Lehtonen, 26, topped all KHL defensemen with 49 points (17 goals, 32 assists) this season. Not surprisingly, Lehtonen represented Jokerit as a KHL All-Star. The Maple Leafs website notes that the KHL tabbed Lehtonen as defenseman of the month for three months in a row.
“I think his style fits well for Toronto,” Vuorinen said. “Torey Krug is a good comparison. He runs the power play well and gets pucks to the net with a good wrist shot. He was the best player in Europe, IMO. He’s ready to play in the NHL.”
Why the Maple Leafs signing Lehtonen is intriguing
You could call this an intriguing signing for a number of reasons:
The Maple Leafs managed to sign Lehtonen despite what Sportsnet’s Chris Johnston deemed “a long list of suitors.” Fans may delight in the belief that Lehtonen seemingly chose the Maple Leafs over the Canadiens.
Johnston reports that the Maple Leafs convinced Lehtonen to sign without any performance bonuses involved.
On paper, Lehtonen creates quite the logjam of left-handed defensemen.
(It makes me wonder, at least a little bit, if Lehtonen really looked at Toronto as the easiest path to regular playing time.)
Could this be it for, say, Dermott? Might the Maple Leafs aim for a trade to balance things out a bit more on the right side?
Toronto seems willing to roll with defensemen playing on their off-side, if nothing else. While those scenarios don’t always feel optimized, sometimes it’s better to just put together as much talent as possible, and hope the other details work themselves out.
Getting possibly the best defenseman not playing in the NHL, and doing so with a cap-friendly deal? This seems like strong work by GM Kyle Dubas and the Maple Leafs.
Everything about the timing fits the soap opera narrative of “As the Maple Leaf turns …”
Toronto lost Muzzin for a month in the first game after signing him to a contract extension.
It’s also the first game following a trade deadline that mixed the good with the bad. On one hand, it turns out that keeping Tyson Barrie was wise, warts and all. On the other, GM Kyle Dubas’ critics will argue that he still didn’t do enough.
Oh yeah, the Maple Leafs follow up this potentially devastating injury with an enormous Thursday game against the Panthers in Florida.
If you want a glimpse at Toronto’s confidence level in certain players, consider how Sheldon Keefe deployed Sandin on Tuesday. Through two periods, Sandin received just 5:27 time on ice. Once it was clear Muzzin wouldn’t return, Sandin’s ice time skyrocketed to 9:34 during the third period alone.
Dicey stuff, but what’s the best approach, Zen-like, or otherwise? What’s a good mantra for the Leafs going forward?
Accepting reality of the Maple Leafs defense with Muzzin out, and considering Panthers
Despite wildly different approaches and markets, the Maple Leafs and Panthers boast notably similar strengths and weaknesses. After all, they are the only teams in the NHL who’ve scored and allowed 200+ goals so far this season.
So maybe the Maple Leafs should embrace the perception of their most prominent, healthy defenseman in Tyson Barrie, and their perceived identity as a team that needs to outscore their problems, in general?
There’s also the potential silver lining of realizing that players like Sandin and Liljegren might be further along in their respective developments than Toronto realized. Interestingly, Dubas sort of touched on this during his trade deadline presser, before Muzzin was injured.
” … We need to see how our own guys develop,” Dubas said, via Pension Plan Puppets’ transcript. “In a perfect world your own guys develop and quell your concerns you have about the roster and that people on the outside may have about them as well.”
Both Sandin and Liljegren carry pedigree as first-rounders, and have produced some offenseat the AHL level. Perhaps they can bring almost as much to the table as they risk taking away with mistakes?
Obstacles, and gauntlets thrown down on top Maple Leafs
When you dig deep on the Maple Leafs’ numbers, you get a more complicated look at their hit-and-miss defense. Either way, they need better goaltending going forward — even if that leads to awkward choices.
If patterns continue, there will only be more twists and turns for the Maple Leafs. Maybe they can end up better after facing all of these challenges, but either way, it doesn’t look easy, and might not always be pretty.
The Toronto Maple Leafs’ 8-4 loss to the Florida Panthers on Sunday evening ended up being a lot worse than just an ugly final score.
