Every team experiences injuries to key players during the season. For the Toronto Maple Leafs, it's their blueline depth that has taken the worst beating.
On Wednesday, the team announced that defenseman Jake Muzzin is out four weeks with a broken hand. He went down in Tuesday's win against the Tampa Bay Lightning after he took a shot from the blue line into the hand.
Toronto is now down three starting defensemen in Muzzin, Cody Ceci (ankle) and Morgan Rielly (foot). They've combined for 58 points — equivalent to 45 percent of the team's point production from defensemen this season.
Toronto is going to need to dig deep into its system to get reinforcements for its injured players. As Sportsnet's Elliotte Friedman noted, the Maple Leafs could start five defensemen from Toronto's AHL affiliate that played in game one of the 2018 Calder Cup Final.
5 of AHL TOR’s D from Game 1 of 2018 Calder Cup Final could play tomorrow in FLA:— Elliotte Friedman (@FriedgeHNIC) February 27, 2020
Marincin - Holl
Rosen - LoVerde
Dermott - Liljegren
The coach of the Toronto Marlies in 2018? Current Leafs head coach Sheldon Keefe.
Tyson Barrie will be the top defenseman alongside Rasmus Sandin, Travis Dermott, Justin Holl, Martin Marincin, Timothy Liljegren and Calle Rosen.
According to Hockey Reference, Holl is second on the team in defensive points share (estimated amount of points contributed by a player's defense) at 2.5. Dermott (2.1) and Barrie (1.5) are the other two players above one among the active defensemen.
Toronto is one of the worst defensive teams in the league with 3.27 goals allowed per game. According to Natural Stat Trick, Maple Leafs are tied for the most scoring chance goals allowed in the NHL.
The impact of Muzzin's absence will be amplified if the young, inexperienced Maple Leafs defenseman can't step up as they enter Wednesday in third place in the Atlantic Division.
Because of Keefe's experience coaching most of the defensemen in the AHL, many of the players recently called up know the system, which should ease their transition to the NHL. However, if the likes of Sandin, Marincin and Liljegren can't help lessen the blow of losing three starters, it will only add pressure to the Maple Leafs forwards as they continue their playoff push.