Why Adding Another Top 3 Defensemen Won’t Fix The Maple Leafs

Assuming you are a hockey fan, unless you live in a bubble, there is a good chance you have heard or read about how the Leafs need to improve their defensive core in order to take the next step.

 While this may be partially true, the Leafs as a whole need to improve their team defense. While many Leafs fans have already washed the Kessel years from their memories, id like to point out that the Kessel, Bozak, van Riemsdyk line were among the worst defensive lines in hockey. This was highlighted in their last season together when they combined for the worst +/- of any line in the league. Well folks, two thirds of that line is still intact with a sophomore, 20 year old, holding down Kessel’s old spot. Even under the tutelage of head coach Mike Babcock, this line has not shown encouraging signs of improvement on the defensive side of the puck.

This issue is 2 tiers deep. First of all, the most obvious question is: Can these players even play a defensive game? This is a real possibility of course. Not every player has that skill set. In the same conversation, it is worth mentioning the possibility that these players are simply not defensively minded. The speed of this line on the attack is far different from the speed it exhibits on the back check on the rare occasions where they actually back check.

Here is where tier 2 comes in. If it is a skill or motivation issue, is the coaching staff actually getting the job done? Lets face it, Babcock had some pretty gifted 2 way forwards during his time with Detroit. Couple that with one of the best defensemen of all time in Nicklas Lidstrom, I cant imagines this was on the top of items which needed addressing on a daily basis. This is somewhat new ground for Babcock and you have to wonder it he, or is subordinates are actually prepared for or know what to do next.

Before I break the Internet here, I am not in any way suggesting the Leafs get rid of Babcock. I am simply asking if maybe the addition of an assistant coach to help with team defence would be an asset? A defensive specialist if you will.

I have used the Bozak line as a bit of a whipping boy in this article to make a point, but none of the 4 forward lines gets completely off the hook. While several players such as Matthews, Kadri, Brown etc., have shown an ability to play a 200 foot game for 60 minutes, the same cannot be said for many of their teammates.

While going out and trading draft picks and young assets to make your defensive core a little better is enticing, it is also oddly reminiscent of past Maple Leafs management groups who always looked for the quick fix or the easy way out.

This issue needs to be addressed in-house with the forwards first. If they can be coached, then bring in a defensive coach to work with Babcock on this issue. However, if the forwards cannot be coached, well, a little shake up never hurt anyone either.

Adding a top 3 defensemen will certainly help the Leafs but it will not fix the Leafs.