Talk around the Toronto Maple Leafs defense this offseason has been minimal. The focus has been on contract extensions for their key players and their goaltending.
Much speculation has been spent on the parameters of potential new deals for Toronto Maple Leafs stars Auston Matthews and William Nylander.
The team and goaltender Ilya Samsonov recently went through the arbitration process. The status of his oft-injured partner, Matt Murray, has also provided much fodder.
A lot of players from last year’s group left via free agency and new additions were welcomed. Lost among the chatter is the state of the Leafs defense. Taking a closer look reveals a backend that has many questions.
The Toronto Maple Leafs Defense is Not Good Enough to Contend
During his early days as GM Brad Treliving talked about “net front presence” and its importance for success in the spring. Right now, the Leafs defense has little of it. It’s their most glaring weakness and it needs to be addressed.
Currently, the Leafs have seven veteran NHL defensemen on their roster: Morgan Rielly, TJ Brodie, Jake McCabe, John Klingberg, Timothy Liljegren, Conor Timmins, and Mark Giordano.
Gone from last year are Luke Schenn (to Nashville), Justin Holl (to Detroit), and Erik Gustafsson (to New York). Gustafsson was an afterthought during his tenure with the Leafs.
With Schenn’s exit, leadership, grit, toughness, and “net front presence” all left with him. Holl was a big-bodied penalty killer who could also block shots. Trelving chose to replace them with Klingberg, a defenseman not known for any of those qualities.
Treliving’s free-agent forward additions were more in line with his “net front” philosophy. Tyler Bertuzzi, Max Domi, and Ryan Reaves bring “more snot to our game”, according to Treliving.
Kleenex will not be needed for the addition of Klingberg.
Adding an offensive presence to the blue line is contradictory, while grit and toughness leave the building. Especially, when you say it is one of your key tenets to success.
Signing Klingberg and letting all his toughness walk doesn’t make sense. It’s like Treliving has forgotten one of his principles or he did an about-face and is going to score his way to a title.
A more plausible explanation is that Treliving didn’t like the length of the contracts that other teams were willing to give physical UFA defensemen like Schenn, Radko Gudas, and Carson Soucy. What’s left on the UFA market leaves much to be desired.
It doesn’t mean he needed to shift his philosophy.
Within the organization, Jake Muzzin continues to deal with a potential career-ending injury. He will be heading to the Long Term Injured Reserved (LTIR) to bring the team salary cap relief. It’s too bad. His leadership and style of play are exactly what the Leafs defense needs.
So far, Treliving’s transactions around the Leafs defense are confounding.
The team should once again be one of the high-flying offensive juggernauts of the NHL next season, but the defense has taken a step backward.
The Toronto Maple Leafs do not have a defense that can adapt to playing any style of game. It’s on Treliving to fix it because right now, it’s not good enough.