Toronto Maple Leafs: Dissecting The Top Four Defensemen Situation

The Toronto Maple Leaf defense has become an endless topic of discussion. Nonetheless, finding a partner to compliment the core of Morgan Rielly, Nikita Zaitsev, and Jake Gardiner is vital.

Going into next season, whether they are the first or second pairing; Zaitsev and Gardiner should see time together. This past season, Zaitsev spent most of the time playing alongside Rielly.

The duo proved to spark offense from the backend, combining for 63 points. However, their defensive game is another story, to put it lightly, they became an awful combination.

Nevertheless, when paired with Gardiner; Zaitsev’s defensive game improved. The played over 300 minutes on the ice together, a small sample size, but a significant difference.

Playing alongside Rielly, Zaitsev’s SCA60 (Scoring Chances Against Per 60) topped out at 10.47. Now when he played with Gardiner, his SCA60 saw a decrease, going from 10.47 to 6.88.

Nonetheless, the pair faced the same amount of shots as the Rielly and Zaitsev duo. I put together a graph that shows Zaitsev’s primary partners this past season. Citing some key defensive stats and aside from the SCA60, the stats are identical.

Granted one pairing played nearly 500 more minutes than the other, so there’s the flaw within the numbers. However, it shows that Zaitsev’s defense tends to improve when playing with Gardiner. Thus, the pair should see more time together going into next season.

If Zaitsev and Gardiner see additional time together, where does that leave Rielly? Well, that’s where the Toronto Maple Leafs management comes in and finds him a partner that compliments his skillsets.

Finding A Defensemen To Play With Rielly

There are plenty of articles and opinions, ranging from the journalist, hockey analyst, and bloggers. Presenting their take on what defensemen the Toronto Maple Leafs should acquire over the summer. Personally, I think there are two options they should pursue.

The first comes from the Minnesota Wild; where barring Jason Pominville waiving his No-Movement Clause, they’ll have to expose one of Jonas Brodin or Matthew Dumba. For Toronto, they have to jump on the vulnerable situation Minnesota find themselves in and snatch up Brodin.

Why Brodin?

This visual compares both Brodin and Dumba. Using key components to measure the presence on the ice, both on the defensive and offensive side. Toronto doesn’t lack offense from their blue line but does lack defensive minded ones. Well, with Brodin being a sound defensive defenseman, he’s the obvious choice.

Furthermore, Brodin is left-handed but has experience playing on the right side, so it allows for Rielly to remain in a comfortable position on the left side. Also, Brodin played the majority of his minutes (over 300 minutes with each defense partner) alongside Dumba and Christian Folin. Sure, Brodin isn’t an “elite” defensemen, but these two felt his absence when they played apart.

With that in mind, I decided to compare Brodin’s numbers to those of the top three defensemen on Toronto. Rielly, Gardiner, and Zaitsev all possessed better offensive numbers than Brodin. However, when comparing their defensive numbers, they significantly differ.

Brodin has become a safety net for someone like Dumba, who will take risks offensively. Sound familiar? Well, with someone like Brodin as his partner, he can jump in offensively knowing he has a reliable safety net.

Conclusion

If the Toronto Maple Leafs can use the vulnerability the expansion draft puts on Minnesota to obtain Brodin, they should. Adding a sound defenseman will help Rielly in the long-run. Relieving some defense pressure and allowing him to take the offensive risk without second thoughts.

The cost is always the question; the Edmonton Oilers paid a premium in Taylor Hall for Adam Larsson. Nonetheless, Minnesota will have to deal Brodin if they are unable to protect him from the expansion draft. Giving a team like the Toronto Maple Leafs leverage in the negotiations.

Brodin doesn’t get talked about much, but he should sit atop of the list of defensemen options. He’s young and reliable defensively which compliments Toronto’s youth movement.

All stats from stats.hockey.analysis.com