Itâ€™s no secret that the Maple Leafs finished in the bottom third of the NHL in goals against despite ample allocation of resources to the blueline, something they have encountered tremendous struggles with dating back to the season following the lockout.
While the Leafs lack of consistent goaltending can be blamed, in large part, for the teamâ€™s shortcomings, the defence has not met the task of shutting down the opposition. That’s not to say there havenâ€™t been capable NHL blueliners on the roster. What has hindered the Leafs‘ defensive units from their full potential, for my money, is the lack of chemistry and familiarity on the backend. Despite his lack of foot speed, Francois Beauchemin was a quality addition to the roster, but the coaching staff couldnâ€™t find a defensive partner to successfully complement his game.
With Beauchemin, Kaberle, and to a lesser extent, Brett Lebda out the door, the stage is set for a young, versatile defence poised to both attack and defend on all cylinders. Led by Dion Phaneuf, the Leafs defence includes four players above 6-foot-3 and 213 pounds â€“ including Keith Aulie (6-foot-5, 217 pounds) and the newly acquired Cody Franson (6-foot-5, 213 pounds), who make up the Twin Towers of the Toronto defence.
It doesnâ€™t stop there.
John-Michael Liles, brought over in a trade with Colorado during the draft, serves as the grey bearded veteran, despite being only 30 years old, and is among the best puck movers in the league. His 46 points led the Avalanche blue line in scoring last season. Third-year Swede Carl Gunnarsson and Matt Lashoff also provide a steady presence and are capable at moving the puck out of the defensive zone.
Luke Schenn and Mike Komisarek round out the defense, providing grit and physicality in all situations, most importantly on the penalty kill.
The missing component in the past was an imbalance of offensive and defensive defenseman. Of the eight defenseman pencilled into the lineup heading into next season, four can be labelled as legitimate puckmovers â€“ Phaneuf, Liles, Gunnarsson, Lashoff â€“ while the other three are relied on for their shutdown abilities. Cody Franson has been left off the list because he has the size to be considered a mean, shutdown defenceman, but he shies away from that game a bit in favour of a more offensive game. For the purpose of this article, he will be denoted as a hybrid with the untapped potential to use his size to his advantage.
With this in mind, the Leafs defence consists of players who will each fulfill a specific role. Unlike years past, there arenâ€™t rampant questions with much unpredictability throughout. Dare I say it, the management group has finally assembled a backend that can be relied on to guide the team back to the post season.
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