An Early Look at the Toronto Maple Leafs Line Combos and Defence Pairings

The Toronto Maple Leafs lineup doesn't figure to change very much. The biggest changes will be on the blue line given the recent acquisition of free agent defencemen. However, the projected goaltending tandem may raise some questions among Leaf fans across the board.
Projected Toronto Maple Leafs lineup heading into next season based on the current signings and roster players.
Projected Toronto Maple Leafs lineup heading into next season based on the current signings and roster players. / Maddie Meyer/GettyImages
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The Toronto Maple Leafs have been active at the start of the NHL free-agency season. Whether the moves have been useful or not, that’s debatable.

The consensus among my colleagues and myself is that the Toronto Maple Leafs seem to lack a clear direction and philosophy for the club.

Regardless of that point, it’s worth taking an early look at the lineup the Leafs could ice based on the current roster construction. Of course, this lineup is subject to change as anything can happen from now till opening night.

The lines I will discuss come from Daily Faceoff. I chose these projected line combos and defence pairings since they reveal some interesting insights into how Craig Berube could deploy the pieces given to him.

But first, a couple of assumptions. First, Mitch Marner is still on the team. He hasn’t been traded, so he plays. Second, there are no major injuries. Thus, everyone appears to be healthy. Third, Nick Robertson isn’t part of the discussion as he has requested a trade.

Projected Lineup for the Toronto Maple Leafs

Potential Four Line Combos

Let’s start with the forward group. Daily Faceoff considers this setup:

  • Matthew Knies – Auston Matthews – Mitch Marner
  • Bobby McMann - John Tavares – William Nylander
  • Pontus Holmberg – Max Domi – Calle Jarnkrok
  • Connor Dewar – David Kampf – Ryan Reaves

I can see some fans’ eyes rolling by now. First off, the top line seems serviceable. Marner and Matthews is a no-brainer. However, Knies is not be the best fit here. In fact, I’d like to see Knies with Tavares and Nylander.

Matthews and Marner need a hound like Zach Hyman or Michael Bunting. So, why not give Bobby McMann a chance? He’s about as hard working as anyone on the team. He’s a Berube-type player without a doubt.

As for the second unit, I’ve thought about landing Max Domi at centre with Tavares and Nylander on the wings. That move would seem controversial as not many people would see Domi as a second-line centre. If that’s the case, then put Domi on the wing with Nylander and Tavares at centre.

As for the bottom-six, Ryan Reaves takes up valuable real estate. In my estimation, Reaves should be deployed in situations where a one-dimensional enforcer is needed. A guy like Alex Steeves could fit in nicely, providing the Leafs with another hard-working forward.

Another move that I think Sheldon Keefe got right was using Pontus Holmberg as the third-line centre. He’s a reliable forward that can play at both ends of the ice. So, deploying a McMann-Holmberg-Jarnkrok line could actually work as a serviceable third-line.

Lastly, David Kampf fits in well as a fourth-line centre. I understand the contention that’s he’s overpaid as a fourth-line centre. Nevertheless, Kampf has been a valuable, if quiet contributor to the club.

Potential Defence Pairings for the Maple Leafs

Now, let’s take a look at the defence pairings, according to Daily Faceoff

These defence look solid. However, I don’t see Ekman-Larsson as a top-four defenceman. He played on the bottom pairing in Florida. Ekman-Larsson got torched several times during the Conference Final series against the Rangers. Then, the Oilers made him look sick during the Cup Final. So, Ekan-Larsson could work on the third-pairing. Ditto for Liljegren.

  • Morgan Rielly – Chris Tanev
  • Oliver Ekman-Larsson – Timothy Liljegren
  • Jake McCabe – Simon Benoit

McCabe and Benoit emerged as a shutdown pairing. They play with a mean streak and have the size Brad Treliving and Berube like to see on the blue line. So, I feel McCabe and Benoit should see much more ice time than Ekman-Larsson and Liljegren five-on-five.

Likely Goaltending Tandem for Toronto

As for goaltending, hold your breath: Joseph Woll and Anthony Stolarz. Let me be honest, here. Most of us saw this coming. After the Leafs missed out on Jacob Markstrom, Linus Ullmark, Darcy Kuemper, and Juuse Saros, a solution like this was going to be the plan.

I’ve written about how the Maple Leafs plan to roll the dice with this potential tandem. I think there’s a chance it works only if Woll stays healthy. Plus, the Leafs need to play a disciplined defensive game in front of the net.

If they can do that, Woll and Stolarz could keep the team afloat.

Overall, this roster looks somewhat similar to what the Florida Panthers iced last season. Matthews is a bona fide superstar while Marner and Nylander should have good seasons.

The defence looks solid. However, the depth is a concern as someone is bound to get hurt sooner rather than later.

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If everything manages to hold together, and Berube can keep the team focused, the Leafs could take advantage of the power vacuum left by the foreseeable regression by the Tampa Bay Lightning and the Florida Panthers.