The 6 Defensemen the Toronto Maple Leafs Should Dress in Game 1 of the Playoffs

Sheldon Keefe needs to make the tough decision not to play his veterans and go with the best line-up.
Florida Panthers v Toronto Maple Leafs
Florida Panthers v Toronto Maple Leafs / Claus Andersen/GettyImages

The Toronto Maple Leafs have three games left until the regular season is over and the playoffs begin.

In those remaining games Toronto Maple Leafs coach Sheldon Keefe has to make some big decisions on what to do with his playoff roster, specifically the blue line.

The Leafs blue-line isn't the greatest, but they are going to cobble together what they can and hope the league's top 5v5 offense is good enought to get them where they need to go.

I'm going to have a look at who should be patrolling the blue line for Game 1of the series.

The 6 Defensemen the Toronto Maple Leafs Should Dress in Game 1 of the Playoffs

Morgan Rielly

When you talk about players bleeding blue you speak about past fan favourites such as Darcy Tucker and Wendel Clark, one player that does not get enough credit for how die hard of a Maple Leafs player he is, is Morgan Rielly.

RIelly is a player that has elevated his game in recent playoff history and the adopted Torontonian from British Columbia is a star that would put his face in front of a puck to ensure it doesn't get to the back of the net. While he is not a stud #1 defenseman, he is in a category of a legitimate #2.

There is some question as who best to partner with him, but it's mostly been Lyubushkin since he was acquired. Since the deadline, in the limited games where the Leafs had a healthy lineup, Keefe has used Rielly, McCabe, Brodie and Liljegren has his top four, but he's usually paired two of them with players who play much less. As for who I think Rielly should be paired with for the playoffs, we'll come back to that.

Rielly is an automatic play, and I think the next two players should be as well.

McCabe and Benoit

After Rielly, the next two defenseman that I think should be locks for the playoff run are partners Jake McCabe and Simon Benoit.

Sheldon Keefe, has, however, demonstrated that with a healthy lineup, he likely will use Benoit in the role of 7th defenseman. I strongly disagree and think he has earned the right to start in the playoffs.

The pairing have played steady together on the back end and for the most part are a safe pairing. McCabe has quietly had the best season of his career across the board. The Wisconsin native has set career highs in both goals (8) and points (28) while averaging the most ice-time of his career (20:44). For the first time in his career he crack 200 hits in a season.

While he doesn't have the track record that McCabe has, Benoit is proving to be one of the better signings of the Brad Treliving era. Benoit has become a physical menace on the back end also cracking 200 hits on the season. This duo should be paired together for the upcoming series.

Edmundson and Liljegren.

While we did not give a long look at this duo, Joel Edmundson and Timothy Liljegren should be put back together. The Leafs coach has used Liljegren in a top-four role since Rielly was hurt the first time, and he's played well when healthy.

Edmundson who was acquired at the trade deadline for a pair of mid round draft picks returned to the Maple Leafs line-up Thursday night against the Devils and played 19:22 while blocking three shots and dishing out five hits. He was beat off the rush for the game winner, but you have to expect it will take a couple games to get back up to speed.

The former Stanley Cup winner will be needed to play against the more physical Atlantic Division opponents in attempt to keep their shanigans in check. Keefe has used him like a sixth defenseman for most of the time he's been here (only 8 games) so it will be interesting to see how he's deployed in the playoffs.

If Liljegren is healthy and able to get back up to speed these two should also be partnered together.

That Leaves One Spot

If they use my lineup, the Maple Leafs are left with four defenseman: T.J. Brodie, Ilya Lyubushkin, Mark Giordano and Conor Timmins competing for the last spot.

Who should get into the line-up will all depend on whether or not Liljegren and/or Edmundson are not able to go.

If everyone is healthy, my first choice to pair with Morgan Rielly would be Ilya Lyubushkin. The big physical Russian defenseman has had his struggles of late, but I believe his game is a little more simple than the rest and easier to fix than the struggles of the other three.

If Lyubushkin is not able to be the quiet steady partner for the Leafs top defenseman, my next choice to pair with Rielly would likely have to begrudgingly be T.J. Brodie. The veteran defenseman has made some great passes in the offensive zone recently to set up some tap in goals for his teammates, but his play in his own end this season has be atrocious.

Brodie appears to have adapted the Jake Gardiner style of hockey in which he lets his opponent initiate contact with the hopes of spinning off. Unfortunately, Brodie's foot speed has declined immensely which has caused him to be unable to escape after the contract. The results typically become a non danger situation turns into a scoring opportunity for opponents.

There is a situation where I'd put Timmins into the line-up and that is if Liljegren is unable to play in Game 1 and in that case I would pair Timmins with Edmundson.

The only way Giordano would get into my line-up is if four defenseman go down with injury.

The playoff defense should be:
Morgan Rielly - Ilya Lyubushkin
Simon Benoit - Jake McCabe
Joel Edmundson - Timothy Liljegren


That said, I think it is highly unlikely that Keefe sits Brodie in the playoffs, regardless of how bad he's been.