After reviewing the forwards and goaltenders in the Maple Leafs’ 2024 FA class last week, we’ve left the defense for last.

In case you missed it, here is my first piece on Max Domi, Tyler Bertuzzi, Ilya Samsonov, Martin Jones, Noah Gregor, and Connor Dewar.

TJ Brodie

TJ Brodie, Maple Leafs
Photo: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

This is one of the easier FAs for the Leafs to decide on, given how the season unfolded. A year ago, the idea of outright dismissing TJ Brodie’s services with no consideration of bringing him back would’ve been surprising to consider. Now, it’s the only logical progression with the Maple Leafs‘ defensive group. Brodie had a brutal 2023-24 season and was scratched for most of the playoff series against Boston. With the steady decline in his play and his age, this decision is pretty clear-cut.

Brodie was a good soldier for the Leafs. One of Kyle Dubas’ better signings back in 2020, he filled an important need. Brodie and Morgan Rielly formed a very strong pair during the 2020-21 season, giving Rielly a steady, defensive presence who could complement Rielly’s offensive skillset and make him better. The Leafs had searched for that piece of their team for a while, and Brodie played a notable role in the team’s rapid defensive improvement under Sheldon Keefe compared to the Babcock era.

Over the course of his first three regular seasons in Toronto, Brodie was one of the better defensive defensemen in hockey. He performed admirably in the 2022 playoffs with Jake Muzzin on a “shutdown pairing” that played heavy minutes against Nikita Kucherov & Co. In the 2022-23 season, there was a clear dip in the Leafs‘ performance when Brodie was out of the lineup compared to when he was healthy, underscoring his importance to the team. The recent results have led some to forget how solid Brodie was for the first few years, and we shouldn’t lose sight of that when we ponder his Maple Leaf legacy.

But things have deteriorated significantly. Brodie was very disappointing in the 2023 playoffs on a pairing with Jake McCabe that failed to replicate his success with Muzzin. In hindsight, that was the first sign that the end was near for Brodie. That poor playoff performance carried over to the regular season this year as the Leafs began to lose Brodie’s minutes– in some cases, badly. The problems with pace he seemed to develop in the 2023 playoffs were very much present the following season, as the game simply looked too fast for him. The Leafs tried to help him by moving Brodie to the left (strong) side. It helped for a time but didn’t solve all the problems. Brodie’s lack of size and snarl began to show up more and more in the defensive end, and his total absence of puck-moving ability hurt his ability to get it out of his own zone.

After Toronto added multiple defensemen at the trade deadline, Brodie was an odd man out and was scratched to begin the playoffs. His entrance into the lineup in Game 4 did not go well, and he was then scratched for the rest of the series. That playoff showing was the nail in the coffin for Brodie’s future. The Leafs need to be aggressive in helping their weak defensive group this summer, and a 34-year-old who has struggled massively in two straight playoffs is not that answer. The Leafs should thank Brodie for his service to the organization, but it’s time to go in a new direction.


Joel Edmundson

Eric Bolte / USA Today

One of Toronto’s two trade deadline acquisitions on the back-end, Edmundson was a regular in the Leafs’ playoff lineup, and his possible cheap cost this offseason has made some consider the possibility of keeping him.

Edmundson was the 46th overall pick of St. Louis way back in 2011 and didn’t reach the NHL until 2015-16 when he slid into the Blues’ lineup at age 22 and never looked back. Over the next four seasons, Edmundson was a regular for the Blues, usually missing 15 or so regular season games due to various ailments, but he was ready when the playoffs came around and suited up in 49 postseason games for the Blues. That includes the run to the 2019 Stanley Cup, where he was coached by one Craig Berube, a connection that is now important to note.

After St. Louis, Edmundson played for Carolina and then Montreal, where he was also a regular for the 2020-21 Montreal team that also played in the Stanley Cup Final. Edmundson was traded last offseason to Washington, who then flipped him to Toronto, where he played his 76th through 82nd career playoff games. Because he dealt with injury after coming to the Leafs, Edmundson only played 16 total games in the blue & white after the trade, nearly half of which were in the playoffs. Edmundson was mostly paired with Timothy Liljegren in the playoffs on a pair that was okay, with Edmundson’s performance grading out better than Liljegren’s.

Across the seven-game series, the Leafs were nearly even in shots/shot-attempts at 5v5 in Edmundson’s minutes, per Natural Stat Trick. They were outscored 4-3 and did struggle in the quality of chances given up. However, the eye test was forgiving to Edmundson on the defensive end with good sticks and savvy shot blocks. In the series vs. Boston, Edmundson had a lot of good fundamental defensive moments. Once he was in the offensive zone, I was surprised at how many good reads Edmundson made to put himself in position to contribute offensively. Unfortunately, he didn’t do much of anything once in those situations, frequently failing to hit the net when teed up for a blast.

