Toronto Maple Leafs Writer Defends Unanimously Criticized Idea

Mar 6, 2024; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Buffalo Sabres defenseman Ryan Johnson (33) battles for the puck
Mar 6, 2024; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Buffalo Sabres defenseman Ryan Johnson (33) battles for the puck / Nick Turchiaro-USA TODAY Sports

There comes a time in every man's life when he must take a stand. Some people take stands on things that matter, but I am going to make mine about a hypothetical Toronto Maple Leafs lineup.

I had this idea of what the Toronto Maple Leafs blue-line should look like in the upcoming playoffs, and so, like any good writer trying to drum up interest in his thoughts and ideas, I tweeted it out....

To deafening silence and ratio so bad I had to double-check to make sure I didn't include any accidently offensive typos.

It was clean, but no one agreed. It was another idea that was unanimously rejected, but while I often see the light and change my mind when astute commenters offer me their wisdom, I felt this one could use a defense because I think I'm onto something here.

Toronto Maple Leafs Writer Defends Unanimously Criticized Idea

First, Joseph Woll: He's better than Ilya Samsonov. Regardless of who is hot at the time, when the playoffs start, the job should go to the most talented goalie.

Woll is the Leafs goalie of the future, and as such getting him playoff experience should be a big deal. The Leafs didn't add at the deadline and since they aren't "all in" this year, it makes sense to get playoff experience for the player who will help them when they are.

Secondly, about that blue-line. My thinking is as follows:

The Leafs top four is unquestionably Rielly, McCabe, Brodie and Liljegren. A lot of people like to leave Liljegren off this list, but since Morgan Rielly was injured the first time, Liljegren (when healthy) has been deployed at various times as the Leafs #1, #2 and always at least #4 by TOI per game.

The rest of the blue-line is horrible at moving the puck, so in an ideal word you play the first four and then mix-and-match the rest.

Keefe has shown this to be the case because even though he rested Brodie twice, those are his four most used defenders per game. If they are all healthy, they will be the Leafs top four in the playoffs, leaving two spots open.

Conventional wisdom has those spots going to Lyubushkin and Edmundson, but I think that's a mistake. Mark Giordano's shot-blocking and intelligence makes him better than those guys, even if it's just marginally. He is maybe not capable of bringing it every night anymore, but when he's on he has a level of play that those guys dream about being able to achieve.

For me, he's in the lineup most nights.

The Final spot I give to Timmins because while Edmundson is mean and will help you in front of the net, a puck-mover will make it so you have to play less defense overall.

Since the trade deadline, Timmins has played in seven games and has an Expected Goals Percentage of 62%. Edmundson has played the same amount of games and the same amount of minutes in those games and has a 46% xGoals rating. (stats

Another reason to play Timmins is because he's a good puck mover and the Leafs are a top offensive team. It's just good game theory to lean into what you're good at rather than to try to do everything.

Yes, Lyubushkin, Benoit and Edmundson fit into the cliched sterotype of a player "built for the playoffs" but that is such an outdated concept it defies belief that it is still deployed. The NHL has had a statistical revolution and the biggest finding was perhaps just how useless it was to play big, slow defenseman that hit and don't do anything else. (And yes, I realize Benoit isn't exactly slow, but he is a brutal puck-mover and this tends to counteract anything good he does).

Puck Moving defenseman always help the team more, they just don't throw big hits that fans remember after the game, making it seem like they aren't as helpful. This is not a popular take, but it's the truth.

Most people seem to think that the Leafs should dress Lyubushkin and Edmundson and Benoit, and while the Leafs will probably dress at least two of those guys in most games where everyone is healthy, it will be a mistake to sit Giordano or Timmins over them. Spare me the lame clichés about "playoff hockey" becuase while there may be some truth to it, there isn't enough to play bad players just because they are tough. If you are tough and good, like McCabe, so much the better.

Since the trade deadline, the Leafs defenseman listed in order of Expected Goals Percentage are Giordano, Timmins, Liljegren, Rielly, Brodie, McCabe, Lyubushkin, Benoit and Edmundson.


When the playoffs come around, the Leafs should take my advice and start Joseph Woll as well as play Liljegren, Giordano and Timmins over Lyubushkin, Edmundson and Benoit.