What should the Toronto Maple Leafs do with Justin Holl?


The Toronto Maple Leafs and defensive issues seem to go hand in hand. This year, going into the season the team felt confident in their top 4 on the back end with Morgan Rielly, T.J Brodie, Jake Muzzin and Justin Holl. However, things have changed since the start of the year.

Justin Holl looked flat right from the first puck drop in the first game of the season. He seemed to be slow and was making bad turnovers that turned into goals in the Leafs net. The final straw seemed to be after another bad turnover, plus a poor back check that turned into a goal vs the Chicago Blackhawks.

Leafs forward Auston Matthews was seen screaming at Holl on the bench, believed to be saying “make the F***i*g pass”. It was after this play Holl’s minutes dropped drastically and he was a healthy scratch for the next game.

Since that game, Justin Holl has been watching the games from the press box and Timothy Liljegren has taken his place. Although it is still very early and we have not seen much of Liljegren, he seems to be fitting nicely on the third pairing. Plus we all know the Leafs cap situation is going to get even tighter. With both of these points in mind, it brings up the question. What should the Maple Leafs do with Justin Holl?

Option one: Trade him

One thing the Leafs could do is trade him. Holl has this year and the next left on his contract with a cap hit of 2 million per-year via capfriendly.com. This contract would be pretty easy to move if a team is looking for some help on the back end and they don’t have much money to spend. Three teams have been rumored to be in the mix for Justin Holl’s services.

  • Los Angeles Kings
  • St. Louis Blues
  • Calgary Flames

All three of these teams could use some help on the back end and have a good relationship with the Leafs and Kyle Dubas, Toronto’s General Manager. The Leafs most likely would be looking for a prospect in return, giving them some breathing room within the cap, at least for the time being.

This option is more of a short term fix with medium risk and medium reward. The risk being, if Timothy Liljegren starts playing badly, Holl won’t be with the team anymore to fill his spot in the lineup.

The reward for moving Holl would be cap space. This would make it easier for the Leafs to afford the contract extension they just gave to Morgan Rielly and hopefully make it easier to re-sign Jack Campbell.

Option two: Work him back into the lineup

Some people, myself included, feel the Leafs might be jumping the gun on this young defenseman. Yes Justin Holl has looked slow out the gate. However, so did most of the team. Toronto seems to be finding its game again and I feel Justin Holl can as well. Holl in the 7 games he played this year, has 0 points and is a -7.However, Holl last season had a strong year, finishing with a +16 , while adding 20 points in 55 games played.

The coaching staff needs to work with Justin to help him find his confidence. I feel as he gains more confidence his game can and will improve once again. It will take some time and effort but it might be worth it to get him back into last season’s form. This would also help his trade value if the team wants to trade him in the off-season.

This option is more of a long term plan if Holl gains his game back. However, they will still have the cap issues moving into next year. But the Leafs can cross that bridge at a later time.

If Holl can’t seem to get his game back with the Leafs it could make him very hard to move and they might be stuck with his contract. If they decide to keep Holl late into this season, this could be a big risk for the Leafs down the road. 

Option three: Wait and see

The third option is combining both options. You work with Justin Holl for now trying to get his game back from last season. If you see the progress you want to see from Holl, maybe try dressing 7 defenders or even taking Travis Dermott out, giving both Liljegren and Holl a chance to show their stuff. For now though, you stick with the lineup that is working, keeping Liljegren in the lineup over Holl. See how Liljegren plays after maybe 10 or 15 games and go from there.

If Liljegren keeps up his strong play and Holl does not seem to progress as much as you wanted him to, shop him on the open market. Get what the team feels is fair value and move him to a new team.

If Liljegren continues to play well and Holl finds his game this gives them some depth within their defenders. That is something the Leafs have not had in years and something that is really needed to make a playoff push.

I feel this option gives them the most flexibility. Trying Liljegren for the next 10-15 games would give them the chance to see what he can really do in the NHL. They still have Holl in case Liljegren doesn’t work out. And if he does work out, they can either trade Holl without hurting his value as he has not been out of the lineup for too long, or keep him for a deep playoff run as you can never have too many good NHL defenders.

What would I do?

If I was in Kyle Dubas’ shoes I would pick the third option. Let things play out and not jump the gun on moving a typically good defenseman while keeping one who has barely played in the NHL, but we will have to wait and see.

The Leafs next game will be tonight vs the Tampa Bay Lighting. Another huge test for this Maple Leafs team.