Breaking Down Each Toronto Maple Leafs Defensive Pairing in 2014-15

James Onusko@@jonuskoContributor IIIAugust 25, 2014

Breaking Down Each Toronto Maple Leafs Defensive Pairing in 2014-15

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    Joe Mahoney/Associated Press

    While there were no big splashes in terms of trades or offseason free-agent signings in Toronto, the Maple Leafs' defensive pairings will be noticeably different from 2013-14.

    Carl Gunnarsson, Paul Ranger and Tim Gleason, who all played significant minutes in 2013-14, are no longer in Toronto.

    New additions Stephane Robidas and Roman Polak will bring a veteran presence to the defense group.

    While the top-six defensive core is not completely set, and pairings often change multiple times over a handful of games, let's take a look at the pairs that are likely to take shape when the season begins in October.

3rd Pairing: Cody Franson and Roman Polak

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    Paul Sancya/Associated Press

    This third pairing could be a very physical duo that makes life miserable for opposing forwards.

    Cody Franson will be the key player on this potential pairing. The 27-year-old native of Sicamous, British Columbia registered a staggering 282 hits last season.

    The Leafs need more of this physical play from the 6'5" rearguard in 2014-15. Franson is versatile enough that he can play in all game situations.

    However, if he's sheltered on the third pairing, he could put up some good offensive numbers if he sees a reasonable number of offensive-zone starts against weaker quality of competition.

    New Leafs defenceman Polak will add some size and grit to the blue line. The Czech native is not dazzling in any one element of the game, but he will get in opponents' faces consistently. He's a good skater who will need to concentrate on making the simple plays consistently.

    He's posted a career Corsi number of 49.3 percent which would look great in Toronto with the team struggling to outshoot opponents on most nights, per It's going to be challenging for him to put up similar numbers in Toronto.

2nd Pairing: Morgan Rielly and Stephane Robidas

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    Tony Gutierrez/Associated Press

    In Morgan Rielly, the Leafs have one of the more promising young defenders in the NHL

    Quite simply, he was too good to send back to juniors in 2013-14. He was not dominant at the NHL level, but he displayed a lot of promise last season.

    Rielly posted 27 points last season and a Corsi number of 44.7 percent. Look for both of those numbers to increase, particularly if the Leafs can start to tilt the ice a little more in their favour.

    Robidas could be a very good addition for the Leafs. Conversely, if he cannot stay healthy, the Leafs do not have many NHL-ready defenders to shore up the defense.

    Robidas has 251 career points, but he won't be asked to produce offensively. He's in Toronto to provide leadership and guidance to Rielly and the Leafs' other young standout defenseman, Jake Gardiner.

    Robidas could be moved around a lot, depending on the game situation and how his teammates are playing. Don't be surprised to see him paired with all the other defensemen at various points as the year progresses.

    These are two strong skaters who should move the puck smartly out of their own end and get the Leafs on the attack quickly.

1st Pairing: Jake Gardiner and Dion Phaneuf

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    Len Redkoles/Getty Images

    The pairing of Dion Phaneuf and Gardiner could be a dynamic one. Both players have offensive upside, and in Phaneuf's case, he can still take the body regularly.

    Phaneuf registered 227 hits in 2013-14, was a plus-two and tallied 31 points. The former WHL star has a career Corsi percentage of 49.9, but last year's number of 41.1 was more indicative of the quality of his opponents and that the Leafs were overwhelmed in the defensive zone for long periods of time.

    Paired with Gardiner, and with some more offensive-zone starts, these two could put up some significant points. They also could form the top duo on the point for the power play.

    Gardiner had 30 points last year and led the defensive corps with a Corsi percentage of 46.5. He needs to increase both of those numbers beginning in October.

    Gardiner is entering his prime just as Phaneuf starts to come out of the other side of his top years. Being matched up with Gardiner could see Phaneuf rejuvenated in 2014-15.

    The Leafs will need them to be minute eaters—especially Gardiner. He may even challenge Phaneuf for the team title of most minutes played.

    These two need to put up at least 75 points between them if the club wants to be a playoff contender this season.

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