A Better Run Team Than the Maple Leafs Would Already Have Done This...

Toronto Maple Leafs v Ottawa Senators
Toronto Maple Leafs v Ottawa Senators / Chris Tanouye/Freestyle Photo/GettyImages
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The Toronto Maple Leafs defense is hurt by the fact that Timothy Liljegren is better than Sheldon Keefe thinks he is.

Keefe has one of the weakest blue-lines in hockey at his disposal and still doesn't give Liljegren the minutes he has earned by being a nearly elite third pairing player over the last few seasons.

Because of how good Liljegren can be, and because of his current circumstances as a maybe a part of this team future, he would likely have strong incentive to sign a longterm deal.

The Leafs could try to lock him up at a cap-hit that he wouldn't get on a short-term deal, but which locks him into a team-friendly deal should he break out as expected.

A seven years $3.5 million dollar deal could pay extremely handsome dividends down the line, even if Liljegren isn't quite worth that today. By overpaying him now, the Leafs could make a long-term bet that he ends up on a team-friendly deal. (All stats naturalstattrick.com).

By doing this, they could get years of cap savings and it could help them build a championship roster.

A Team Smarter Than the Leafs Already Would Have

Keefe is a confusing coach.

His team's biggest weakness (besides goalie) is that his defenseman can't move the puck. After Rielly, the best on the team (at least the best that actually gets ice-time) is Timothy Liljegren.

Though he plays softer minutes than Rielly and McCabe, Liljegren has the best stats on the Leafs blue-line. He is clearly their best defensive player and he has a decent ability to move the puck. According to the Athletic Player Cards, he's in the 97% percentile of defensive play.

Quick Quiz:

With which regularly deployed defensemen do the Leafs have the best results this season?

Which defenseman has the best expected results?

The answer to both question is Timothy Liljegren. He has, by far, the best stats on the team.

He has played the most sheltered minutes on the team, and usually starts in the offensive zone, but he's also played half his minutes with the decrepit Mark Giordano.

Keefe's biggest coaching mistake of his career is sitting Liljegren in the playoffs, and he continues to not trust him despite mountains of video and statistical evidence that says he should. Unbelievably, Liljegren is still averaging less time per game at 5v5 than John Klingberg did during his 14 game audition as the worst signing in Toronto Maple Leafs history.

There is pretty much nothing left for Liljegren to prove on a third pairing - he's an ELITE third pairing defenseman. At the very worst, you can put him onto the right-side of the third pairing for the next six years and not worry.

So that's enough motivation to sign him long-term right there, but don't forget that he could potentially get much better. A lot of NHL statisticians and analysts have downplayed the effect of Quality of Competition because it also comes with worse teammates, so playing Liljegren higher in the lineup is unlikely to prove to be a problem.

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My smartly locking him up right now, the Toronto Maple Leafs could get years of cap savings. A smart team already would have. Although, on a smart team, Liljegren would already be an established top-four presence.