Photo credit:Per Haljestam-USA TODAY Sports
Giordano should be in the mix but not a Maple Leafs lineup lock when he returns
By Jon Steitzer1 month ago
The last thing I want to do is say that the Maple Leafs blueline looks good but what I will say is that the problem doesn’t appear to be coming from the bottom of the lineup card. Over the time of the Klingberg, Liljegren, and Giordano injuries, the Leafs have had promising moments from all three of William Lagesson, Simon Benoit, and Conor Timmins, and now with Giordano set to return, perhaps there is some benefit to making him part of a bottom pairing platoon rather than an every game player.
Let’s start with the obvious on this and that is Mark Giordano is 40 years old. There are going to be legitimate speed and endurance concerns with Giordano the more he plays and last season those concerns catchup with him at playoff time. Toronto moved away from using Jason Spezza as an every night player late in his career and doing the same thing with Giordano only makes sense, especially given the need for the Leafs defence to be at their absolute best. Of the Leafs four bottom pairing defenders, Giordano far and away has been averaging the most icetime as he still pushes around 18 minutes a night and that is a step back for him. In contrast Timmins has been around 16 minutes a night and Lagesson and Benoit both sit at around 15 minutes a night.
Giordano’s defensive numbers don’t compare well to any of Benoit, Lagesson, or Timmins and a lot of that can be explained by those extra minutes of hockey every night that Giordano plays. He is less sheltered but clearly that lack of sheltering hasn’t been working. Giordano started the year as a third pairing defender but by game eight he was back up to playing over 20 minutes a night in a top four role. While it seemed that Sheldon Keefe was looking to reduce his icetime, the inflated usage of Giordano resulted in two minus-2 and one minus-3 nights in a six game stretch. It wasn’t until the game before Giordano was hurt that his icetime was back to the bottom pairing levels, coinciding with the return of Timothy Liljegren.
The case for the others…
While it is easy to make the case around icetime, rest, and over reliance on Giordano higher up in the lineup being factors for platooning him, there is also the play of Lagesson, Benoit, and Timmins that need to be considered and rather than rotating one of them in to play with Giordano every night, there might be a benefit to a full platoon of the four defenders.
Conor Timmins brings a unique offensive defenceman skill set to the bottom pairing and fits with the fast puck movement game that has benefited the Leafs in recent years. He doesn’t have the defensive acumen to handle much beyond bottom six forward matchups and as a result he requires a fair bit of sheltering and could be a favourite for home game assignments when Sheldon Keefe can better control who Timmins is out there against.
Simon Benoit is the physical stay at home defenceman that the Leafs seem to crave but he is extremely limited as a puck handler. Come playoff time there will likely be an interest in relying on Benoit to a greater extent and rather than go out and pay for a similar player at the trade deadline, the Leafs would be wise to get Benoit playing as much as possible throughout the year knowing that he might get called upon in April.
William Lagesson is certainly the most well rounded of the three depth defenders and until the Leafs make a trade the best all round choice to keep in the lineup and potentially partner with Giordano if the intention is to play Giordano every night. Giordano and Lagesson’s skill sets mirror each other in that they can be physical, decent defensively, but still move the puck a little and you are very comfortable with them in a bottom pairing role but get nervous they move up the lineup. Seeing the two of them side by side could be interesting.
Given that the Leafs have four defencemen capable of bottom six roles it probably makes sense to pair them up and give them a chance to thrive as duos. By the numbers Giordano and Timmins are the more offensively success players and if the intention was to have them inject offence into the lineup together, especially at home, that would make sense. That would leave the Leafs with a Lagesson and Benoit pairing, which has been fine in the short term, but the feeling is likely that both Giordano and Timmins offer more potential roster upside.
To further complicate things, all three of Timmins, Lagesson, and Benoit would require waivers as Benoit and Lagesson have exceeded their 30 days/ 10 games on an NHL roster before needing to go on waivers again and Timmins hasn’t been on waivers yet this season. There is nothing pressing the Leafs to demote one of them but icetime becomes limited if they begin a three player platoon alongside Giordano and a constant shift of third pairing defensive partners likely doesn’t benefit any the players or the Leafs.
What is also likely is that the Leafs will more frequently utilize an 11 forward/7 defenceman lineup. This hasn’t particularly served them well in the past but could see Giordano with Benoit and Timmins both being deployed in their appropriate zones and accompanying special teams responsibilities.
The return of Giordano gives the Leafs more options and getting him some rest should be part of the equation. With some high event hockey in the recent history of the Leafs having another blueliner to work with and compete for a spot in the lineup card should hopefully make the group at least a little better.
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