There’s no puzzle about the Toronto Maple Leafs’ blue line. The recent signing of Simon Benoit is exactly the kind of defenseman the team needs. He’s a towering 6-foot-3 blue liner; and, he adds depth to the roster. Still, general manager Brad Treliving isn’t closing the book on his further ways to improve the team’s defense.
Fortunately, for as much as they are prized, big tough defensemen are relatively cheap to sign or trade for. As the coming season draws closer, fans should expect Treliving to make another deal or sign another player like Benoit. If not then, perhaps at the trade deadline.
The Actual Quality of This Team’s Defense Is Hard to Project
The truth is that I don’t really know if this Maple Leafs’ defense is going to be good or not. I expect Morgan Rielly to play just as he has. He’s a cornerstone on the blue line but must continue to grow in his power-play consistency and elevate his defensive game.
I am hopeful that John Klingberg will rediscover his offensive prowess while being good enough at his defensive responsibilities. I expect he’ll be a huge plus for the team.
Jake McCabe is who he is. He’s solid and plays (mostly) a simple game. With a preseason under his belt, he’ll learn to fit into the defense’s structure. I think he’s good enough. He could be much better than I expect and could turn into a smaller version of Jake Muzzin, who at his best was an all-around force and a shutdown defender. Because he knows the team needs him to be so, he’ll learn to engage more of his physicality.
Timothy Liljegren is a player in the spotlight, but fans should expect him to make more strides forward this season. He’s been getting better each season. TJ Brodie is getting older but plays the quietest game on the blue line (and that’s a good thing). He’ll do his job just fine.
Connor Timmins will be the most interesting defenseman to watch. I hope the team doesn’t trade him. With his value contract, he could become another offensive defenseman. Whatever he was doing last season on defense, he made things happen on the score sheet. And, while no one mentions it, he’s a player who could play both on the wing and defense during the same game. He did that last season, and his flexibility could turn into a positive for the team if they needed it.
Still, Another Workhorse Defenseman Would Be Nice
Expect Treliving to keep his eye out for another Clydesdale – a workhorse who could bolster the Maple Leafs’ physicality on the blue line. For the Maple Leafs, it boils down to the balance of salary cap space and acquisition costs. The Maple Leafs must navigate their financial constraints to make the move happen.
But other teams must also do the same. I can see a scenario where a team will try to slip a big one – an inexpensive workhorse defenseman – through waivers. Treliving could jump quickly. Or, he could make a trade at the end of the offseason’s training camp for just such a player. That’s how they found Timmins last season.
If Not In the Offseason, Then at the Trade Deadline
Last season, at the trade deadline, the team added Luke Schenn as a rental defenseman. Players like Schenn always seem to become available as the trade deadline approaches. Or, I can see the team going with what they have, now that they’ve added Benoit, and see how the season unfolds.
In my assessment, Benoit’s addition was a step in the right direction for the Maple Leafs’ blue line. He’s a player who brings the blend of size and affordability the team needs to fill its defensive depth. Expect Treliving to look for more such defensive talent.
But, as the season unfolds, Maple Leafs’ fans will get a chance to assess what the team has and what it needs to become a formidable blue line headed down the Stanley Cup trail.
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