Maple Leafs Rely On Young Defense Ahead of Trade Deadline

There’s only three days left until the NHL trade deadline and the Toronto Maple Leafs’ lineup is already significantly depleted due to trades and injuries. The Maple Leafs’ blue line has been the hardest hit starting with Dion Phaneuf being traded to the Ottawa Senators, which was then followed up by Roman Polak being traded to the San Jose Sharks. The Maple Leafs’ only other veteran defencemen have been injured. Matt Hunwick has been out with an undisclosed injury since February 17th and Stephane Robidas hasn’t even played a single game this season because of an injury. That leaves the Maple Leafs with a very young and inexperienced group of defencemen led by Morgan Rielly.

Stepping Into the Maple Leafs’ Spotlight

Heading into last nights game against the Carolina Hurricanes the Maple Leafs’ blue line had an average age of 22.8. That’s really young when you consider that Jake Gardiner was the oldest defenseman for the Leafs at 25 years old. Toronto’s defensive lineup consisted of Rielly (21), Stuart Percy (22), Frank Corrado (22), Viktor Loov (23), Martin Marincin (24), and Gardiner (25).

Rielly and Gardiner had the benefit of playing with Phaneuf and Polak all season, which allowed them to take more chances offensively and play sheltered minutes. Phaneuf and Polak had the largest amount of ice-time with Rielly playing more minutes as the season progressed. But now with them gone Rielly and Gardiner are playing against the opposing team’s top line and are also carrying most of the workload. In the 3-1 win against the Carolina Hurricanes, Rielly had a season high 28 minutes of ice-time. This much ice-time shows that coach Mike Babcock has tremendous trust in the 21-year-old Reilly.

To fill the holes left by Phaneuf and Polak the Maple Leafs called up Loov and Percy. Loov has only played 4 games in the NHL; all of which were in the last two weeks. For Percy this was just his second NHL game this season and his 11th NHL game in total.

The Maple Leafs Past the Trade Deadline

Matt Hunwick is expected back in the lineup any day, but there is a pretty good chance that the Maple Leafs trade Hunwick at the trade deadline. This means that the Maple Leafs defensive lineup against the Hurricanes will probably be the same lineup heading into the last half of the season. This will give the coaching staff an opportunity to look at how well the Toronto Marlies’ call-ups adjust to the NHL, as well as see how Rielly and Gardiner handle the increased ice-time and responsibility.