Red and Brown Leaves

Why the Maple Leafs traded for another deep left-handed defenseman, Joel Edmundson

First of all, Ilya Lyubushkin. Now, Joel Edmundson.

The Toronto Maple Leafs addressed their blue line again on Thursday with another deep defenseman equipped for playoff hockey.

Like Lyubushkin, Edmundson cost the Leafs two picks – a third round in 2024 via the New York Islanders and a fifth in 2025 via the Chicago Blackhawks.

Washington will keep half of Edmundson’s $1.75 million salary, bringing his cost down to $875,000.

Will what the Leafs have put together be enough?

That’s the big outstanding question for Brendan Shanahan and Brad Treliving of the Maple Leafs front office.

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Leafs acquire Joel Edmundson from Capitals

Edmundson is gigantic at 6-foot-5 and 221 pounds, exactly the kind of oak the Leafs want more of on the back end. Treliving likes that kind of length and has been looking to acquire it all season. Edmundson has also played in a ton of playoff games, 75 in total, including two trips to the Stanley Cup Finals – once as a winner with St. Louis in 2019, another as a runner-up with Montreal in 2021.

Is he a good shooter? No. What he is, however, is another lefty who can play on the right side, joining a long list of similar players in Toronto — Jake McCabe, TJ Brodie, Simon Benoit and William Lagesson (who was placed on waivers Thursday ).

The Leafs wanted another right-hander, were desperate for another right-hander, but didn’t see anyone available that was worth paying more for – that being David Savard. In short, Treliving decided it would rather pay a third and a fifth for Edmundson than a first-round pick for Savard (who still has one year left on his contract) or Sean Walker, who was dealt to Colorado on Wednesday .

Price was key.

You can argue that the difference between Savard and Edmundson is not enough to justify the cost difference. (I still prefer Savard, but I also have a certain reluctance to part with a first for him.)

The Leafs front office isn’t necessarily finished. They plan to continue looking for additional help on defense before Friday’s deadline, although that appears to be the case with what’s still available.

The Leafs view Edmundson as an additional option that head coach Sheldon Keefe could have at his disposal in the playoffs. One more option in case Timothy Liljegren struggles to box around his own net or Benoit struggles to move the puck.

But again, the question remains: is it enough? The Leafs can put together three good-to-decent pairs for playoff hockey, but they still lack a clear combo to take on, say, David Pastrnak in a first-round playoff series.

Edmundson’s addition does not answer this question.

Edmundson logged the second-most minutes at five-on-five among Montreal Canadiens defensemen during their improbable run to the final in 2021. Montreal gave up just 7.8 high-danger attempts per 60 minutes when ‘Edmundson was on the field, the highest score of all. regular on a backend that included Shea Weber. In other words, foes weren’t getting many juicy looks around the net when Edmundson was roaming around.

Edmundson was among the Montreal opponents who increasingly frustrated Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner in the first round of these playoffs.

That was three years ago, but that’s the effect the Leafs were looking for – a long, imposing defenseman to track down top predators.

At 6-foot-5 and 221 pounds, Edmundson is exactly the type of player the Leafs want more of at the back end. (Daniel Bartel / USA Today)

However, Edmundson is 30 now and feels like an extra third-pair type on a defense that already has several. He was averaging 16.5 minutes per game for a Washington team that currently sits outside the playoffs. He ranked sixth among their defensemen in five-on-five average ice time.

He feels like a slight upgrade over Benoit (and Liljegren remains a question mark in the playoffs), but he’s still not the top defenseman the Leafs really need at this point – one they don’t need. have not been able to replace since the failure of John Klingberg’s experiment.

Edmundson’s place is uncertain. Keefe could go in many different directions.

Morgan Rielly and Lyubushkin seem likely to stay together. After that, all bets are off.

The Brodie-Liljegren pairing has struggled as the Leafs’ primary opponents. It seems like a stretch to see Edmundson playing with Brodie in that kind of role and those kinds of minutes, but it’s possible that’s where the Leafs find themselves.

Which of the two plays the right side in this case?

Rielly – Lioubouchkine
Benoît – McCabe

The Leafs could potentially use any of these pairings against players like Pastrnak and hope the defense-by-committee approach will be enough to get by. That would leave just one right-hander (Lyubushkin) in the Leafs’ top six, a situation the team hoped to avoid.

With Edmundson around, Keefe could also move McCabe to play with Brodie (still on the left) and use those two against the top lines. That’s how the Leafs attacked the playoffs last spring to mixed effect.

That would leave two spots for Edmundson, Benoit, Liljegren and Mark Giordano.

Keefe could potentially combine one of those two for a third pairing, precisely the kind of option Leafs executives wanted.

This is reminiscent of the Leafs dynamic last year in the playoffs, when Rielly, Brodie, McCabe and Luke Schenn were fixtures while everyone else – Liljegren, Giordano (who remained in the lineup but lost minutes), Justin Holl and Erik Gustafsson – were mixed. elsewhere.

Edmundson played primarily with Nick Jensen, a strong puck-moving right-hander, in Washington this season.

Another option: use Edmundson, playing on the left, with McCabe and give these two the most difficult missions.

Rielly – Lioubouchkine

Once again, optionality. Leaf’s defense has become deeper this way – deeper to absorb injuries as well. If healthy, Edmundson, Liljegren or Benoit will be the No. 7 defenseman come playoff time. Giordano looks like #8.

Again, this is an imperfect group of puzzle pieces for Keefe to match and even weaker than what competitors Boston and Florida can boast of.

Is the collection as a whole good enough to win four rounds? Maybe? This doesn’t seem to be the case, although it’s possible. However, with what the Leafs were willing to give up, perhaps this was the best they could do.

(Top photo: Fred Kfoury III / Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)