The Toronto Maple Leafs Can Never - Not Even Once - Scratch Timothy Liljegren

Mar 2, 2024; Toronto, Ontario, CAN;  Toronto Maple Leafs goalie Ilya Samsonov (35) and defenseman
Mar 2, 2024; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Toronto Maple Leafs goalie Ilya Samsonov (35) and defenseman / Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports

The most important player on the Toronto Maple Leafs blue-line might be Timothy Liljegren.

To be sure, Morgan Rielly remains the Toronto Maple Leafs best defenseman, and Jake McCabe is their only defender who can hit, play defense and still be at home at the top of the lineup.

And while the Leafs did add two new defenseman to the mix last week, it's Timothy Liljegren who is the most important.

It wouldn't be too hyperbolic to say that the entire season may rest on his shoulders.

The Toronto Maple Leafs Can Never Scratch Timothy Liljegren

The Leafs have built a tougher blue-line, but it's not mobile and it is among the worst in the NHL at moving the puck.

This matters because offensive defenseman who efficiently move the puck up the ice make it so teams play less defense. You can have the best defensive defender in the game, but he won't be as good at preventing goals as the team is when they actually have the puck.

This is the one facet of the game that analytics has changed the most - we know understand how valuable it is when defenders can move the puck.

Morgan Rielly is good at it. Simon Benoit may be the worst in the NHL at it.

TJ Brodie, Joel Edmundson, Mark Giordano and Ilya Lyubushkin are very bad at it. Jake McCabe is below average.

That leaves Rielly (elite) and Liljegren (very good).

With no other options, Liljegren has to be in every single lineup. Not only is he the Leafs potentially best all-round defender, he's one of their only puck-movers.

He's also one of their only right-handers, and by far their best one.

So there are several reasons why he can't sit. But the biggest reason of all is his upside. This year he's taken extremely strong steps towards being a top pairing player.

When Morgan Rielly was injured, it was Liljegren, and not Brodie, who carried the top pair, posting seven points in five games and extremely positive results.

There has never been a more nonsensical example of group-think than last week after the Edmundson trade where Leafs Nation just assumed Liljegren would be the odd man out.

Sure, Keefe scratched him two playoffs in a row, but he wasn't one of their best players back then. (Also, it was a mistake that was actually fairly costly, depending how you look at it). (all stats

According to the Athletic's Player Cards, Liljegren has a +5 overall rating, and most of his value comes from his defense. This makes him the Leafs most effective defender this season. This equates to a market value of $6.5 million even though he makes less than $2 million.

Liljegren is now too important to the team. He posts great numbers, he drives play. He keeps the puck out of his net, and has proved, time and again, that he belongs in the lineup.

This year with Liljegren on the ice, the Leafs get 53% of the shots and 55% of the dangerous scoring chances. He's been a little unlucky, as the team is winning his minutes by just a single goal, but he has a 52% expected goals rating,

The Leafs can never sit him. It's bad enough to play Benoit and Lyubushkin and Brodie in the same game, but you can't play five defenders who can't pass or move the puck. It's silly to have anyone on the team who can't move the puck, but the Leafs don't seem to understand this, probably because they got such unlucky results when they acted intelligently.


Doesn't matter. If Timothy Liljegren is ever healthy scratched again, everyone in the organization would deserve to be fired.