chance he could struggle as well. Whether it’s because of the change of scenery, or maybe if he’s in a reduced role, we might see him do a little bit worse.

Of course, there’s also concern about his defensive game, but it’s kind of like Rielly. As long as they aren’t the same pair a lot, it shouldn’t be concerning.

I’m going to be somewhat reasonable with my floor as well, and say that it’s possible that Barrie struggles out of the gate, and only gets about 40 points, but then is in much better form once playoffs roll around.

Jake Muzzin

What happened last year? N/A

Ceiling: The Leafs big addition last year was a huge improvement for the blueline, and created a shutdown pair that not only played pretty well for the Leafs against the Bruins, but also managed to make Nikita Zaitsev a tradeable asset.

It might not have seemed like it, but Muzzin also had 16 points in the 30 regular season games, and when not playing on really bad Kings teams, has been a 40 point defenseman, while also being an excellent shutdown defenseman.

So, at age 30, I wouldn’t say he’s old enough for age to factor, it’s pretty reasonable to expect a 40 point season from Muzzin while being the go to shutdown defenseman for the Leafs. A lot better than Ron Hainsey, eh?

Floor: This is a hard one because Muzzin is pretty consistent, so maybe he has one of his off years and only has 30 points, or age does play a factor and he gets a bit worse, but honestly, that’s not too much worse than his ceiling.

Travis Dermott

What happened last year? After a solid rookie season, Dermott definitely struggled a bit more in his sophomore season, but not to extent that it would be concerning for his development. He was closer to my floor for him last year, but that was pretty easy to call if he was still on the bottom pair, which he was come playoff time.

Ceiling: Depending on what happens with Cody Ceci, Dermott’s flexibility to play on the right side could open up an opportunity for him to play in the top four on whatever pair Barrie isn’t on.

But, knowing Babcock, he’s not going to hand it to him, so Dermott would have to really break out to prove it, and an injury to start the season isn’t going to help Dermott make his case.

It’s not impossible though, so I’m going to set his ceiling at cracking the top four, and maybe hitting 30 points, but the injury might not help that part.

Floor: Dermott probably has the biggest gap between ceiling and floor, where his floor could very much be that the ends up stuck on the bottom pair again, and just ends up being a very useful third pair defenseman, which isn’t a bad thing either depth wise.

But he has the potential to be better, so it’d be nice to not see him on the bottom pair again. But, considering the depth chart, that might not be his choice.

So, I’ll set Dermott’s floor as what last year was, still on the bottom pair, and maybe hitting 20 points.

 

Feb 2, 2019; Ottawa, Ontario, CAN; Ottawa Senators defenseman Cody Ceci (5) skates with the puck in the first period against the Detroit Red Wings at the Canadian Tire Centre. Mandatory Credit: Marc DesRosiers-USA TODAY Sports

Cody Ceci

What happened last year? N/A

Ceiling: Yeah, he’s someone we have on the team now.

Well, considering that he has a history of being one of the worst defensemen in the league, I’ll set his ceiling as him being a defenseman that is actually useful. Don’t hold your breath though.

Why didn’t we let him walk again?

Floor: Maybe he becomes so bad he’s unplayable. Can that please happen?

Actually don’t, Babcock will play him.

Please sign Jake Gardiner.


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