The Toronto Maple Leafs blue-line takes a lot of heat.
In my opinion, all of the heat the Toronto Maple Leafs blue-line is unfair.
They made significant statistical improvements under Sheldon Keefe, they play a high risk offensive game that occasionally leads to ugly looking goals against, and they don’t really do the traditional things we have been told throughout our entire lives that make players good at defense (i.e throw big hits and ‘stay at home’).
The Leafs blue-line this year deployted Morgan Rielly, Tyson Barrie, Justin Holl, Jake Muzzin, Cody Ceci, Travis Dermott, Rasmus Sandin, Timothy Liljegren, Calle Rosen and Martin Marincin.
Of those players, none fit the profile of a what is traditionally seen as a “good defenseman,” and nine of them (I’m excepting Marincin) can fairly be called “puck moving defenseman.”
So I submit that the Toronto Maple Leafs blue-line is really more mis-understood than it is bad.
But even if I’m wrong, that’s OK because help is on the way – the Toronto Maple Leafs have had three defenseman in the last six months win their league’s best defenseman award.
The Toronto Maple Leafs Blue-Line of the Future
In December, the Leafs #1 Prospect, Rasmus Sandin won the best defenseman title at the World Junior Tournament. He is going to be an NHL superstar.
Just earlier this week, recent free agent signing Mikko Lehtonen was awarded the title of best defenseman in the KHL.
Reports from afar indicate that he may just be the best defenseman in the entire world who is not currently in the NHL.
The Leafs will use him next year, and the fact that they’ll pay him less than one-million dollars will go a long way to making sure their plan to pay a small core of players as much as necessary will work out in real life like the math says it will in theory.
In the NHL, the bottom half of any random blue-line is more or less interchangeable with a 100 AHL or KHL players. Even if you have the worst player in the NHL on your blue-line, he really isn’t going to cost you very many points in the standings. Maybe one. Maybe two. That’s it.
It’s a guarantee that Lehtonen can play in the NHL, and there is star player upside here. Worst case scenario is the Toronto Maple Leafs risked a few dollars that don’t matter and he ends up being another Igor Ozhiganov (who was a perfectly adequate #6 NHL defenseman and who never won the KHL’s version of the Norris).
The third player to win a similar award was the OHL’s defenseman of the year, Noel Hofenmayer, a recent UFA signing by the Marlies who may one day end up on the Leafs.
So even if you don’t like the Leafs current blue-line, you can relax because it will get much better very soon.