The Toronto Maple Leafs are in training camp, and the team is set to open the pre-season against the Senators this week.
One of the more interesting training camp battles is for the sixth position on the Toronto Maple Leafs blue line.
The consensus is that the Leafs will return with their top four intact (Rielly, Hainsey, Gardiner and Zaitsev) with Dermott a lock for the left spot on the third pairing.
The battle according to near-unanimous opinion, is between Connor Carrick, Justin Holl and Igor Ozhiganov. Which is just insane.
No Love for Carrick?
Everyone assumes that Babcock will return with his top four, and that he’ll only allow one other player onto the team. But whether its the media or the coach, there is a definite problem here.
The Leafs allowed the third-most total shots in the NHL last year. They were fourth most in shots against per 60 minutes. They were the 17th best possession team, and were in the bottom ten in both scoring chances against and scoring chances against per 60 minutes.
In short, they were a terrible defensive team.
So to trot back out the same top four defenseman would, it seems to me, be a very bad decision. If a trade can’t be made, the best group of defenseman the Leafs can ice includes their best defensive player, Connor Carrick.
But given that no one expects Babcock to have any imagination whatsoever when it comes to this stuff, people seem resigned to the fact that Connor Carrick is in a battle to be the Leafs sixth defenseman.
There is no nice way to talk about one of the league’s worst defensive teams refusing to promote their best defensive player. It is just unfathomable.
Looking at defenseman who played 600 5v5 minutes last season on the Toronto Maple Leafs:
Highest possession rating: Connor Carrick, 52.5%
Lowest Shots-Against /60 : Connor Carrick 27.89 (next lowest had 32!)
Lowest Goals-Against / 60: Connor Carrick 2.1
Lowest Scoring Chances /60: Connor Carrick, by 4 over everyone but Borgman
I don’t think that Deployment, zone starts and competition are enough to write-off the fact that Connor Carrick is far and away the Leafs best defensive player. It’s possible that they do, I don’t claim to be infallible, but when there is this much evidence, I think its definitely worth giving him a shot, since there is there is no one within a mile of him.
Carrick Should Be Top Four
Connor Carrick is the Leafs best player at the very skill that is the team’s biggest weakness.
He should not be sixth on the depth chart. He should not be battling for a job.
Rielly and Gardiner are, indisputably the Leafs best defenseman. Travis Dermott is very, very good. At worst, Connor Carrick should be fourth on the Leafs depth chart. At best, he could be third.
But to have him fighting to make the team against Holl and Ozhiganov is just insane. I don’t dispute that the Leafs have him in that position, but I do dispute whatever it is that led them to that thinking.
Connor Carrick should be getting a shot with Rielly or Gardiner in the top four. If they paired those two together, a Dermott/Carrick pairing would be just as nice as they have a history of success together. But how does a team not look at what Rielly does and say “he’d be even better with a complimentary player.” Carrick is basically the inverse of Rielly – all defense, no offense. Certainly the WOWYS should give the Leafs pause when thinking of where to play Hainsey, as Rielly did significantly better whenever he got on the ice with anyone else.
Connor Carrick shouldn’t be fighting to make the team. He’s one of the only players with good defensive numbers on a team that is, until further notice, among the worst defensive teams in the NHL.
stats from naturalstattrick.com