Toronto Maple Leafs: Too Much of a Good Thing on the Blueline

Timothy Liljegren (Photo by Minas Panagiotakis/Getty Images)
Timothy Liljegren (Photo by Minas Panagiotakis/Getty Images) /

The Toronto Maple Leafs have a $2 million dollar, top-four worthy, right-handed defenseman in Justin Holl.

The Toronto Maple Leafs also have 3 x established star-level defenseman, 2 x young up-and-coming potential-stars who have earned their spots in the lineup, and Travis Dermott, who has great numbers and a history of being one of the better third-pairing defenders in the NHL.

There is nothing wrong with the Leafs blue line as constructed.  They have three top-twenty defenseman, and seven players who are providing top-four talent and abilities.  It’s a good problem to have.

But it is a problem because the Leafs salary cap philosophy – whatever you think of it – isn’t designed to eschew well-paid bit players.  Which is why one of Justin Holl or Travis Dermott (or possibly both) are going to get traded.

The Leafs might have a solid 1 to 7 group, but you have to think that they would like to add a more physical presence and that means that both Dermott and Holl will likely go, since there is no such thing as a seventh defenseman who is worth paying above the NHL league minimum.

For example, if the Leafs traded Holl and used Kristians Rubins as their 7th, and they were forced to playing him, the difference between what Rubins brings and what Holl would have brought can be made up by using the million dollars difference in a smarter way.

So while I hear what people are saying when they question the wisdom of trading an established defenseman when you know injuries can and will happen, the fact is that you really don’t need that much insurance for your 6th defenseman, whoever it is.

If the Leafs are cruising along with Liljegren (hypothetically) as the best #6 in the world, the fact that they had a the luxury of using such a player at the bottom of the lineup probably means it won’t be the end of the world if an injury strikes and therefore you can use Holl’s money better elsewhere.

The Toronto Maple Leafs Blue Line

The Toronto Maple Leafs, in an ideal world, would get healthy enough to accumulate some cap space, then they’d trade Nick Ritchie, Justin Holl and Travis Dermott and use the combined money to acquire a partner for Jake Muzzin who can throw his weight around and clear out the crease.

If Josh Manson is still good he’d be an ideal candidate, if he has declined greatly over the last year or two, then someone of a similar style and vintage would be a good target.

This might not happen until the trade deadline, but in the meantime, they will likely move Justin Holl because Timothy Liljegren is clearly better.  Sandin and Liljegren should have no problem being the best 3rd pairing in the NHL, or at least being in the conversation.

Unfortunately, until the trade goes down, the Leafs will have to play Holl and that means that Sheldon Keefe is going to scratch Liljegren instead of Dermott.  Since Liljegren is rocking a nearly 70% expected-goals rating ( the Leafs should be sitting Dermott instead.

Not that Dermott deserves to sit – he doesn’t.  Like I said, it’s a good problem to have.  The Leafs were ranked with some of the best odds to win the Stanley Cup this season by the Vegas Oddsmakers, and that was when Liljegren and Sandin were question marks.  Now that we know that both players are potentially top-four or better NHL players with star possibilities, the Leafs are even better than they were.

Next. Justin Holl Trade Possibilities. dark

If both players are for real, and the Leafs make a smart addition later in the season to shelter them from having to play top-four minutes, I can’t wait to see what that team can accomplish.