In nothing else, the Toronto Maple Leafs have an experienced defensive corps. Of the seven players currently listed on the depth chart, the top five defensemen include Morgan Rielly, Jake McCabe, T.J. Brodie, John Klingberg, and Mark Giordano. The last two on the team’s depth chart include Timothy Liljegren and Conor Timmins.
The top five defensemen boast an average age of over 30 years. They have a wealth of experience. They have the oldest skater in the NHL in Giordano (at 39 years of age). The team also has Brodie (at 33 years of age) leading the way. The six defensemen (including Liljegren) have played an impressive 4,142 NHL games. Of course, Giordano leads the way with 1,143 regular-season and playoff games combined.
However, beyond their experienced players, the team lacks experienced depth on the backend. But that doesn’t mean the depth they have is not good or it lacks potential. Liljegren could become a great defenseman. While the jury remains out on Timmins, he seems to have a knack for putting up points from the blue line; and, that’s not a bad thing.
New Maple Leafs’ general manager Brad Treliving has made it clear that he’s not done with the blue line. I have to think he’s looking for some cheaper but experienced depth defensemen who could jump into the fray if there were injuries – sort of what Jordie Benn did last season.
With the new season approaching, it seems to be that the Maple Leafs will try to address this problem. They’d like to bolster their defensive lineup, especially in the depth department.
Depth Concerns, After Liljegren
After Liljegren, as noted, Timmins is the next in line on the depth chart. Last season, he showed up (from the Arizona Coyotes) and showed well. He even earned a two-year contract extension. However, with the newcomers at the trade deadline, he was a healthy scratch during the postseason.
The team used eight other defensemen during the playoffs, indicating a lack of confidence in Timmins. I look for him to get a longer look this season. However, after that, there are two depth defensemen – ex-Edmonton Oilers William Lagesson and ex-Ottawa Senators and Carolina Hurricanes’ Maxime Lajoie.
Both are relatively unknown UFAs signed during the offseason. They might be good. However, until we see them in action, they are just names added to the defensive depth chart.
A Sparse Defensive Pool
Outside of the top six defensemen, the Maple Leafs’ defensive depth consists of Timmins (78 games played), Lajoie (72 games played), and Lagesson (60 games played). The rest of the organization’s defensive depth is filled with players yet to make their NHL debut. While in the long run that might be great, it creates a concern for the team’s short-term future. Specifically, if there’s an injury this season, how will the team be able to cover it?
Future Plans and Maple Leafs’ Salary Cap Constraints
For these reasons, GM Treliving is reportedly planning further changes to address these perceived defensive issues. However, as always, it seems the team’s salary-cap restraints haunt the team. As constructed, currently the contracts on the books prevent the team from icing a full complement of 12 forwards and 6 defensemen.
More adjustments are anticipated as the new season approaches. But, how and who?
The Bottom Line
Although the Maple Leafs admit that there’s some urgency in addressing their lack of experienced depth on defence, it remains confusing how the team will actually do it. The 2023-24 season is approaching, and the team is expected to make moves to strengthen their blue line.
Yet, how can the team create a stronger defensive lineup without the salary-cap space to do so? No one can imagine that the team is hoping for an injury or two to create space; however, if training camp is expected to see changes to the defensive corps, how can these happen?
Maple Leafs’ fans might expect some added changes coming. Perhaps a trade of a player with significant contact numbers? Otherwise, the team might be stuck with the roster it currently has.