Maple Leafs need to take Timothy Liljegren out of the lineup

Photo credit:© Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports
Shane Seney
1 month ago
Bad penalties, bad reads, and a lack of confidence – things are tough right now for Timothy Liljegren.
The Toronto Maple Leafs have added some depth to their blue line before the trade deadline and in their first action post-deadline there was a bit of a shocking lineup announcement. Simon Benoit was a healthy scratch and Liljegren was dressed. That shouldn’t have been the case at all.
Liljegren has been struggling for essentially the entire season. Entering the year, expectations and hopes were high on where Liljegren would take his game and it’s been a disappointing ride of inconsistency ever since. An ankle injury thanks to Brad Marchand in November certainly hasn’t helped, but of late, Liljegren’s been given every opportunity to showcase his skills, and unfortunately, for everyone one involved, he hasn’t.
The former first-round pick plays in all situations, he gets ice-time on the second power-play unit, he sees the ice with the second penalty-kill unit, so yes, the coaching staff obviously sees something, but it’s also worth pointing out Liljegren’s been called out publicly for his inconsistent play numerous times this season, with the latest after Saturday’s game against the Montreal Canadiens when Sheldon Keefe admitted taking Benoit was a very tough decision:
Benoit’s been great this season, smashing expectations after signing for the league minimum once the Anaheim Ducks gave up on him. Benoit’s game doesn’t include the offensive touch of Liljegren’s, however he’s much more physical, defensively sound, and takes less risks throughout the game. Hockey Night in Canada, in Montreal, is a game Benoit deserved to play. Instead, Keefe gave Liljegren some leash and obviously it was a tough decision considering he’s calling out Liljegren’s development in the post-game scrum.

Liljegren Put on Notice With New Additions

Internal competition, you can never have enough. Adding Lyubushkin and Edmundson will help the Maple Leafs blue line. Both bring an edge, they provide something ‘different’ than the others and once they get settled into roles, the Leafs’ penalty kill should improve tremendously. Edmundson looked great playing in front of his former faithful in Montreal and if he stays healthy, shouldn’t be coming out of the lineup anytime soon.
Lyubushkin is the ‘other’ right-handed shot the Leafs needs lots out of. He’s returned to Toronto to jump onto the ‘top-pair’ with Morgan Rielly, and if he can keep his game simple every single shift, and limit the mistakes in high-danger areas of the ice, the ‘Boosh’ will be given some leash and could truly have a massive role to play once the Stanley Cup Playoffs roll through. Crazy to think the Leafs ‘need’ Lyubushkin to step up for playoff success, but that’s 100% the case.
Rielly and Jake McCabe have done enough this season and don’t warrant any changes. TJ Brodie hasn’t been great of late, but even he isn’t on Liljegren’s level. It was tough to watch on Saturday night against the Habs. The Swedish blueliner couldn’t make an outlet pass, firing a couple hip-high up the ice, he got pushed around by the likes of Cole Caufield, another bad penalty, and there was just too many instances where he made a bad read on time and space, resulting in a scoring chance. Keefe was hard on Liljegren after the game, just like he was back in January:
How long will the leash be? The Maple Leafs don’t play until Thursday and will have a ton of practice time over the next four days. This will help the coaching staff get things aligned and give the blueline some reps to get comfortable with each other. When Toronto takes on Philadelphia next, Liljegren should be taken out and Benoit should be inserted. Simple as that.

Trade Deadline Passing Will Help?

There’s been a lot of speculation on how the trade deadline was looming over Liljegren’s head. It felt like if the Maple Leafs were going to land one of Colton Parayko or Adam Larsson in a mega-deal, Liljegren would have surely been involved.
Now with the Leafs defenceman staying put in Toronto, hopefully the rumours being put to bed will limit the distractions off the ice and he can focus. Keefe mentioned this has been a theme, year after year:
I thought the sequence that led to his penalty was a tough moment in the game for him and for our team. Those are the kinds of things we got to keep working with him to eliminate from his game. This is a key time for Lily, right? If you go back the last two years, each time at the trade deadline we’ve added — and it’s essentially pushed him out of the lineup, which I thought has affected his growth and his confidence. At times, he’s taken a step back. And I think part of that, really, is the trade deadline kind of hanging over his head a little bit.
Of late, Liljegren’s been taking bad penalties, he’s struggled offensively and defensively, and frankly, it just hasn’t been much fun to watch. As Keefe mentions, who is now in his seventh season coaching Liljegren at the professional level, the Leafs need Liljegren to find his game and develop into a top-four trusted right-handed defenceman. He’s been given every opportunity to showcase his skills, and now, with just over a month before the Stanley Cup Playoffs start, Liljegren needs to watch the next game from the press box and reset himself. It worked for Ilya Samsonov, who has gone 12-3 since being ‘reset’. It’s time for Liljegren’s turn.

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