Toronto Maple Leafs: the Blue-Line of the Future

TORONTO, ON- Rasmus Sandin (c) on the ice at the Leafs training facility in Etobicoke. June 26, 2018. (Rene Johnston/Toronto Star via Getty Images)
TORONTO, ON- Rasmus Sandin (c) on the ice at the Leafs training facility in Etobicoke. June 26, 2018. (Rene Johnston/Toronto Star via Getty Images) /

The Toronto Maple Leafs blue-line takes a lot of flack.

Maybe it’s because the Toronto Maple Leafs don’t have that absolute stud – the Victor Hedman, the Seth Jones – but it could also be that their forwards are just so insane, that by comparison their defense doesn’t look that great.

The Leafs blue line this year features the unjustly unpopular Jake Gardiner, the ancient Ron Hainsey, a Nikita Zaitsev who may or may not be any good, the one-dimensional Connor Carrick who was a healthy scratch about 30 times, and a bunch of other question marks.

Only Morgan Rielly and Travis Dermott really stand out as a for-sure, legit, long-term piece on the back-end.  And No one really knows what Travis Dermott is.  He was very effective when paired last year with Connor Carrick, but thoughts that he could take over for Gardiner – one of the only 50 point defenseman who also had solid defensive stats – are laughable.

Maybe he’ll be as good as Gardiner one day, but that’s a lot to ask and few players are.

The Future

The future blue-line of the Toronto Maple Leafs may not be as good as what they have up front, but it’s pretty exciting in its own right.

Morgan Rielly is here long-term, and the Leafs will likely have to let Jake Gardiner walk like they let JVR walk.  It’s a shame, but unless he’s willing to waste his one big opportunity to cash in, he’s probably priced himself out of the Leafs plans.  I hope I’m wrong, but who knows?

Travis Dermott definitely looks like a long-term keeper.  He’s 21 and the sky is the limit.

I think a lot of people sleep on Connor Carrick. He’s younger than Morgan Rielly, and he’s a near-elite defensive player who has almost no offensive game.  While this will make him perpetually underrated, it also makes him cheap.  And he’s right handed.

Also right handed: Timothy Liljegren, the Leafs top prospect, and Sean Durzi a19 year-old second round pick from Mississauga who scored over a point per game last year in the OHL.  Durzi was paired yesterday in the rookie tournament with the Leafs second best prospect, Rasmus Sandin.

The Leafs are building a puck-moving, mobile defense core that is going to be young, fast, and extremely hard to play against.  In the past, that meant tough and mean. Today it means you don’t get the puck if you’re playing against them.

Picture this as soon as next year (though far more likely, two years from now).

Rielly – Liljegren

Dermott – Carrick

Durzi – Sandin 

That looks pretty exciting to me. And sure, It’s something that , most likely, we’ll never see.  Players get traded, others fail to develop and others force their way into the plans.  But it’s something fun to think about.  It’s easy when the team is such an obvious Cup Contender to forget that they’ve set them self up for a great future as well as a great present.

Next. Evaluating Every Player the Leafs Drafted in 2018. dark

It’s entirely possible that in a couple of years, the Leafs have one of the best top-to-bottom blue lines in the NHL and that it’s entirely populated with home-grown talent. (Other than Carrick, who they traded for).

This might be overselling it a bit, but the Leafs have their own version of Matthews-Nylander-Marner on the blue-line with Liljegren-Dermott-Sandin.  Toss in Durzi as the team’s Kapanen and you start to think maybe this team might win quite a few Stanley Cups over the next decade.