The Toronto Maple Leafs entered the offseason knowing what they are and what they are not.
They are a high-event, high-flying offensive machine. That’s why, last season, they ranked fourth in shot attempts per 60 (59.97) and fourth in expected goals per 60 (2.85), according to Natural Stat Trick.
They are not a lockdown, suffocating defensive bunch. That’s why, last season, they ranked 26th in goals allowed per 60 (3.13) and 18th in scoring chances allowed per 60 (27.27).
For a team with Stanley Cup aspirations — but zero playoff series wins since 2004 — that’s simply not good enough.
So, in the early days of the NHL’s bustling free agency, the Maple Leafs have jumped headfirst into the fray to address their issues. As a result, they’ve added defensemen T.J. Brodie (four years, $20 million) and Zach Bogosian (one year, $1 million) and figure to have a totally new look on defense next year.
The facelift of the Maple Leafs’ defense corps actually started in May, when Toronto signed Mikko Lehtonen to a one-year deal. Lehtonen was named the KHL defenseman of the month three times last season and has 13 points in nine games this season.
Lehtonen can play on either the right or left side and will likely start on the third pairing (next to Travis Dermott). Brodie, meanwhile, should fill Tyson Barrie’s old role as the top right defenseman — and that’s a notable upgrade, at least on the defensive side of things.
Here’s a look at Brodie’s impact last season (the red and orange blotches indicate above-average shot attempts; the blue and purple blotches indicate below-average shot attempts).
The charts show that Brodie was slightly below average on the power play (though he won’t be tasked with quarterbacking Toronto’s top unit, anyway), but above average in all other facets. Tyson Barrie on the other hand …
He was almost as effective as Brodie in the offensive zone, but look at all that red around the net on defense. Yikes.
Now, Barrie should have a better season ahead. He admitted to reporters on Saturday that coming to Toronto and not initially becoming the top power play blue-liner made for a tough situation — one that inevitably spiraled. Sometimes a change of scenery presents its own challenges.
Barrie still possesses a 0.62 points per game rate for his career, versus 0.42 points per game for Brodie, but Brodie’s diligence in the d-zone is more a more important trait for Toronto.
Bogosian doesn’t have as desirable metrics as Brodie, with a career on-ice shot share below 50 percent. But he’s a veteran coming over on the cheap from the Stanley Cup-winning Lightning, and sometimes that’s worth taking a shot.
Consider that two of the Maple Leafs’ top-four defensemen by minutes played in 2019-20 are gone now (Barrie and Cody Ceci). Justin Holl, who was in that top-four as well, will now be battling for a job.
No, Toronto didn’t land the biggest fish on the defensemen market, Alex Pietrangelo (general manager Kyle Dubas joked with reporters that his bid for the perennial Norris contender was “not that close”).
But the additions of Brodie, Bogosian and Lehtonen — as well as the continued development of youngsters like Rasmus Sandin and Timothy Liljegren — will make the Maple Leafs’ back end look much different. And better.