Projecting the Toronto Maple Leafs Playoff Roster

Over the weekend, the Toronto Maple Leafs clinched the playoffs for the eighth straight season. They got Mitch Marner and Morgan Reilly back in the lineup and have Timothy Liljegren and Joel Edmundson nearing a return. It appears the Maple Leafs will be back at full strength come playoff time, so let's talk about what I think the Maple Leafs lineup should look like for game one of the playoffs.
Toronto Maple Leafs v New Jersey Devils
Toronto Maple Leafs v New Jersey Devils / Elsa/GettyImages
2 of 3

Projecting the Toronto Maple Leafs Playoff Defensive Core

With Joel Edmundson and Timothy Liljgren likely to return before game one of the playoffs, the Maple Leafs will have to decide on six of the nine serviceable defensemen on their roster. This will be a tough decision, considering all of the depth defensemen are similar in quality but have different styles of play.

First things first, though, the Maple Leafs need to decide who will play with Morgan Reilly, and this should not be a difficult decision. Morgan Reilly has played with multiple different defense partners this year, but only has above a 60% expected goal share with one guy.

That guy is Timothy Liljegren. Reilly and Liljegren have a 63.5% expected goal share in the 111 minutes they have played together this season. This is the highest expected goal share of any Leafs pairing that have played at least 50 minutes together this season (via MoneyPuck).

Keefe also had them paired at practice yesterday.

Moving down the list, Jake McCabe is the guy I see locked into playing on the second pairing, and I think Sheldon Keefe has to give Connor Timmins a chance here.

These two have played 40 minutes together at five-on-five and have a 69.6% expected goal share. Timmins has been criminally underused this season but ranks first among Maple Leaf's defensemen in expected goal share on the season (via NaturalStatTrick) and is a far better puck mover than Ilya Lybushkin, Joel Edmundson and T.J Brodie. This will be a massive priority against the Bruins or Panthers, who are both phenomenal in putting pressure on defensemen on their end.

The third pairing is where I think Sheldon Keefe can go several different ways; it will likely have to have Mark Giordano on it, given the offensive liability that Lybushkin, Brodie and Edmundson present. But if I had to decide between the three, Ilya Lybushkin must fill out this last spot in the lineup.

He has played 15 games since rejoining the Maple Leafs at the trade deadline, and in those games, he has 55.55% expected goal share, which ranks second among Leafs defensemen on the year, though notably he doesn't really get tough matchups and is generally given either the 5th or 6th most TOI on the team when he plays.

This leaves, Joel Edmundson and T.J Brodie as the odd men out, again this leaves Keefe options to adjust mid series if he has to, but both of these guys are below 50% in five on five expected goal share on the year and will struggle against the ferocious forecheck of the Panthers or Bruins.