The Toronto Maple Leafs have a great record when you consider how they have played for most of the season.
The Toronto Maple Leafs struggles this season are not hard to pinpoint. They have blown leads, made huge comebacks (which are good, but improbable, so not indicative of future success) and have failed to play a full 60 minutes in pretty much every game of the season.
The reason for these struggles is also pretty obvious: An already horrible blue-line ravaged by injury, an insistence on playing the worst player in the NHL regularly, and having to incompatible one-dimensional players in their bottom six who must be played regularly due to their high salaries.
But the Leafs biggest problem is not obvious at all.
T.J Brodie. (all stats naturalstattrick.com).
The Toronto Maple Leafs Need to Demote TJ Brodie
Up until some point last season when his game started to drop off, Brodie was a star player who was borderline elite, and one of the NHL’s most underrated players.
This year, Brodie is again being asked to play on the Toronto Maple Leafs top pairing, but he just can’t handle the role. This has a trickledown effect that has been disastrous for the Leafs who have recently taken to dressing their blue-line with 50% AHL players.
For example, Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner are struggling this year. The results are decent, but their 5v5 on-ice numbers are way, way down.
When you realize that they still have elite numbers when Rielly is on the ice, but tank without him, it becomes apparent that having Brodie, McCabe and a bunch of AHL guys is really hurting the team. (Not to mention that, when healthy, Mark Giorano and Jake McCabe both have to play way too high up in the lineup to be properly effective).
Brodie’s Corsi Percentage (i.e puck-possession) is down from 52% to 48%.
The Leafs got 54% of the shots with Brodie on the ice last year, this year they get 48%.
Scoring chances are down from 56% to 49%, while dangerous chances from 58% to 46% (That’s going from elite to horrible).
Brodie’s Expected Goals Percentage last year was 56% and this year its 48%.
The decline of TJ Brodie’s abilities has been sharp and shocking. The Toronto Maple Leafs need to get him off their first pairing immediately and when they are out shopping for help on the blue-line, they need to make all their acquisitions with the realization that while 50% of their projected blue-line is injured, and that, even when healthy, 50% of that blue-line was unplayable, their biggest problem is TJ Brodie.
Really, it’s not that big a deal if John Klingberg gets replaced with any random Marlie – it changes nothing. If you have to swap Giordano for Lagesson you might actually be getting better.
The Liljegren injury hurts, and still, the biggest problem is Brodie because he is currently sabotaging the team’s top pairing and contributing to the (likely temporary) decline of Matthews and Marner so far this season.
He can still be effective lower in the lineup, but the Leafs top priority should be getting Morgan Rielly a partner who can actually handle top pairing minutes.