Hot seat…Maple Leafs Defensmen feeling the heat.

It’s tough to feel bad for an NHL player making millions of dollars but in this case, I do. 

It appears Toronto has found their whipping boy and not surprisingly it has come on defence once again.

Justin Holl has had a rollercoaster career that seemed to hit its peak last season. After earning an extension during the 2019-2020 season Holl’s play has steadily declined. It’s not that Holl fooled Toronto into thinking he was going to be a top pairing D-man, but he did play good enough to earn himself a $1.5 million dollar raise. 

The problem is that Holl was supposed to be a consistent bottom pair defenceman that was reliable in doing the simplest of things. A two million dollar cap hit for Holl seemed like a fair price at the time of his extension. The Maple Leafs went out of their way to protect him in the expansion draft, which forced Seattle to pick a more talented Jared McCann. It may be unfair, but all of these factors are hurting Holl right now. 

Toronto wasn’t asking for much offensively and for a short period of time, it seemed as though Holl was going to be that reliable player for the next three years. Unfortunately, Holl has been underwhelming through three-quarters of this season and it doesn’t seem as if it’s going to get much better. The eye test is hurting him more than advanced stats are at this point. 

Holl often has brain lapses throughout his game and it seems as though the pace of play is moving too quickly for him. His decision-making is questionable at best and there are more times than not, Holl leaves fans scratching their head. The old adage “off the glass and out” could not apply more to Justin Holl.

Just last night, he had a brutal giveaway just inside the Montreal blue line, which lead to their first goal. 

Holls averages aren’t as bad as they seem. His GA/60 is at 2.79. In the grand scheme of how poor Holl has been playing, this number is not awful. Holl’s d-zone face-off starts (7.8/60) aren’t as high as they should be considering what his role on the team is supposed to be. This becomes problematic because he isn’t offensively talented either, and the team cannot use him in the o-zone. Holl averages 5.97/60 o-zone starts per game. If Toronto can’t trust him in either the offensive or defensive zone, where does he fit?

Although his season has been a bit of a disappointment, his partner has not been much better. Jake Muzzin’s age is showing and it’s slowly becoming an issue. Muzzin has been nothing short of brilliant over his short three-and-a-half-year span with the Maple Leafs but there has been a drastic change this year. In this injury-riddled season, it seems as though Muzzin cannot catch a break. Now, his injuries haven’t been long-term but the lingering impact of these small bumps and bruises seem to be taking their toll. He has lost a step and his decision-making defensively seems to be below average at times. He is truly a mystery every shift. 

There is nothing smooth about the pairs’ play and the eye test shows that they are out of sync with one another. What once was a good partnership has turned sour over the course of this season and it is obvious that the Maple Leafs need to make a change. 

Both of their underlying numbers are way below average.

Muzzin is averaging his highest GA/60 of his career at 3.38. This number is concerning when you consider he was averaging around 2.50 GA/60 since becoming a Maple Leaf. His CA/60 is 56.6 which is the third highest of his career! 

I know there are underlying circumstances that contribute to this number but for a consistently reliable defenceman who is supposed to be anchoring the second pair, it is worrisome. 

Considering Muzzin is at a $5,625,000 cap hit for the next two seasons, there needs to be an uptick in his performance, or this could get ugly for Toronto.

Both players at their peak can still be very useful for Toronto, especially Muzzin. This season has shown how quickly things can change and that a player’s performance is never guaranteed but as the trade deadline approaches, both players are certainly feeling a little uncomfortable about their future with the Maple Leafs.