At the beginning of his tenure as GM of the Toronto Maple Leafs in 2008, Brian Burke promised to bring “proper levels of pugnacity, testosterone, truculence and belligerence” to the team.
This has become most evident at the defensive end, as he has completely rebuilt the blue line corps.
With an average age of 25 years, this group of Leafs' defensemen will only improve as they learn to play with each other and gain more experience.
The future certainly looks bright for the Leafs D.
Here are the rankings for the defensemen currently on the Leafs’ roster. If you disagree with any of the rankings, be sure to make your opinion known in the comments section – hopefully it will make for some interesting debate!
Jake Gardiner has done well to make the club this year, with a goal and three assists in six preseason games.
However, he has been a healthy scratch for the past two regular season games and has yet to record his first NHL point.
Gardiner will get a look over in the next 10 games and will probably be sent down to the Marlies afterward—unless he maintains the same pace as the preseason and makes the decision difficult for Wilson and Burke.
Simply put, Mike Komisarek has not lived up to the expectations placed upon him when he signed a five year, $22 million contract in 2009.
Brought in for his defensive capabilities, Komisarek had an injury-shortened season in 2009-2010 and a sub-par season in 2010-2011 with reduced ice time.
He has played well so far this year but needs to improve on his plus/minus total, which is currently minus-18 as a Leaf. Most importantly, he needs to become the punishing defenseman that Brian Burke thought he was when he signed him away from the Montreal Canadiens.
Cody Franson was acquired on July 3, 2011 from the Nashville Predators, along with Matthew Lombardi in exchange for Brett Lebda and Robert Slaney. This was a ridiculously lopsided trade that was made to ensure that the Leafs would take on the injury-risk associated with Lombardi.
Franson was a healthy scratch for the first two games this year, which he did not take very well. He complained publicly about his situation to the Toronto media.
Coach Ron Wilson was not impressed with this response, but has inserted Franson into the lineup in the past two games.
Franson has offensive talent and the potential to make a significant contribution this year, but he needs to somehow adjust to life as a Toronto Maple Leaf and come to terms with playing in a town that is passionate about its hockey.
Carl Gunnarsson has done well with the Leafs over the past two years and has proven to be a valuable asset on the power play as a good passer.
He is sometimes prone to foolish giveaways that leave observers scratching their heads, but he has gotten better as he has gained more NHL experience.
Gunnarsson has not played a full NHL season yet, but it will be interesting to see if he can significantly improve on his offensive stats this year and maintain a positive plus/minus rating over 82 games.
John-Michael Liles was brought in to improve a power play that was ranked 22nd in the NHL last year.
Liles has been remarkably consistent over his career—he has gotten over 30 points every year he has played. Of his 276 career points, 150 have been gained with one man advantages.
A successful power play unit is crucial for any team that wants to make the playoffs. The Leafs will benefit greatly if Liles can continue to be consistent offensively.
Luke Schenn has the potential to be a premiere shutdown defenseman in this league. The Leafs can look to him come playoff time to ensure opposing stars are not able to breathe in the Leafs’ end of the ice.
Schenn sometimes chips in with a goal here and an assist there, but the qualities that make him most valuable to the Leafs are his hitting and shot-blocking abilities.
He is also very sturdy in his own end, and isn’t afraid to drop the gloves and stand up for his teammates.
The decision to give him regular playing time in his first year of NHL eligibility seems to have paid off. He has clearly matured as a defenseman over the past three seasons and is able to handle over 20 minutes of play per game.
If the Leafs make the playoffs this year, look for Schenn to play a pivotal role.
Dion Phaneuf is the best defenseman on the Toronto Maple Leafs, hands down.
He has provided leadership and gritty play since he first arrived from Calgary. He also regained his offensive prowess after the trade of Tomas Kaberle. He was thrust into the role of power-play quarterback—a role he has handled very well.
Phaneuf has shown no signs of slowing down. He has four points in four games thus far.
This rate of offensive production probably won’t continue, but his presence on the ice gives the Leafs a much-needed boost every game.
Will he lead the Leafs back into the playoffs this year?