The Leafs have 7 NHL defensemen now that Travis Dermott is signed. By NHL defensemen, I mean defensemen we all reasonably expect to be on a NHL roster at the start of next season. I’ve counted them. It’s Rielly, Muzzin, Brodie, Dermott, Lehtonen, Holl, and Bogosian. That’s 7. That’s not including Rasmus Sandin or Timothy Liljegren who look like they’ll have another year before becoming NHL fulltimers, and Calle Rosen and Martin Marincin who are solid depth options. We can even look at Teemu Kivihalme as a guy who would normally get a look as a bottom pairing option as a guy in the mix for a NHL job at some point soon. The Leafs are now looking pretty deep on defense. And that’s pretty good.
At this point it’s a challenge to determine how the seven main defensemen are going to fit into 6 spots in the lineup.
I’d argue that the top four should probably look like this:
Muzzin-Lehtonen (swap in Holl or Dermott if you want to be boring)
And that’s going to leave Dermott, Holl, and Bogosian slotting into the bottom pairing. So somewhere in there is an odd man out, but how often are we truly going to see an odd man out…
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Last season the Leafs only had one defenseman who played in all 70 regular season games. Only one other defenseman over 80% of the games, and in total 11 different defensemen saw time with the Leafs. And when you consider the Leafs have seen their healthiest defenseman, and one of their other top 4 healthiest defensemen depart this offseason, perhaps some defensive depth is a good thing, especially when Rosen, Kivihalme, Marincin, Liljegren, and Sandin are already accustom to not taking being every day NHL players.
When you factor in the new guys, T.J. Brodie has been pretty healthy throughout his career with the very notable exception of his on ice collapse in practice last fall. Bogosian is much more of a mixed bag, both in that healthy scratching him isn’t out of the realm of possibility because he’ll be much more of a situational player, and in that he is more injury prone than some of the other Leafs defenders.
Looking at another way, 72 games of defense were played by defensemen outside the six. There’s no reason to believe that the top seven defensemen won’t all in a respectable number of games. Throw in a global pandemic and a setup less strict than the bubble the NHL put in place during the 2019-20 Return to Play, and the Leafs being 12 deep on useable defensemen seems like the practical approach.
There’s also the idea that, while there isn’t any shortage of talent in the Leafs forward group that they could attempt to roll an 11F/7D set up, in an attempt to mirror what worked so well for the Lightning in the playoffs, although I’m not sure I’m ready to put Muzzin, Rielly, and Brodie in the same class as Hedman, McDonagh, and Sergachev. Going with the 11F/7D also leaves the Leafs with Justin Holl as a potential forward option, assuming he is willing to tap into his early NCAA days. More than likely they’re sticking with the 12F/6D we should be reasonably expecting of them.
So if you want to look at the roster practically, you shouldn’t count on the Leafs trading a defenseman. And you shouldn’t worry about where everyone is going to fit in, instead enjoy the fact that in a flat cap the Leafs have been able to upgrade in the quality and in the depth of their blueline.