It’s not exactly breaking any new ground to say that the Toronto Maple Leafs have a gem of a prospect in Timothy Liljegren.
And yet, for some unbeknownst reason, his name has come up with more frequency as the trade deadline slowly approaches.
Specifically, Liljegren has seemingly been anointed with the honour of centrepiece for which any hypothetical package used to pry Chris Tanev out of Vancouver is built around.
For a number of reasons, this makes little sense.
The Leafs have needed a top pairing, right-handed defenceman for what seems like millennia. And, through sheer luck, a top prospect with that exact potential fell into their lap at last year’s draft.
Now, halfway through his highly successful first season with the organization, fans want to ship him out of town for an older, more injury prone model with a lower ceiling.
I just don’t get it.
2017-18 marks Tanev’s eighth season in the NHL. Not once, in any of his prior seven seasons, has he played more than 70 games.
To say that Tanev is injury prone would be an understatement. In fact, as I’m writing this, news just broke of him being sidelined for the next three to four weeks with a fractured leg. And that’s not even the first injury he’s suffered this year.
Tanev is a phenomenal player, there’s no doubting that. He’s a legitimate top-four defenseman with a cap hit of just $4.5 million. Paying someone of Tanev’s calibre anything under $6 million is a win, no matter how you look at it.
The sticking point, however, is that included in any package for Tanev’s service is also the extensive mileage his body has endured.
Since 2014, he’s been placed on the injured reserve a whopping nine(!) times, not including any additional games he’s missed for other various ailments.
While some of this can undoubtedly be chalked up to bum luck, eight calendar years is quite the sample size.
Frankly, I’d be extremely hesitant to give up significant assets, especially the best defensive prospect this organization has seen since Morgan Rielly, for a player who could be lost for the season at any given moment.
Tanev is 28-years-old, right in the middle of what’s commonly regarded as a players prime. Whatever level he’s currently playing at is likely the highest it’ll ever be.
Now, that level is certainly a lofty one, but there isn’t much room for improvement with a player rapidly approaching 30.
With Liljegren, the opposite is true.
As the only 18-year-old defenceman in the AHL, Liljegren has not only acclimated himself well enough to simply get by, he’s actually standing out.
Once criticized for his defensive lapses, he routinely functions as the defensively responsible member of his pairing. Not to mention, his offensive skills so advanced, he’d be capable of quarterbacking an NHL powerplay tomorrow.
Which begs the question; why give up on that?
We know exactly how good Tanev is. But, for Liljegren, the sky’s the limit. Over the next half-decade, Tanev’s play will inevitably slip with age, while Liljegren’s will only continue to develop.
Essentially, this all boils down to a matter of patience. Would the value Tanev brings the Leafs in the short term be worth losing out on potentially more with Liljegren down the road?
Personally, I don’t think so.
The Leafs have enough defensive might to get by for now. I mean, the Penguins won a cup with Ron Hainsey on their top pairing, so why can’t Toronto?
The Leafs had a bonafide top-five pick who fit the exact criteria of their biggest positional need somehow fall into their laps at 17th overall. The last thing they should be doing is trading him for someone whose number of IR stints are approaching double digits.
So, please. Stop trading Timothy Liljegren.