Exploring what the Maple Leafs defence core should look like next season

Photo credit:Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports
Nick Barden
1 year ago
What the Maple Leafs defence should look like is always up for debate — every year.
Last season, it seemed like there were arguments almost daily about who should and shouldn’t be in Toronto’s lineup on the back-end. The players discussed then were Justin Holl, Travis Dermott, Timothy Liljegren, and Rasmus Sandin.
As the year went on, it became quite clear who the Maple Leafs’ best defenceman of that group was and his name is Sandin. Unfortunately, he was injured prior to the playoffs and didn’t get to play, but it’s evident that the 22-year-old is an every day player.
Liljegren was also another name that improved a great amount as the season went on. He might’ve been one of the Maple Leafs’ most-improved players of the last year.
Toronto, like it always seems though, has a logjam on their hands at defence. There’s only three spots on the right side with what seems like could be four defencemen in line for it.
It could work out to three if the Maple Leafs could find a way to move Jake Muzzin in the second last year of his contract. However I don’t see that happening.
With a no-trade clause until next season, it seems like an unrealistic possibility that the 33-year-old gets moved. Although his cap hit is $5.625 million for the next two seasons, Muzzin is incredibly beloved in Toronto’s dressing room. He also has a cup and has been through multiple series losses with the Maple Leafs. (He deserves to stay in reality.)
Even if it was a better decision to move on from him, the 33-year-old still provides a lot of value.
So let’s just say he stays — Toronto has Morgan Rielly, Muzzin, and Mark Giordano as their solidified left side. With that half looking the way it is, it seems like Sandin might begin the season on the right side, which is intriguing.
The 22-year-old has spent a bit of his career on the right, but is it enough where Toronto is comfortable keeping him there? Well, really, they have no choice.
They’re not moving Muzzin unless a miracle happens and even in that stature, I don’t believe it’s a smart move to do. Money-wise it makes sense, but I question the player importance aspect of it. With that being said, it looks like, at the moment, Sandin is destined for the right side.
Morgan RiellyTJ Brodie
Jake MuzzinRasmus Sandin
Mark GiordanoTimothy Liljegren
Missing from the equation is Holl and that’s because he likely could be on his way out the door. Last week, DailyFaceoff’s Frank Seravalli came out with a list of 25 potential trade targets this summer and the 30-year-old was on it.
Although Holl was placed 22nd out of 25 players, his AAV of $2 million for one more season could be attractive to a couple of teams. Insert that with the fact that he’s still a top-four defenceman on some teams and Holl could be out before you know it.
This isn’t the perfect defence core that the Maple Leafs could have, but at some points you have to do with what you have. I’d love for Sandin to play on the left, yet that likely doesn’t happen for another year or so.
And even if he plays on the right, he’s still getting a fair opportunity in the top four, so it’s the perfect recipe for right now.
Put all of this together with the fact that they still need a depth defenceman and you have a good-looking picture. Plus, it’s finally happened — Liljegren and Sandin as regulars.
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