John Klingberg has been moved to LTIR due to his chronic hip issue, the Maple Leafs announced on Thursday.
It’s always been there throughout my career. I’ve been able to deal with it and work through it. But it kind of hit rock bottom here the last few weeks.
– John Klingberg (Nov. 17)
The question of whether we will see Klingberg dress again in a Leafs uniform is a real one at this stage. The hip condition has left him hobbled to the point where the media that traveled to Sweden with the team was not questioning the seriousness of the injury whatsoever (not that there’s any doubt the Gothenburg native would have played on the Sweden trip if he was able to).
"I was on the plane with him…he's hurt"
— First Up (@FirstUp1050) November 23, 2023
It’s always really unfortunate to hear about a player battling through pain, undergoing a battery of treatments, badly wanting to play, and simply not getting any better. On a personal level, hopefully, Klingberg can get back close to full health/playing relatively pain-free at some point with enough rest and treatment.
For the organization, faced with a weak UFA market for defensemen this past offseason, it might turn into a nothing-ventured, nothing-gained situation in which Brad Treliving, to no avail, took a one-year flyer on a talented offensive defenseman whose health situation has sidetracked his NHL career.
The Leafs’ blue line’s lack of offense, Conor Timmins’ return
The issue of offense from the defense was a real need in the summer and certainly remains one with Klingberg underperforming (when he played) and now hitting the IR long-term.
17 games into the season, Morgan Rielly and Mark Giordano are the only Leafs defensemen who have scored a goal. Timothy Liljegren recorded one point in 10 games before falling injured. TJ Brodie has zero goals and two assists in 17 games, and William Lagesson has one point in 10 games since his callup. The blue line is offensively barren outside of Morgan Rielly’s 15 points in 17 games.
This is a problem that’s plagued the team at playoff time and is a significant piece of the story when it comes to their scoring drying up in the postseason (they ended the Florida series having scored two goals or fewer in seven straight playoff games). Between 2019-20 and 2022-23, the Leafs received 51 points and 241 shots on goal in 184 man games from their defense in the playoffs. This isn’t good in general (1.3 shots per game on average and a .27 points per game), but the numbers are stunning when we remove Rielly from the equation – 154 games played, 29 total points, and 166 shots on goal collectively from the 15 other Toronto defensemen who have dressed over the last four playoff runs.
The average Leafs defenseman not named Rielly produced one point every 5.4 playoff games over these past four postseasons while barely averaging one shot on goal per game (for context, the average Avalanche defenseman not named Makar managed a point every 2.7 games and 1.6 shots/game).
With the Klingberg flyer not panning out, there is nothing about the defense’s early-season regular-season numbers in 2023-24 to suggest the situation is going to be any better this spring without some changes by Treliving. As the trade winds continue to swirl, it’s possible one other part of the solution could be internally sourced.
Expected to play in Chicago on Friday, Conor Timmins’ return from injury is arriving at a good time, although he has to prove he can remain healthy while handling the day-to-day rigors of an NHL schedule. He’ll need to gain traction quickly after a long layoff and help drive some offense for the team off the backend — without giving it up the other way defensively — to justify a regular spot in the lineup.
The Leafs have used the big-bodied Simon Benoit, who will make way for Timmins, in defensive situations and on the (improving) PK with some success, albeit in limited minutes. William Lagesson has earned more trust than Benoit in a larger sample of games and will remain in the lineup for the time being, so in a sense, as the Leafs await Timothy Liljegren’s return sometime in December, it’s a bit of a roster spot battle/evaluation process underway. There is plenty of promise in the 14 points in Timmins’ 25 appearances for the Leafs to date, but he’ll need to prove he can stay healthy, sustain solid production over a longer sample, and win his minutes at five-on-five.
Sheldon Keefe: “In terms of what [Timmins] can provide with getting the puck moving and getting it to the net, it is similar to what Klingberg’s strengths are. It would help us on the power play as well. Having more mobility, puck movement, and some offensive contributions can help us for sure.
It changes the look of it. Lagesson and Benoit have done a really good job for us in some defensive roles, helping our penalty kill, and stabilizing that for us. Timmins is a different look.
The other part of it is getting a right shot in there, which is important in terms of moving the puck and being a little more fluid with ourselves offensively in all three zones. Having the right shot will help there, too.”
In terms of external solutions, Treliving appears to already be kicking tires on the defense trade market, and Klingberg’s LTIR status would help clear the deck cap-wise only assuming he is indeed out for the year, which is not a given at this stage. For now, the LTIR placement means Klingberg will not be back for the next 24 days, but by mid-December, the Leafs GM should have more clarity on whether Klingberg is going to factor back into his roster and cap situation.
In other news, Alex Steeves has been recalled on Thursday ahead of the trip to Chicago with Calle Jarnkrok a game-time decision after taking an Auston Matthews shot to the leg in practice.
D John Klingberg has been placed on long-term injured reserve.
— Leafs PR (@LeafsPR) November 23, 2023
If he plays, Steeves is a left-shot winger who could slide onto Max Domi and Nick Robertson’s other wing, albeit the possible absence of the veteran defensive conscience (Jarnkrok) might change the coaching staff’s view on the makeup of the line, which played very little in both games in Sweden. Elevating Noah Gregor and inserting Steeves on the fourth line with David Kampf and Bobby McMann is another option (Ryan Reaves is also a — less appealing — option over Steeves if Jarnkrok can’t go).
Steeves missed Tuesday’s Marlies game with a minor injury, but he is riding in on an 11-game point streak and looks supremely confident around the net after 11 goals in 14 games to start the season.