2 Maple Leafs Defensemen to Watch as Injuries Already Piling Up

Happy new year, Leafs Nation. The Toronto Maple Leafs opened up the 2022-23 season this week as media day is in the books and the team hits the ice for the opening of on-ice training camp. While this is expected to be a massive season for the hockey club, it’s not getting off on the right foot.

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Injuries have already reared their ugly head and we haven’t even watched a preseason game yet. Defenceman Timothy Liljegren is expected to miss six weeks after undergoing sports hernia surgery, meanwhile, on Thursday it was announced that Jake Muzzin is dealing with a back injury and won’t be on the ice at all this week. Throw in the fact Rasmus Sandin isn’t with the team over a contract dispute and the Leafs’ blue line is thinning out at a rapid pace.

Here are two Maple Leafs defensemen to watch as there’s a prime opportunity to step up to open this new season.

Mark Giordano

The elder of the group, Mark Giordano re-signed with the Maple Leafs this past offseason and is in line to retire as a Maple Leaf. While his Norris Trophy-winning days are behind him, ‘Gio’ is a huge part of the team’s blue line for a number of different reasons. He provides veteran leadership and experience, which has had a huge positive influence on the likes of Liljegren and Sandin.

Mark Giordano Norris Trophy
As a member of the Calgary Flames Mark Giordano won the Norris Trophy (THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-John Locher)

While the leadership aspect is a nice touch, Giordano brings much more to the table for the Maple Leafs. His versatility is going to be leaned on heavily to open the season as with Liljegren out and Sandin still sitting at home, look for ‘Gio’ to play the right side for Toronto. It’s not ideal having only one right-hander in the lineup with Justin Holl, however, with TJ Brodie and Giordano both having experience playing both sides, the team will be able to deal with the absences better than most teams.

Related: 3 Maple Leafs in Tough to Crack 2022-23 Opening Night Lineup

The veteran blueliner appeared in 20 games for the Maple Leafs last season and played an average of 19:12 of ice-time a night. Giordano was used on both the penalty kill and power play and much of the same could be expected for this season. His impact was felt early and often in 2021-22, so look for something similar to start the 2022-23 campaign. If he isn’t able to step up to start the new season, Toronto’s defense or lack thereof, is going to get exposed in a major way.

Jordie Benn

Speaking of veteran defensemen, Jordie Benn signed a one-year deal with the Maple Leafs this past summer as the 35-year-old looks to catch on in Toronto. While the opportunity was likely going to be minimal to say the least, now with the injuries and Sandin’s contract status, Benn is going to be thrown into the fire.

Jordie Benn Vancouver Canucks
Jordie Benn, Vancouver Canucks (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

The good news for Leafs Nation is that Benn has been around the block and knows what he’s capable of during the later stages of his career. He’s appeared in 595 NHL games and is at his best when he’s keeping it simple, making a crisp first pass and playing physical.

While Giordano can help fill in for some of the offense Liljegren won’t be contributing, don’t expect the same from Benn. He’s more of a rugged stay-at-home defender who won’t be playing out of his element. Hits, blocked shots and a fight or two are much more of what you can expect to see from his game. It will be very important for him to make an impression in camp while he has the opportunity. If the lineup was fully healthy it’s likely he doesn’t make the team.

Maple Leafs Need Full Compliment to be Successful

Injuries play a major factor in all team’s seasons, and it appears the Maple Leafs will be tested early in 2022-23. Regardless, general manager Kyle Dubas needs to get Sandin re-signed and locked in for this season, without the player missing too much of training camp and falling a step behind.

Rasmus Sandin Toronto Maple Leafs
Rasmus Sandin, Toronto Maple Leafs (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Justin Holl is too much of a wildcard and if Muzzin’s back issue flares up throughout the season, the team could have major issues if Sandin isn’t in the mix. Mete and Benn will help but they’re more of a short-term fix and not long-term solutions.

At the end of the day, the Maple Leafs will be at their best with Sandin, Muzzin and Liljegren all in the lineup, along with Giordano, Morgan Rielly and Brodie. Holl needs to be the odd man out if they want to find the promised land. For now, the team would just like to see everyone healthy and available, which is certainly not the case for Dubas and company to start this season.

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