The Toronto Maple Leafs have reached a bit of a crossroads.
As in, the Toronto Maple Leafs defensive pairings are a mess due to injuries to their top two defensemen.
When an NHL team begins their season, they don’t expect to have both of their top defensemen on the IR. In a game against the New Jersey Devils back in December, Jake Muzzin went down in the second period of the game. The next morning, the team’s PR announced that he was week-to-week with a broken foot.
The defensive struggles only got worse from there. Sunday night against the Panthers, Morgan Rielly blocked a shot and the other top pairing Toronto Maple Leafs blue-liner went down.
On Monday, the team announced that he would be out for a minimum of eight weeks with a fractured foot.
That means that for the foreseeable future, the top two are gone. So, whether there be a fresh round of call-ups, some trades, or just a boost of skill from the core we already have, here’s how the blue line should shape up in both Muzzin & Rielly’s absence.
Fixing the Toronto Maple Leafs Defense
Fresh off his absolutely stellar performance at the World Juniors this past holiday break, Rasmus Sandin is one of the members of the organization who is sure to see some playing time in the absence of 8 & 44.
The hard thing about Rasmus Sandin though, is the hesitance of the organization to burn the first year of Sandin’s ELC.
Sandin is sure to be a stellar player, as even Morgan Rielly stated in Tuesday’s post-practice media availability. At the time of this article being written, Sandin has three games left before he is officially on his ELC.
The Leafs only play a couple of more games before the bye week & All Star break, which should likely give Muzzin the chance to return (hopefully). If not, Sandin is a likely option to remain on the roster, as the six games he played early in the season are indicative of his future potential with this club.
Timothy Liljegren has been in the Toronto Maple Leafs organization since being drafted 17th overall back in 2017.
He too, has the potential to be an amazing blue-liner in the organization, and will also likely see some playing time in the prolonged absence of Morgan Rielly OR should a trade occur.
Sheldon Keefe stated that he felt Liljegren was the next man up in case anything occurred, and feels he deserves an opportunity with the big club up at Scotiabank Arena. Well, let’s see what the kids can do everyone. I mean, we’ve only been talking about it all season.
If the Toronto Maple Leafs are going to trade any of their blue-liners, look no further than either Cody Ceci or Martin Marincin.
Both are the likeliest options in case of a trade, and would probably only be a small part of a packaged deal going the other way to some other NHL city. Hopefully, if Kyle Dubas does decide to make a trade before the all too close trade deadline, it’s for a hefty package coming back to the North.
Ceci’s AAV is $4.5 million dollars. That’s just WAY too much to be paying for someone playing on the third line in Tuesday’s game against the Devils. Martin Marincin however, was signed recently this past week to a $700,000 contract extension.
One year at bare minimum is an acceptable price to pay for a depth guy, and it’s a price most Toronto Maple Leafs fans are happy to be paying. However, no one would be mad to see either player go.
The Toronto Maple Leafs know what they have in both Travis Dermott and Justin Holl. Or, well, they think they do.
In the roles that they currently occupy, the two players have been extremely good this season. As a top pair shutdown duo? Not so sure. The injuries to both Rielly and Muzzin are quite inopportune, but it gives Keefe, Dubas, and management a closer look at what the two players can achieve in a higher role.
Before this season, Holl spent most of last season up in the press box.
This season, it would seem that he has jumped out of his shell.
He has done some pretty great stuff, while being paired with Muzzin prior to the injury. Even once Dermott came back from his respective injury, the duo seemed to find some chemistry with each other.
Now, I’m not saying they can’t do it on the top pair. I’m just saying that it’s not the ideal situation for the team.
It will certainly be interesting to see what both players accomplish while 8 and 44 are down for the count. It’ll actually be interesting to see what the entire core does without them. But, just for some practice, let’s say a few positive thoughts for a speedy recovery.