The Toronto Maple Leafs blue-line has only one established right hander signed for next season.
The Toronto Maple Leafs signed Justin Holl to a contract extension back in December, and he is the only player the Leafs have who shoots right handed, plays defense, and is likely to be on next year’s roster.
Tyson Barrie looks unlikely to re-sign (though I think he’s underrated and would not be opposed to a short-term deal).
Cody Ceci is almost certainly gone (though if they signed him to a one-year deal for a million or less, he’d be worth bringing back for sure, due to his solid penalty killing and the fact that he is right handed and won’t hurt you on the third pairing).
Timothy Liljegren could certainly crack the line-up, but there are no guarantees.
There is also the chance of a trade, or a free-agent signing between now and then. I mean, the current season has yet to finish, so who knows where we’re going to end up next year, or what kind of season will be played, what the salary cap will be, or how free-agency will end up playing out over the off-season?
There are a lot of options, but one thing seem certain: Justin Holl will be on the team because he is the team’s only right-handed defenseman, and he’s awesome.
Then again, stranger things have happened. Perhaps the Leafs love Rielly, Muzzin, Sandin, Dermott and Lehtonen so much, that when the opportunity arises to upgrade, they choose Holl to be the odd man out.
But I doubt it.
We don’t really know how they feel about the whole lefties on their off-side thing, so we can only guess. But I do think it’s safe to assume Holl is going to play for the Toronto Maple Leafs next season.
So the question is:
How Good Is Justin Holl?
A lot of people talk about how the Toronto Maple Leafs are a small team, but I think a lot of that is just perception.
Justin Holl is a 6’4 210 LBS monster, and while Jake Muzzin is an inch shorter, he’s also heavier. Together they are a very physical pairing, but more importantly, being physical doesn’t get in the way of their ability to move the puck.
Holl has only played in 81 career games, so there is only a small sample of his play to review, but it’s a case of so far, so good.
With Holl on the ice, the Toronto Maple Leafs got 52% of the shot-attempts, and 52% of the shots. They got 52% of the goals, and 53% of the expected goals. They also got 53% of the scoring chances, and 52% of the dangerous scoring chances.
Those are VERY good numbers.
But they get better.
Among the Toronto Maple Leafs regular blue-liners, Justin Holl started the least amount of his shifts in the offensive zone. According to his Skatr Chart, Holl played the second toughest competition on the team after Morgan Rielly. (I suspect if you could eliminate the Babcock games on that chart, he’d have played the hardest).
So what we have is a rookie who, although in his prime (28), will still likely improve due to getting more NHL experience. This rookie was thrown to the wolves in that he was forced to play the NHL’s best players, and start most of his shifts in the defensive zone.
And he did it on a team that puts offense first and often takes defensive risks to try and score.
Despite that, he put up a very solid 52% across the board – meaning that despite often starting from a position of weakness (in the D-zone against top players) the Leafs still won the portion of the game where Justin Holl played. (All stats naturalstattrick.com).
So I would like to amend my previous statement about next season: There is a 100% chance that the Toronto Maple Leafs use Justin Holl in a top four role next season.
One of the reason the Leafs defense gets so underrated is because they have a 28 year old rookie in a top-four role, who doesn’t score a lot and doesn’t throw a ton of big hits, and therefore is incredibly underrated.
I can’t count the number of times people have said to me should be either on the bottom pairing or in the press box. Holl is so good that he makes that one of the worst takes in Leafs Nation.
Justin Holl – at least for this season – is one of the ten percent (or so) of NHL players who actually impacts games.
He is a diamond in the rough.