Maple Leafs make the right decision sitting TJ Brodie for Game 1

Photo credit:Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
Shane Seney
6 days ago
Toronto Maple Leafs head coach Sheldon Keefe has selected his six defensemen for Game 1 against the Boston Bruins and TJ Brodie appears to be the odd man out. It’s a smart move by the Leafs’ bench boss.
The decision likely came down to one of Brodie or Simon Benoit being left out of the lineup. Keefe, based on the practice lines, has chosen to play Benoit with Jake McCabe, leaving Brodie in the press box for Game 1.
2023-24 has been an emotional season for Brodie from start to finish. He wasn’t ever able to find his groove, even though he scored his first goal in over 100 games on April 17. When he’s at his best, he’s one of the best defensive defensemen in the game, using his smarts, positioning, quick stick, and vision to throw off opponents and be effective. It simply never added up this season.
Brodie’s teammates love him, his coach protects him and his general manager has known him for over a decade, signing him to $23-million contract back in 2014. You won’t find a nicer guy off the ice, but unfortunately for the Chatham, ON native, he’s too nice on the ice, which is one of the reasons Benoit is in and he’s out. Brodie’s not physical and he only threw 41 hits on the season. He’s among the best shot-blockers on the team but Benoit can also get the job done when it comes to helping keep the puck out of the net, killing penalties and he can also throw his weight around with the best of them, landing a team-leading 246 hits.
Toronto will need a very physical Benoit in the lineup and in the faces of its opponents. Benoit-McCabe have played the most together out of any of Toronto’s defense pairs since the deadline. Time and space will be at a premium and it’s important to make quick decisions, knowing exactly where your outlets are supposed to be.

Brodie Was Reset Earlier This Season

Like Ilya Samsonov, Brodie was also ‘reset’ by the organization on March 20, becoming a healthy scratch for the first time as a Leaf. The team went on to defeat the Washington Capitals 7-3.
While the move seemed to help Brodie’s game for a short while, the last three weeks of the season were very tough to watch and it was becoming obvious that Keefe had better options. Keefe knows he’s going to need more than just the Game 1 lineup to go deep in the playoffs and he’s not in the business of hurting feelings, as you can tell by this quote ahead of the opening game against the Bruins:
“I haven’t made any lineup decisions that we’ll talk about here. But we’ve got lots of good options on defense,” Keefe said via Sports Illustrated’s David Alter.
It’s the playoffs, the mind games are endless, but this is also a head coach trying to protect a veteran who won’t be suiting up. It’s a clever move from Keefe to try and pump Brodie’s tires and even smarter for not dressing him in Game 1.
Benoit, on the other hand, has been stellar from start to finish this season, coming in as a depth option and working his ass off to be a regular among the top-four. Treliving rewarded him with a three-year contract extension and he’s brought a physical element to the Leafs blue line which they so desperately needed. There’s nothing flashy in Benoit’s game, besides the odd rush where he drags you to the edge of your seat as the unfamiliarity bleeds curiosity, but it’s not the offensive side of the puck where Toronto will need him to be effective. Close the gaps, lay the body, clear the front of the net, and take care of the puck in the defensive zone.
If things don’t go as planned in Game 1 and Keefe makes any adjustments to the lineup, it’s likely Brodie sees the ice in Game 2. Will it come at Benoit’s expense? It’s not a given, as dressing seven defensemen is always an option and one Keefe has shown some love for in the past.

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