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The Maple Leafs need more from three of their defensemen

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Photo credit:© Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports
Shane Seney
1 month ago
The Toronto Maple Leafs have holes in their lineup and it starts with TJ Brodie, Mark Giordano and sprinkle in a little Timothy Liljegren. All three defensemen have been extremely inconsistent this season and at times, looked completely overwhelmed with the pace of play.
When Brad Treliving took over as general manager he admitted he felt the defense was an area of concern and even stated he’d likely be looking to add two blueliners to the group. What he didn’t say was who he felt needed to be upgraded from, and of late, it couldn’t be more obvious. Brodie and Giordano have lost a step and can’t keep up anymore. Meanwhile, Liljegren consistently makes absent-minded, head-scratching plays, and continues to take a regular shift. Something has to give, no?

Brodie is becoming this season’s scapegoat

From Justin Holl, to Jake Gardiner, to Dion Phaneuf, every season it seems like one Leafs’ defenseman gets picked on the most by Leafs fans, and right now it’s Brodie. From an eye-test perspective, which is normally where I lean, he’s looked like he’s been skating in mud at times, his reads have been late, he’s making bad decisions with and without the puck, and let’s not even get into his physical play because there’s no point, it’s basically non-existent.
Remember a few games ago against the Colorado Avalanche, when Brodie decided he didn’t feel like stopping the play with a simple touch of the puck, which of course, resulted in goal:
Brodie has been bad, and it’s becoming a serious issue for the Maple Leafs as he’s skating on the top pair alongside Morgan Rielly, who continues to carry the entire d-core. The 33-year-old Brodie, with the way he’s playing this season, should be on a bottom-pair as a veteran stay-at-home option, but because of the Leafs lack of depth, he’s playing way more than he should be. For the fans of advanced stats, Brodie is the worst d-man on the Leafs, and among the league’s worst with a -13.4 rating in on-ice expected goal differential. His d-partner leads the team with a +15.1. Pretty wild when they play a ton together.
Treliving knows him very well from their years together in Calgary but it’s worth pointing out he also tried to trade him to Toronto for Nazem Kadri, so perhaps Treliving saw some of this coming several years ago. While a trade ahead of March 8 trade deadline seems very unlikely at this point, look for Treliving to think long and hard about Brodie’s future in Toronto this offseason. Unless it’s a major pay cut, and he’s pushed down the depth chart a couple of spots, the Leafs need to give serious thought to life without Brodie in their lineup.

Giordano has lost a step

He may happen to be one of the fiercest competitors in the league and he also happens to be one of the good guys, but it’s becoming more and more obvious throughout this season that Giordano has lost a step. He’s 40 and is the oldest player in the league, can you really blame him?
The last thing Giordano wants is to be a ‘feel-good’ story, and at this point it’s becoming a chore, watching him struggle on a nightly basis. His foot speed isn’t where it should be, and while he’s smart enough to put himself in decent positions at times, the lack of acceleration or when needed, catch-up speed, is really starting to become more evident with each passing game.
Some NHL Edge stats to chew on when it comes to Gio’s foot speed and the rest of the Maple Leafs blue line:
Mark GiordanoLeague average
by position (F/D)
Percentile
Top Skating Speed (mph)21.2421.49Below 50th
Speed Bursts Over 20 mph817Below 50th
Skating Distance (mi)66.6579.95Below 50th
 
Player
GP
Top Speed (mph)
Simon Benoit
27
22.56
Morgan Rielly
41
22.44
Jake McCabe
35
22.25
Timothy Liljegren
24
21.83
Mark Giordano
28
21.24
John Klingberg
14
21.16
TJ Brodie
40
20.39
William Lagesson
21
20.37
Conor Timmins
14
20.16
Max Lajoie
4
18.9
He’s basically playing with heavier skates on. The bursts are worrisome and so is the distance travelled. One goal in 30 games, it’s not like he should be out there as a power-play specialist, and with him being a constant on the penalty kill, perhaps Treliving should consider making a change, because the Leafs PK is ranked 25th in the league and needs to be shored up before the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Unlike Brodie, Giordano isn’t a cap burden at just $800,000 this season, which is likely going to be his last. So what do the Leafs do with him at this point? How about, playing him less often and having him as the 7th defenseman, rotating through on back-to-backs and filling in for injuries? It would be the ideal set up for the 40 year old. Unfortunately, this type of depth isn’t available at the moment.

Liljegren’s development will be worth the wait

Many felt this season would be huge for Liljegren’s development into a top-four regular, but after an early-season ankle-injury, the Swedish blueliner hasn’t been able to find consistent production. Lately, the mistakes have been early and often in each game and his minutes have gone down considerably. Is it time to panic? Likely not. Toronto needs him to continue to develop throughout this season and into the playoffs.
Remind yourselves he’s still ‘just’ 24, turning 25 this season and only has 167 career NHL games under his belt. While he’s also not the fleetest of foot, Liljegren has solid offensive instincts, he can make a crisp first pass and I wish he’d jump into the rush even a little more and become a rover-type d-man for the Leafs. He’s not overly physical, but that doesn’t mean he shies away from contact. He’s just not looking for the big hit like a Simon Benoit or Jake McCabe. And that’s fine, he just needs to make sure to take it when it’s offered.
Liljegren’s right handedness, which is something the Maple Leafs need more of, not less of, so his job is safe. As a pending RFA and with less than 200 games played, his negotiating power is minimal this upcoming summer so Treliving should be able to get a deal done with no concerns. Does Toronto want to go long-term with an extension at this point? Likely not, but that doesn’t mean one isn’t eventually coming.
Worth noting Treliving had a chance to draft Liljegren back in 2017. The Flames sat with the 16th pick, looking for a defenseman and ended up selecting Juuso Valimaki. Valimaki was someone Treliving saw much more of in the WHL, where he put up a point-a-game. Liljegren was selected by the Maple Leafs with the very next pick. Funny how things turn out sometimes.
Nevertheless, the Maple Leafs are far from a finished product and Treliving will need to address his blue line at some point before March 8. Don’t expect any blockbuster moves this season, but Toronto’s GM needs to step up and give his head coach some better options on the back end. Brodie and Giordano are playing way too much, and it appears Liljegren, is someone the team will need to be a little more patient with. McCabe, Rielly, and Benoit, you can stay.
Data from Puckalytics and NHL Edge

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