Is the defensive overhaul enough?
With the addition of Roman Polak and Stephane Robidas the Maple Leafs effectively overturned one third of their defence. Returning are Dion Phaneuf, Morgan Rielly, Jake Gardiner and Cody Franson with Stuart Percy assuming the seventh spot, at least in the short term. That’s a lot of change on the back end.
While he’s been a lightning rod in Toronto, Dion Phaneuf is still a good defensemen who can eat big minutes for any team in the NHL. Furthermore he’s signed long term and not going anywhere. Likewise Morgan Rielly and Jake Gardiner have very high upside and are both young and developing and expected to be a part of the Maple Leafs for years and years to come. While Cody Franson is the X factor on the back end, Nonis changed pretty much everything he could change.
Is it enough?
Oct 3, 2014; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Toronto Maple Leafs defenceman Stephane Robidas (12) during the pre game warm up against the Detroit Red Wings at the Air Canada Centre. Mandatory Credit: John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports
It’s debatable if Roman Polak is better than Carl Gunnarsson and whether it’s an upgrade or simply a step sideways, but one thing Polak is for sure is a defensive defecemen who limits his mistakes and would be well used with a rookie or someone more likely to make mistakes. Between Rielly, Gardiner and Percy there’s a few contenders for that role.
Robidas has 885 games of NHL experience, over 200 games more than Phaneuf, and has been very durable over his career before last year. Prior to the past season, Robidas played at least 72 games each season for nine straight years. He’s a respected veteran and steadying presence on the blue line.
While Robidas did break his right leg not once but twice last year, it appears he’s ready to go as the season starts. How much the 37-year-old has in the tank is debatable but he’s infinitely better than Paul Ranger or Tim Gleason.
The two, along with the rookie Percy, should help make the Maple Leafs blue line better than it’s been for years, but the overhaul may not be enough if the Leafs give up 2,945 shots again.