It also cost them their top defenseman for the next two months.
The Maple Leafs announced on Monday that Morgan Rielly is going to be sidelined for at least the next eight weeks after fracturing his foot in Sunday’s game.
He will immediately be placed on injured reserve and re-evaluated in eight weeks.
The team also announced that Rasmus Sandin, their first-round pick in 2018, has been recalled from the Toronto Marlies of the American Hockey League.
A questionable defense gets even worse
There is no way to sugarcoat this for the Maple Leafs, it is a significant loss.
They are already thin on the blue line and were probably going to need add another player before the trade deadline even when they were healthy. Now they are going to have to find a way to replace their best defenseman for two months in the middle of a playoff push. Adding to their problems is that Jake Muzzin, one of their other top defensemen, is also currently sidelined on a week-to-week basis due to a foot injury of his own.
Sandin is a fine prospect and has been having a great season in the AHL, but the Maple Leafs’ defense is in shambles right now.
That is, quite simply, not a very good NHL defense. Especially for a team that is supposed to be a Stanley Cup contender. They are going to need a huge push from Frederik Andersen in goal to mask that.
Once you get beyond the sticker shock of the $10.89M cap hit, the Mitch Marnercontract is a reason for the Toronto Maple Leafs to rejoice. Rather than the saga drag on deep into the season like the William Nylander fiasco, Marner is gearing up in training camp.
Apparently the Maple Leafs will still be without a noteworthy player or two anyway, even though their losses aren’t nearly as significant as the prospect of being without Marner.
If that forecast is correct, then the Maple Leafs could anticipate Hyman and Dermott back sometimes during this range:
Game 12 – Oct. 25: home vs. Sharks Game 13 – Oct. 26: at Canadiens Game 14 – Oct. 29: home vs. Capitals Game 15 – Nov. 2: at Flyers
Naturally, when it comes to injuries, things can change. Ailments can worsen, or players can heal up faster than expected.
All due respect to two useful players in Dermott and Hyman, but the cap management aspect — particularly use of LTIR, and juggling once they’re ready to come back — is likely the most interesting part of this situation.
The #Leafs currently exceed the upper limit by $13.4M. Even if they ice a roster of 20 to decrease that number, they will almost certainly have to place Horton, Clarkson and Hyman on LTIR at the end of training camp to create enough LTIR relief for cap compliancy at season start
We already know that Nathan Horton ($5.3M AAV) and David Clarkson ($5.25M) will be on LTIR through the final season of their tragic contracts, providing $10.55M. Hyman carries $2.25M, while Dermott weighs in at $863K. The window for an LTIR stay is at least 10 games and 24 days, so one would expect that Hyman and Dermott would join Clarkson and Horton on LTIR. With Dermott’s cost fairly minimal, things would be most cramped once Hyman is healthy enough to play again. Will Toronto be forced to make a trade, or waive someone they’d rather keep?
Losing Hyman and Dermott for what sounds like close to a month isn’t great to begin with, but things could be especially tricky once they can actually play.
Although the Maple Leafs solved some of their biggest riddles, they’ll still need to answer more questions in the short term, so Babcock could be a busy man — almost as busy as Kyle Dubas.
Mike Babcock on whether he knows what he'll do with #Leafs bottom defence pairing: "No. I'd love to tell you I do. Just going to keep on watching. No idea. That's the truth."
Travis Dermott and Justin Holl, Toronto Maple Leafs: Both Dermott and Holl scored their first NHL goals on Wednesday, Dermott in his ninth NHL game and Holl in his first. Dermott assisted on Holl’s goal, because of course he did.
Chandler Stephenson, Washington Capitals: Stephenson scored his third and fourth career NHL goals to help drag the Capitals back from an early first-period 2-0 deficit. His goals began a run of five straight for the Caps, who beat the Philadelphia Flyers 5-3.
Martin Jones, San Jose Sharks: Jones sure could have used some run support on Wednesday. He made 43 of 44 saves in a 2-1 shootout loss to the Detroit Red Wings. Someone owes the man a dinner.