At this point in Edmundson’s career, he’s a third-pair defender, and turning 31 this summer, health has to be a consideration. He’s been nagged by injuries his entire career and played only 53 games this past regular season. As a matter of fact, he’s never played 70 games in a season in his entire career. Those are pretty big concerns for a possible signing, but at the same time, he likely won’t command a big paycheque. His AFPAnalytics projection is two years, $1.68 M per season. For a 6th/7th defenseman, that’s a nice number, but it remains to be seen if he’s going to need to settle for such a pay cut. It does seem like the possibility that the Leafs could keep him is real: after all, Brad Treliving had enough interest to give up assets in a trade for Edmundson just a few months back, and Craig Berube was his former coach. If Edmundson is indeed willing to take a paltry cap hit akin to that projection, there’s an appeal to bringing him back.

Would I do it? I’m pretty on the fence, and it would depend on what other signings are made. If the Leafs have significantly upgraded the defense and have an open seventh D spot with a bit of cap space left over, I wouldn’t have an issue bringing Edmundson back. But I wouldn’t consider him a major part of the solution to the blue-line problems. The Leafs need defenders who can contribute offensively, help in the transition game, and get the puck out of the zone. They also need legitimate top-four defensemen. Edmundson is none of those things, nor is he right-handed, which is the much bigger depth chart need. Those should be the priorities for summer shopping, so the possibility of bringing Edmundson back should be on the back burner.

Mark Giordano

Mark Giordano, Timothy Liljegren, Toronto Maple Leafs
Photo: Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

The assumption is that Mark Giordano will retire this summer. His homecoming to Toronto was a nice story after the trade from Seattle that sent Gio to the Leafs. Giordano slid in on defense with Justin Holl, and they had a nice showing in the 2022 playoffs—a solid pair in that Tampa series. Re-signing with the team for dirt cheap to continue playing and getting cracks at the Cup made Giordano a fan favorite.

Giordano gave the Leafs everything he had left in the 2022-23 season, including a period in November/December 2022 where he averaged nearly 22.5 minutes per night over a 12-game span when the Leafs sustained injuries to Rielly and Brodie. Giordano appeared in 78 games that season and was a true warrior in every definition of the word, diving in front of shots even at age 39 in seemingly meaningless regular season games. Unfortunately, time caught up to Giordano, who aged what appeared to be multiple decades overnight between the regular season and playoffs, as the speed and intensity of playoff hockey were too much for him in 2023. Like Brodie, it carried over to the ensuing regular season, and injuries also set in. Giordano only played 46 games this past season and was not used in the playoffs.

Turning 41 in October, he’s not a viable option for Toronto’s blue line at this point. It would be surprising if we see him in the NHL again. Father Time is undefeated, and it quickly caught up with Giordano. That’s okay. He won’t be back wearing the Maple Leaf sweater, but we should salute him for a great NHL career.

One of the best undrafted players of the 21st century, Giordano beat the odds over and over en route to a Norris Trophy. A great two-way defenseman and goalscorer from the blue line in Calgary, Giordano was a hell of a player despite few overwhelming physical tools. He is a tough, hardworking, smart, and widely beloved dude who did good work representing the Leafs in the community. If this is the end, congratulations to Giordano on a great career.


Ilya Lyubushkin

Ilya Lyubushkin, Maple Leaf again
Photo: John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports

The second of the two defensemen that Brad Treliving acquired at his first deadline as Maple Leafs GM, Lyubushkin just completed his second stint with the team. Kyle Dubas acquired Lyubushkin at the 2022 deadline, and after he struggled in that playoff series against Tampa Bay, the Leafs made no serious effort to retain the Russian. However, after a much stronger playoffs this time around against the Bruins, the possibility of re-upping Lyubushkin seems more plausible.

The plus side to Lyubushkin is he does add elements that Brad Treliving likes and the Leafs D corps has needed at times from a physicality standpoint. He is a defender who fits the “harder to play against” platitude, and he also shoots right — which the Leafs need — and can play on the penalty kill. A fit seemed to emerge with Morgan Rielly in a way it didn’t as much last time around, which is the biggest piece. After posting awful results on a terrible Anaheim team, Lyubushkin and Rielly controlled 54% of the expected goals at 5v5 in the regular season post-trade. In the playoffs, the Leafs outshot and out-chanced the Bruins with Lyubushkin on the ice at 5v5, outscoring Boston 6-1(!!).

The results Lyubushkin posted were excellent and have raised the possibility of bringing him back in the offseason. Despite everything that went well for Lyubushkin this time around, we do have to be honest about what he is. Lyubushkin was leaned on more by Keefe in the playoffs this time, playing 16.5 minutes per game compared to just under 14 minutes in 2022, but that’s still a third-pair workload, even if Lyubushkin is paired with a high-usage defenseman. Lyubushkin also has nonexistent puck skill, having never scored more than 15 points in a season in the NHL, and he has five career goals in 353 games. For a Leafs team looking to upgrade the offense, skating, and puck-moving of the blue line, Lyubushkin provides none of that.

