#6. Defensive Depth
The Toronto Maple Leafs are not known for their great defense, but their current group features eight defenseman any one of which are good enough to play in the top four of any team in the league.
The first couple of seasons of the Matthews Era featured a much riskier, more free-wheeling team than what you get today.
Today’s Leafs team is a precise, possession heavy juggernaut that loves to cycle and rarely get rush chances. They pay attention to defense and while they are not completely risk-adverse, they play much differently in practice than you’d think based on their reputation.
As I said above, they are 8th best in the NHL in Expected Goals Against per 60 minutes of 5v5 ice time. Add in the fact that they are currently the 4th best penalty killing team in hockey, and their reputation as a bad defensive team is rendered nonsensical.
The Leafs have had bad goaltending and it has had nothing to do with their defense. The Leafs rank 10th overall in high-danger scoring chances allowed per minute. That’s not to shabby.
They owe their success to a great blueline, which, when healthy, is eight deep in solid NHL Players.
As recently as last year, Morgan Rielly, Jake Muzzin and TJ Brodie were all elite players. Mark Giordano so far has put up #1 defenseman numbers. Justin Holl’s numbers are way better than people think, while Timothy Liljegren and Rasmus Sandin have been two of the best statistical defenseman in the NHL this year.
Liljegren specifically has been the Leafs best defenseman based on just the on-ice results at 5v5 (and he has great PK Numbers too).
Then there is the new guy, Ilya Lyubushkin who has already shown he’s worth of dressing regularly, and has even done well at the top of the lineup.
The Leafs blue-line is talented, and it’s deep. If they start the playoffs healthy they’ll be benching two top-four worthy defenseman. That’s depth.