Toronto Maple Leafs: Breaking Down the 2023-24 Blue-Line

Morgan Rielly #44 of the Toronto Maple Leafs skates with the puck against the Florida Panthers during first period action in Game Three of the Second Round of the 2023 Stanley Cup Playoffs at the FLA Live Arena on May 7, 2023 in Sunrise, Florida. The Panthers defeated the Maple Leafs 3-2 in overtime. (Photo by Joel Auerbach/Getty Images)
Morgan Rielly #44 of the Toronto Maple Leafs skates with the puck against the Florida Panthers during first period action in Game Three of the Second Round of the 2023 Stanley Cup Playoffs at the FLA Live Arena on May 7, 2023 in Sunrise, Florida. The Panthers defeated the Maple Leafs 3-2 in overtime. (Photo by Joel Auerbach/Getty Images) /
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Photo Credit: John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports /

Timothy Liljegren

Entering his age-24 season, Timothy Liljegren still has the potential to be a great player.  When you watch him, and look at his numbers, it seems like he should be promoted to the top pairing and make TJ Brodie into a second-pairing player.

But then the playoffs role around and the coach makes him a healthy scratch.

Two years in a row.

Last year the Leafs acquired Luke Schenn and Erik Gustuffson, and then instead of being a regular, Liljegren was part of a platoon.

Considering up to this point in the season he had incredible statistics which, even if they were on the third pairing, were far better than most teams get from their third pairing, this seemed to destroy his confidence.

After the trade deadline he didn’t appear nearly as good, and now instead of an up-and-comer who has top-pairing potential, we are left in the same boat as Liljegren himself: if the coach and team don’t believe in him, our confidence in predicting an eventual career potential as a solid #2 is at an all-time low.

Two years ago, the Toronto Maple Leafs won 58% Liljegren’s minutes, which are extremely good results.  Additionally, he posted a 59% expected goals rating, meaning he deserved those results.

Last year, he regressed slightly, but the Leafs still won his minutes (52%) and his XGoals was still a very-good 53%.  Again, these are bottom-pairing numbers, but in practice, it really shouldn’t matter.

I still think it was a major coaching blunder for Keefe to ever take Liljegren out of the lineup.  I think he long ago should have been promoted and the fact he wasn’t was basically the same reason I wanted Keefe to be replaced.

His scoring was down last year, but two years ago he posted a points/60 (5v5) of 1.34, which is higher than all but one of Morgan Rielly’s last four seasons.

If the coach showed any confidence in him at all, I’d think he was the Toronto Maple Leafs best defenseman.

He is their only regular with any upside.