That’s why I kind of see Lyubushkin in the same vein as Edmundson. Both are not bad pieces and have reasonable arguments to bring them back, but they can’t be priorities and have to be very cheap from a term and cap hit standpoint. AFPAnalytics’ projection for Lyubushkin is two years, $2 million per season, which feels very reasonable. As a seventh defenseman, I would be interested in bringing Lyubushkin back — more than Edmundson, if I’m being honest. Lyubushkin is a year younger, doesn’t have nearly as many miles on his body from past playoff runs (unlike Edmundson), and has generally been healthier in his career (77, 68, 74 games played the last three years).

To me, the Leafs can only bring back one of Lyubushkin and Edmundson given their similarities as all-defense, no-offense, physical, third-pair defenders. If forced to pick, I’d lean Lyubushkin because of handedness, a better fit with Rielly, and the health reasons, but it wouldn’t surprise me to see the Leafs pick Edmundson (if either) because of Berube’s familiarity with the player.

Timothy Liljegren

Timothy Liljegren, Maple Leafs vs. Flyers
Photo: Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

Let’s conclude with a restricted free agent, the Leafs’ only on defense, but also one where there is an important decision to make. Liljegren is in an odd situation with the Leafs as a player who has been around seemingly forever but still has yet to play 200 NHL games. He’s a player who feels like the book of scouting has been written on him for some time, yet he just completed his first playoffs in which he was actually counted on in a series. Liljegren is a bit of an enigma, but he also isn’t terribly “young” anymore, having turned 25 a few months back. As an RFA with a new management group (coach and GM) who did not draft or have any capital invested in Liljegren, this could be the summer of an ultimate decision on the Swede’s future in Toronto.

Over the past three seasons, Liljegren has played most of the regular season with Toronto (55+ games played each year), but a combination of injuries and the depth chart has prevented him from playing the entire season. Liljegren has often dominated third-pairing assignments in the regular season, with his pair with Mark Giordano once grading as one of the top analytics pairs. If you give Liljegren an easy assignment without playoff intensity, he tends to flourish. But the Leafs have also hesitated to play Liljegren up in the lineup, doing so briefly with Rasmus Sandin in 2022-23 when tons of injuries hit the defensive group, but that was about it. Liljegren has never been able to fit consistently with Morgan Rielly, and the team has been very hesitant to try him elsewhere in the top four.

The issue for Liljegren up in the lineup and the playoffs has been his processing speed. When aggressive, heavy forechecks from top teams come after him, his decision-making isn’t always the soundest. He’s not the heaviest or most aggressive defender, either, leading him to get knocked off pucks and overwhelmed in his own end when he’s struggling. The offensive/puck-moving ability that Liljegren genuinely has also tends to dry up in the playoffs, as he struggles to keep possession or break the puck out of his own end with any consistency. Across 13 career playoff games, Liljegren has one point, a points-per-game clip of 0.08 that is far below his career rate of 0.33.

The Leafs avoided playing Liljegren in both the 2022 and 2023 playoffs until they had no choice in the latter due to Justin Holl’s scuffling play. 2024 was his first real trial in a full series (Liljegren played six of seven games), and it didn’t go well, as the ice was consistently tilted against the Leafs with him on the ice at 5v5. If the goal is to win the Stanley Cup, the Leafs need to build a defense with the playoffs in mind, and that’s where the question lies with Liljegren. You don’t want to give up on a defenseman who hasn’t played 200 games and still doesn’t have that much playoff experience, especially one who can skate and move the puck (in the abstract). Especially not when that defenseman is a right shot.

AFPAnalytics projects Liljegren, who has arbitration rights, at one-year, $3.2 million or four years, $4.1 million. The latter doesn’t seem likely to me, while the former is still more than doubling his current salary but closer to the ballpark. The Leafs have Rielly, Benoit, and  McCabe all signed for next season (all LHD), plus RHD Conor Timmins as a depth defender. They need to make legitimate upgrades on the depth chart, and at this time, it doesn’t seem like Liljegren represents one outside of a sizable leap in his play. There is a world where it could make sense to bring back Liljegren alongside an Edmundson or Lyubushkin, but the Leafs need to make concrete decisions on their defensive depth chart, and I’m not sure anyone benefits by having four or five bottom pair/depth defensemen like Toronto had this past season.

There is the possibility of bringing Liljegren back on a one-year deal and trading Timmins while being willing to move Liljegren out during the season if you aren’t sold on him the way the Leafs did with Rasmus Sandin in 2022-23. Perhaps a strong season from Liljegren could juice his value (it is still surprising how much Sandin fetched back then). My guess is Liljegren will return to Toronto because his positives are too appealing to give up on this early, and the team will believe Berube could get something out of Liljegren that Keefe couldn’t. But it wouldn’t be shocking if Liljegren is moved out. At the very least, you can pencil him in on the third pairing, feel good about those results for 82 games, and then revisit the proposition on his future at the deadline.