The Story Isn't TJ Brodie Getting Scratched, It's Conor Timmins Playing

Dec 19, 2023; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Toronto Maple Leafs defenseman Conor Timmins (25) skates during
Dec 19, 2023; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Toronto Maple Leafs defenseman Conor Timmins (25) skates during / Nick Turchiaro-USA TODAY Sports
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The Toronto Maple Leafs absolutely destroyed the Washington Capitals last night.

Auston Matthews had a five-point night, and the Torontto Maple Leafs had a great game. As per usual, I will leave the game re-caps to the 2500 other people who want to do them and just focus on my thoughts from the game.

This one was special in that coach Sheldon Keefe finally entered the realm of reality and recognized his biggest problem - the Decline of TJ Brodie.

Brodie was deservedly scratched, but it was the surprise insertion of Conor Timmins that was the real story.

The Story Isn't TJ Brodie Getting Scratched, It's Conor Timmins Playing

Timmins hasn't played since January 24th and has been out with mono. The thing about Timmins is that he doesn't get any hype, he's not written or talked about much as a player who needs to play, and he's generally an afterthought on the Leafs blue-line.

Yet despite that, he's been the Leafs most effective defenseman this season. That's right, Timmins has the team's best stats. Granted, he's posted those in limited and sheltered usage, but the facts are that when deployed properly he adds a ton of value to the lineup.

Especially as a right-handed puck-mover on a team that lacks exactly that.

Last night he was paired with Simon Benoit to great success. Benoit is a fairly fast skater and not as typically slow players like him tend to be. He can't move the puck at all, but he's mean and hard to play against. Timmins is the exact opposite and, at least for one game, they seemed to compliment each other.

Timothy Liljegren led the Leafs in ice-time last night, but Timmins and Benoit were right behind him. The Leafs seemed to use all three pairings equally, but Keefe did seem to keep Timmins and Benoit away from Ovechkin.

This deployment was to great success. With Timmins on the ice the Leafs had 61% puck-possession, 65% of the shots, 68% Expected goals, and the Leafs won those minutes 1-0. (all stats naturalstattrick.com).

Timmins' puck-moving abilities are in short supply on this team and he should play more. I love the idea of using him and Benoit as a 3rd pairing permanently.

What I don't love, however, is giving Joel Edmunson so much ice-time. In an elevated role, Edmundson and Liljegren struggled big-time last night. Shots were 9-3 and goals were 2-0 with Edmundson on the ice.

This line was, however, forced to play almost half their minutes with the fourth line. It wasn't pretty. The Kampf-Gregor-Dewar line was pure garbagio. I know Ryan Reaves isn't an NHL player, but niether is Noah Gregor. What is Keefe even doing here?

Keefe doesn't really have a reliable go-to defensive pairing when he puts McCabe with Rielly, sits Brodie, and wants to prevent Timmins and Benoit from playing top competition.

This put the Edmundson/Liljegren pairing in the unfortuante position to have to try and play against Alex Ovechkin's line for about half the time (Rielly and McCabe got the other half and did much better) and it wasn't pretty.

Ovechkin's line completely dominated the Edmunson/Liljmegren pairing to an embarrassing degree. Edmundson is just to slow to play top competition. He isn't even really a good #6 or #7 option - he's one of the worst players in the NHL, he just makes up for it by being mean and huge.

However, an entire decade and a half of hockey analytics has taught us, these players don't really help teams as much as you'd think. The stay-at-home defender is unable to get the puck out of his zone, so he ends up playing more defense than he should. Contrast that to the less reliable puck-mover who can't defend as well, but ends up helping the team more by making it so there is less total defense to play. Ultimately, even the best defender gets scored on, but you can't be scored on when you have the puck in the other team's zone.

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If I was Keefe, I would want more Timmins and less Edmundson. Brodie is fine and should play, he just shouldn't be deployed like a top player. Most likely this is just a rest and not a regular occurrence, because, as bad as TJ Brodie has been, he is still better than Edmundson, Lyubushkin or Benoit. One thing is clear: the Leafs need more Conor Timmins.