Time for Toronto Maple Leafs to Trade Timothy Liljegren

Timothy Liljegren #37 of the Toronto Maple Leafs (Photo by Claus Andersen/Getty Images)
Timothy Liljegren #37 of the Toronto Maple Leafs (Photo by Claus Andersen/Getty Images) /

The Toronto Maple Leafs are in a win now mode and their deal with the Pittsburgh Penguins for Jared McCann just serves to reinforce that point.

The Jared McCann deal also hints that the Toronto Maple Leafs probably have some kind of back deal with the Seattle Kraken over the expansion draft. Not that both of those points weren’t clear already.

McCann is unlikely to be able to match his output from this past season, but he is a solid, versatile, piece for Toronto. Whether Alexander Kerfoot or McCann himself ends up going to Seattle, the Leafs have protected their depth at a cheap cost.

The Leafs will likely get through the expansion draft unscathed, but they will still need to improve their team afterwards.  As tough as it might be for some Leafs fans, now is the time to move on from Timothy Liljegren.

Toronto Maple Leafs and Timothy Liljegren

Drafted 17th overall in the 2017, many couldn’t believe that Liljegren fell all the way to Toronto in the latter half of the draft. There’s a lot to like about Liljegren’s potential. He was drafted to fill the void the Leafs had in offensive defenseman, and he has done that – just in the AHL for the Marlies, not the NHL for the Leafs.

He is a strong skater and possesses excellent puck handling skills, but his defensive game has yet to match up to his (potential) offence. That could be fine for the Toronto Maple Leafs to work with, apart from when he has appeared for the Leafs he has looked unsettled and unsure.

Yes, the counter to that argument is that he has only featured in 13 NHL games, and he is still only 22; he has ample time to develop into the player that the Leafs projected when they drafted him. Those are all sound reasons to want to keep him around if the Toronto Maple Leafs weren’t in that win-now mode.

Ask yourself, who does Liljegren replace in the Leafs defensive core? Morgan Rielly, TJ Brodie, Jake Muzzin, Travis Dermott and Justin Holl are all locked up and (assuming Kerfoot goes to Seattle) will be in the starting line-up next season.

Liljegren’s direct competition would appear to be Rasmus Sandin. However, Sandin has shown a better adjustment to the NHL, with better defensive play and more points that the ‘offensive defenceman’ Liljegren. Sandin will undoubtedly get a bigger role going into the 2021/22 season.

With Zach Bogosian and Ben Hutton likely to both test the open market, numerically there is a spot for Liljegren to slot into the Toronto Maple Leafs squad. Yet, to be the 7th man would be a disservice to the 22-year-old and to the organization.

Liljegren has proven himself a very capable AHL defenseman but he just isn’t what Toronto needs as a 7th man and he isn’t ready to jump into the line-up in the way the Leafs would need him to. Sandin is still raw in places as well, but he’s a better 6/7 man than Liljegren is.

A defensive logjam is not the only reason to trade Liljegren. It all comes back to the Toronto Maple Leafs being in a win-now position. The Leafs have a settled D-core but there remain question marks over their top line wingers, depth and between the pipes.

Liljegren is young enough, has enough potential NHL ability that he is still a valuable asset to a rebuilding team that can take a chance on him. The Leafs have gaps they need to fill and including Liljegren in a deal to try and pry a Tyler Bertuzzi, a Darcy Kuemper, a Rickard Rakell out of Detroit, Arizona or Anaheim respectively is a smart deal to aim for.

The Swede could become a quality NHL defenseman but Toronto needs NHL-ready help up front. It might sting to move him, but if a deal involving Liljegren nets Toronto the necessary player or assets to get a different player that helps them in the playoffs, then it’s just the price you have to pay.

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What Liljegren needs now is consistent NHL time to see if he can raise his game on both sides of the puck. He won’t get that in Toronto, at least not in the next season. Possibly he could be ready by 2022/23 but that is another year counting down on a certain No. 34’s contract and the Leafs cannot afford to aim to win in two or three seasons. They need to make moves to win now, and Liljegren is the best piece to move.