MLHS’ Anthony Petrielli joined The JD Bunkis Podcast on Sportsnet 590 to discuss the fits on defense with Morgan Rielly’s return from suspension, potential trade targets on the blue line, and how aggressive of a buyer Brad Treliving should be at the deadline.

On the importance of keeping TJ Brodie on the left after Morgan Rielly returns:

It is a little bit of a weird one. You are probably looking at Morgan Rielly playing with William Lagesson if he is healthy and ready to go, which is a little bit strange.

TJ Brodie’s minutes are going to be what Brodie’s minutes are regardless, but Timothy Liljegren is the one you would really be taking the hit on. You would be going, “Thanks for the five games. Back to the third pair.” That would be tough to swallow.

I would want to continue to see Brodie-Liljegren ultimately with the goal that we are going to acquire a partner of quality for Morgan Rielly moving forward.

On the right side, Brodie is really awkward with the puck. McCabe seems to really like it on the right. He scored the goal a few games ago on the offside where he ripped a bomb. We have seen that shot four or five times. He looks comfortable with the shot with his body turned while facing the boards and not the net.

McCabe has developed a 360 move on his backhand, which is easier to do than if you are on your forehand. He is an example of someone who seems to like the benefits — at least offensively — of playing on your offside.

Brodie looks like he wants nothing to do with it. He doesn’t want to pinch down. He is not a one-timer guy. He takes the shovel out on his backhand and flips it down the wall because there is not much else to do.

On the assist on Bobby McMann’s goal against Arizona, Brodie was holding it, waiting, and it was on his forehand the entire time, which is what he is starting to do on the breakouts on the left, too. He is using his body properly to shield the puck and hold onto it for an extra second before making a real play on his forehand. That is what you want Brodie to do. He is good at moving the puck, leading the breakout, and taking charge in that sense.

On his right side, it is often not possible. It is definitely not possible against a heavy forecheck. You have to turn your body too much, so you are forced to make a play into the middle of the ice; you can easily headman it there on your offside, but for anything up the wall, you are just throwing it up the boards at that rate.

We are seeing how much easier it is to play your strong side. We are seeing it play out with Brodie. He is a living embodiment of how much easier it is to play your strong side.

We saw it years ago when Dion Phaneuf went to Ottawa. It probably added at least a year to his career by going to the left side. He was there when they went to the Eastern Conference Final.

On who qualifies as a “quality” addition to play with Morgan Rielly:

It depends on the market.

The sad part is that the top defenseman available — Noah Hanifin — is lefthanded. You couldn’t view him as a Rielly partner necessarily; you would view him as adding a quality defenseman to a defense core that generally lacks quality. It would be good for the future, but it might lead to some question marks this year because Hanifin would have to go on the left. The alternative is to acquire a right-handed partner for Rielly who isn’t as good.

Part of the success of the Rielly-Schenn pairing is that the Brodie-McCabe pairing took the tough assignments. They weren’t that good in them, but it did free up Rielly-Schenn a little bit to be more offensive, which Rielly is great at doing. That helped the cause.

When you look at the current defense, they don’t have that kind of pairing. I like Benoit-McCabe, but I don’t know if you are looking at those guys and saying, “You are playing 20 minutes against Pastrnak in the first round.” I would be worried to see that matchup. I don’t think you could look at Brodie-Liljegren and suggest they could do it.

It is going to have to be defense-by-committee. Rielly will need a little bit of a better right-handed partner to facilitate that.

The obvious fit is Chris Tanev in the sense that he is a penalty killer, he is righthanded, and he hangs back a bit more defensively, which would make sense stylistically with Rielly. But the price is high right now. It seems to be a game of chicken. That makes things very difficult. Is Brad Treliving going to buckle and pay up?

They are going to play some better teams now, and if it doesn’t go well, I could see him looking at it and saying, “I don’t think so.”

On cheaper options than Chris Tanev at right defense:

There is one guy in particular I quite like. He is not like Schenn in that he is not massive, a huge hitter, or anything of that nature, but he is righthanded and more feisty than people probably give him credit for. It is Alex Carrier of the Nashville Predators.

He is listed at 5’11, so I think people automatically dismiss him as a player without really being familiar with his game. There is a lot there that fits the Leafs‘ bill on the cheaper end of things.

