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The Toronto Maple Leafs practiced for the first time at the Ford Performance Centre on Thursday, as the club embarks on a different direction and slightly different philosophy under new GM Brad Treliving. As has been the case for most of this century, the area of much discussion and concern with the Leafs is their blueline.
The club was unable to bring veteran Luke Schenn back and decided not to re-sign Erik Gustafsson, and the big addition in the offseason was the offensive-minded John Klingberg. It is expected that the former Dallas Star will relieve Morgan Rielly of his top power play duties, but his addition did not address the need for physicality on the blueline.
Klingberg was paired with Jake McCabe on Thursday, while Mark Giordano skated with old partner Timothy Liljegren in the first on-ice grouping on Thursday morning, with the top pairing of Rielly
and TJ Brodie skating in the afternoon group, providing a preview of the group of six that will start
the regular season.
Even though the group does not match Treliving’s penchant for size and snarl on defense, he was asked by Steve Simmons of the Toronto Sun whether he thought the Leafs were capable of winning the Stanley Cup with their current group.
"We'll see. I like our defense. I think it's underrated. Like every part of your team, I think you're always looking at ways 'can you be better?'. Treliving said. "I think our defense, I've been pretty honest in talking about traditionally in the past, I've had bigger defenses then we have here, but I like the defensemen we have here. When you break them down individually, I think there's some really good attributes here."
Toronto is fairly thin on NHL-caliber defense past their starting six, with Conor Timmins as their likely seventh D. They added big Simon Benoit as a free agent in August, but the 25-year-old missed the opening day of camp with back spasms.
The issue to be discovered over the season is whether the Leafs defense can hold up as most opposition game plans will focus on pressuring them to create turnovers. With Toronto’s cap situation and their LTIR space fully occupied with Jake Muzzin and Matt Murray injured, it will be difficult for Treliving to make moves in season to upgrade the blueline, unless he is willing to move someone on the roster in exchange.