Are stretch passes enough of a reason to keep Conor Timmins on the Maple Leafs?

Photo credit:John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports
Jon Steitzer
12 days ago
Conor Timmins spent 2023-24 lost in the Leafs’ defensive depth. His value as an offensive defenceman has become evident but whether or not his ability in that role can justify his defensive shortcomings remains to be seen. With the potential for a fresh start under Craig Berube, it is worth looking back at what the Leafs have seen from Conor Timmins so far and determining what is needed for him to be a Maple Leafs uniform next fall instead of being waived.
Conor Timmins’ 2023-24 season was limited to just 25 games, matching the total he played for the Leafs in the 2022-23 season. The difference this year is that he was supposed to be available right from the start. Timmins was injured and week-to-week to start the season, it wasn’t until November 24th that Timmins saw icetime. The 13-game run from late November, following the Klingberg injury, up until Christmas was Timmins’ most consistent usage all year. In December, Timmins was up to 17 minutes a night, usage he didn’t see the rest of the year until the Leafs began playing inconsequential games in the season’s final stretch. A bout of mononucleosis caused Timmins to miss nearly two months of the season from late January to late March. Missing a significant amount of time is a consistent and unfortunate element in Timmins’ career.
By the numbers, Timmins has the stats that lead you to believe that every third pairing, sheltered offensive defenceman is an unheralded superstar. His expected goals for differential is 60%, his goals for differential is 62%, and only Morgan Rielly had a higher 5v5 points per sixty minutes on the blueline than Timmins’ 1.2 P/60. The reality is that these numbers come from Timmins matching up against bottom-of-the-roster competition almost exclusively with very few defensive starts. In the same way that no one should have been expecting much of T.J. Brennan and third-pairing usage led people to buy in too heavily on players like Travis Dermott and Justin Holl, Conor Timmins is what he is, a good third-pairing offensive option.
When it comes to doing the things you want 6’2 defencemen to do, Timmins did hit more and block more shots than he has ever done before in his career. While he wasn’t prolific in either of these measures, he had career-high numbers and showed a willingness to expand his game to stay in the lineup. If Timmins builds on this without risking further health issues there is a reason for optimism about Timmins as an affordable third pairing option.
The eyes tell a different story on Timmins and one less favourable. Timmins genuinely looked lost in his zone a lot of the time. That can come from not having a regular partner and the Leafs’ forward group not being as capable of supporting the defence as the previous season. And when it came to Timmins’ offence, the main asset seems to be the stretch pass that memorably benefited the Leafs at times this year. Timmins, like the other Leafs offensive blueliners, doesn’t have an impactful point shot, but unlike Rielly, Timmins doesn’t have the skating to become a top four offensive defenceman in the NHL.
The chart above shouldn’t provide optimism for Timmins being any more than he was last season. If anything, it shows that Keefe knew the limitations on Timmins and deployed him correctly. There wasn’t any interest in seeing what he could do further up in the lineup, the Leafs took what they could get from Timmins and were happy with that. The one area they did experiment was with Timmins on the powerplay and while most of the Timmins on the powerplay experiment came at a time when the Leafs powerplay was already struggling, Timmins didn’t bring a groundbreaking new skillset to the table that warrants considering him an option for next season either. Timmins is at best a depth option for the Leafs to consider if injuries call for him to step in.
Conor Timmins will enter 2024-25 on the last year of a $1.1M AAV deal. His salary can come completely off the books if he is sent to the Marlies and given that there isn’t going to be either much trade interest in Timmins or value in a return for him the Leafs are best to keep him and see if there is something that Craig Berube can get out of Conor. The Blues and Berube’s track record with offensive defencemen doesn’t inspire a lot of confidence, but no one should be asking Timmins to play a role similar to Krug, Faulk, or Dunn. In fact, planning on Timmins in the Leafs top six is an absolute stretch. The most likely plan for Timmins is that he is eighth defenceman on the depth chart, being called upon when there is a specific need for offence.
Timmins will likely benefit from the consistency of having Van Ryn as his defensive coach and the fact that Craig Berube has worked with Van Ryn before offers some optimism that they might be more in tune with each other than Van Ryn and Keefe were.
The biggest area of improvement for Timmins will continue to be the uphill battle towards improved health and if there are strength and conditioning plans that he can take advantage of this summer to help in that regard that should take precedence over any on ice work that needs to be done but it really doesn’t change the fact that Timmins isn’t someone the Leafs will plan on being part of their 2024-25 lineup, he’ll have to work his way back into contention for a roster spot in September.
Data sourced from Natural Stat Trick, Evolving Hockey, and NHL Edge.

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