The Leafs have used a lot of defencemen recently, have you noticed that? But despite being without some of their best defenders for long stretches, the Leafs are on a bit of a tear and have emerged as one of the top team’s in the league during their last 15-20 games.
Morgan Rielly has resumed skating on his own and as per TSN’s Darren Dreger on the broadcast during the team’s game against Tampa on Tuesday night, he’s estimated to be about two weeks away from returning. Jordie Benn is similarly not far off from returning from injury, and Victor Mete is another option sitting on the IR right now. Whether it’s purely from some improved systems, increased depth at the position, or a bit of both, the Leafs’ current roster of defence is one of the strongest it’s ever been in the last couple of decades.
So with that in mind, the TLN writers chimed in with their thoughts on the ideal Leafs defence deployment, and here’s a collection of our opinions:

Ryan Hobart

Giordano – Liljegren
Sandin – Brodie
Rielly – Holl
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I really don’t think there’s a strong case to make that Morgan Rielly is the most effective defender in the Leafs organization. The play of Mark Giordano, and at times the rest of the group, seem to eclipse the offensive dynamo that is Morgan Rielly. As such, with this depth of squad, I would move Rielly to more of an offensive specialist role rather than a #1 defender. His disastrous effect on defensive hockey is too great a risk when the team has the defenders that can play that role with a more balanced approach to offense and defense like Giordano, Liljegren, Sandin, and Brodie.

Bennett Jull

Rielly – Brodie
Sandin – Liljegren
Giordano – Holl
It truly pains me to leave Conor Timmins out, but Holl has played very well over the last month or so alongside Giordano. That being said, Timmins should be a natural replacement for Holl next year. I think these pairings are pretty self-explanatory… Sandin and Liljegren have also stepped up very nicely, and playing the two Swedes alongside each other makes sense to me. I would also have no qualms with swapping Brodie and Holl. This would give the Leafs a true ‘shutdown pairing’ in Brodie and Giordano. Timmins, Mete, and Benn are solid options should anyone get hurt. Given the success the d-core has had this year even with lots of injuries, I am fascinated to see how Kyle Dubas will approach the deadline.
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Steven Ellis

I’ll echo Bennett’s lineup. Timmins has been a great addition and it would be good to keep him in the lineup, but I just don’t see them sitting Holl, either. This is such a different spot than usual for the Leafs – too many notable defensemen capable of being full-timers. Timmins is a good guy to keep and remain active after missing so much time, but if they play him even 50 percent of the season, I think that’s a bonus.

Mike Gould

Rielly – Brodie
Giordano – Liljegren
Sandin – Holl
The more interesting aspect of the conversation, to me, relates to the players beyond this top six. I think there are a lot of different pairing configurations that could work pretty well — I’d even be intrigued to see a redux of the Giordano – Brodie pairing that worked for so long in Calgary, although I realize that’d leave a lot of more inexperienced players to fend for themselves elsewhere. But I suspect, when everyone is healthy, that we’ll see Victor Mete placed on waivers to allow Timmins and Benn to serve as the No. 7 and 8, respectively. And, given all the injuries around the league, I think Mete probably gets claimed.
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Michael Mazzei

Rielly-Brodie
Sandin-Liljegren
Giordano-Holl
While leaving out Timmins is certainly going to sting because of how well he has been playing since being inserted into the lineup, I believe this to be the defensive pairings that Keefe will roll once everyone gets healthy. Timmins and Benn will ideally be the extras that can slot in for Giordano to give him some rest or Holl if he begins to struggle again. This could all change depending on what the Leafs decide to implement tactically, but I think this will be the pairings when it’s all said and done.

Nick Alberga

Rielly-Brodie
Sandin-Liljegren
Giordano-Timmins
While I think it’s important to preface that Justin Holl has been much improved lately, I still prefer Timmins. All in all, I still think Toronto could still use a bonafide top-4 guy, but considering how they’ve played defensively since the end of October, I’m probably in the minority on that front. Any way you slice it, I like the depth they’ve built up. Honestly, I didn’t think it would be one of their strong points, yet here we are.
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Dylan Murphy

Mark Giordano has been a godsend, there’s no two ways about it. His leadership on the back end as well as the massive step Rasmus Sandin has taken over his early-season play  have been two of the key cogs of success since the long stretch of defence injuries began. Liljegren has continued his tremendous growth that started last year, and Timmins has played exceptionally well up to now. I briefly considered going with the old suggestion of ‘make Rielly a forward’ but instead, I think I’d wanna see a different approach to deployment rather than some wild pairings. My suggestion is:
Sandin-Liljegren
Giordano-Brodie
Rielly-Timmins
But this is just how they line up on paper. I think all three of these pairings are strong enough on their own merit to play an even amount of minutes, give or take a few seconds. Twenty minutes per pairing, maybe refrain from giving the Rielly pairing too many d-zone starts, but just let ’em roll and see how it goes. This may be a little unfair to Holl, who’s played well recently, but I just prefer Timmins overall. Holl and Benn sit as the extras, rotating into games here and there, particularly down the stretch to give bodies time to rest going into the postseason. Mete likely goes back on waivers to make the salary cap implications work.
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What do you think? Let us hear your opinions!