He is righthanded. He is only 27. He is a pending UFA. If you can acquire that kind of player at a cheaper cost and extend him, it reminds me a little bit of what Winnipeg did with Dylan DeMelo, who they got from Ottawa for a third-round pick and ended up extending.

They have gotten really good years out of DeMelo. They have had some good teams that have generally gone south because of the disasters at forward, but they have generally milked good minutes and value out of DeMelo — this year included — through the heart of his remaining 20s and early 30s, which kind of aligns with Carrier.

Carrier is around the 200-game mark of his career, so there is a little bit more room to go for him. Last year, Nashville was sixth in the league on the PK, and he played about two minutes a game on it. He has been a part of successful penalty-killing units.

As we have seen with Simon Benoit, he is that feisty French Canadian a little bit in terms of how he will get involved. He moves the puck well. His rookie season was awesome with over 30 points as a defenseman. He was paired with Mattias Ekholm, which helped.

As to why Nashville might trade him, beyond the pending UFA status, they already have four defensemen under contract for next year. Dante Fabbro is an RFA. They are about to be hit further with cap recapture penalties on the Matt Duchene buyout. Their cap space is dwindling.

He fits the bill for me as a righthanded defenseman who has some level of quality to him. Even if he doesn’t work perfectly with Morgan Rielly, he is going to fit somewhere. They have four lefthanded defensemen and three of them are signed for next year with Rielly, McCabe, and Benoit (RFA rights). He is going to fit with somebody

On the idea that not aggressively buying is tantamount to “punting” on the season for Brad Treliving: 

If this was year six of Kyle Dubas, I would have different expectations of where I think the team needs to go in some sense. In six years with this group, you have to go to a Conference Finals or something.

People may disagree after looking at the ages of Matthews, Marner, and Nylander, but to me, they are not old enough to prevent them from seeing how this goes. I would be okay going into the playoffs and seeing what Liljegren does, what Pontus Holmberg does, what Matthew Knies does on line one, how Nick Robertson looks in the lineup every day, and how Bobby McMann fares in the top nine.

People don’t want to hear it, but this is year one for Brad Treliving. He could patch things up so that William Lagesson isn’t playing with Morgan Rielly and give the team a good fighting chance, but if he then looks at the young players and says, “Let’s see what you can do and we’ll re-evaluate in the summer,” I would be okay with that. I am not saying they will win the Cup or anything, but I am okay with it.

Look at Florida. Everyone talks about Bobrovsky or making the swing on Tkachuk as part of their run, but a big part of their run was Anton Lundell and Eetu Luostarinen emerging in the playoffs. They were excellent. It was the best third line in the playoffs. Luostarinen getting hurt for the playoffs cooked them completely as well as the injury to Tkachuk, obviously. They had to move Ryan Lomberg up to the third line, and the domino effect was immediate.

The Panthers had young guys emerge. Matthew Knies is the type of player who is good enough — and we are seeing some signs of it with the recent six-game points streak — where if they just allow it to continue to happen and see if he emerges, it is not “punting.” It might not work out, but it is not like Knies is playing out of his depth. He is fast and skilled enough. He doesn’t look out of place beside Matthews and Marner. He might need more time to put it all together, but it is not a charity spot in the lineup for him.

On the importance of any deadline addition helping with the PK:

I think the penalty kill is a problem. It might be the biggest problem on the team right now. It was scored on again against Arizona.

It feels like the penalty kill is based on whether the other team scores. It has nothing to do with the Leafs‘ penalty kill. Does the power play bury the chances they are continually creating, or do they not? And do the Leafs maybe counter with some offense and potentially a shorthanded goal with their top players?

If you go back to the Anaheim game, the Leafs outclassed them everywhere except on the PK. The Anaheim PP was zipping it around. It felt like a matter of time until they scored. In the game before against Philadelphia, they tied the game and it felt like a matter of time until they scored. Once the Leafs killed the first penalty, it felt like you knew they didn’t have two kills in them, and they didn’t.

I don’t know how their PK has gotten to this point. It is the same coach running the kill from the past few years. Some personnel has come in and out, but it really shouldn’t sink to the level that it has. It has been really uncoordinated.

Kampf and Marner have played on the PK together for years. They are both taking routes to the puck, and the other guy is looking at it and has no idea where to go. I don’t know how they are so disjointed in everything that they are doing.