Leafs Evaluations : Defense – Part II
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The Toronto Maple Leafs had an extremely successful regular season, but fell below the expectations of some with a first round loss to the Boston Bruins. One of the primary tasks ahead for newly installed GM Kyle Dubas is to evaluate the players that currently make up the club and determine which should be retained and which Toronto should move on from.
Today we finish up with the evaluation of the Leafs blueline:
Jake Gardiner - How can a blueliner post a career-high offensive numbers, play all 82 games and lead the Leafs in ice time during the season and playoffs be a subject of controversy???? When his name is Jake Gardiner.
The 27-year-old tied Morgan Rielly for the defensive scoring lead with 52 points and averaged over 22 minutes per game, but being less protected by head coach Mike Babcock this season and playing more against top offensive lines at times resulted in the frequency of his giveaways and bad decisions increasing and his plus/minus declining (from +24 to +9).
Gardiner continues to be a double-edged sword; a great skater who can create and be a weapon in the offensive zone, but equally detrimental in his own end, as was displayed in his -5 debacle in Game 7 against the Bruins.
Grade – C
Travis Dermott - Dermott was called up in early January after showing a level of proficiency and consistency with the Marlies and never appeared overwhelmed or intimidated. The 21-year-old added speed and puck-rushing ability on the Leafs bottom pairing, matching well with veteran Roman Polak.
The 2015 second rounder had 13 points in 37 games (without the benefit of playing on the Toronto power play) and led all blueliners with a +16. In the post-season, Babcock managed the rookie blueliner’s minutes, but he did score in Game 7 and handled the pressure of the playoffs.
Grade – B+
Connor Carrick – The 24-year-old was essentially the Leafs seventh defenseman the entire season, filling in for Nikita Zaitsev and Rielly when injured, rotating with Polak and Andreas Borgman in the first half, but only saw spot duty with Dermott in the mix and after Babcock chose the six defensemen he would go with down the stretch.
Carrick increased his point total to 12 in 47 games after registering just eight in 67 games last season, but never made a legitimate case for Babcock to keep him in the lineup and did not see any action in the playoffs.
Grade – C
Andreas Borgman - Signed as a free agent out of the Swedish Hockey League, Borgman won the battle for the bottom pairing with Calle Rosen and stayed in the lineup for most of the first half, even with the return of Polak to the roster.
The 22-year-old showed some physicality and scored three goals and eight assists in 48 games, but the call up of Dermott in early January resulted in Borgman being sent to the Marlies for the rest of the season.
Grade – C+
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