Simon Benoit
Photo credit: Sportsnet

Leafs reveal controversial reason for sitting hard-hitting defenseman

Published March 10, 2024 at 12:09

Last night, the Leafs rolled into The Bell Centre in Montreal with the intent of heading home with 2 points, which is exactly what they did. The Leafs battled hard and won a 3-2 decision in Montreal on a night where they were without the services of not only Mitch Marner, but one of their best defensive defensemen as well, as Sheldon Keefe opted to scratch Quebec native Simon Benoit.

Many have likened Keefe's decision to scratch Benoit in Montreal to the decision made by former Leafs coach Mike Babcock, when he scratched Jason Spezza in what was supposed to be his Leafs debut back in 2019 with 100-200 of his family and friends coming to see him take to the ice for the first time in a Leafs sweater at Scotiabank Arena.

There really aren't a lot of parallels there to connect the Benoit scratch to the Spezza scratch, given that Benoit was not making his Habs debut in Montreal, but the decision to scratch Benoit in front of his family and friends didn't sit well with a lot of Leafs fans regardless, and for good reason. Benoit has played very well for the Leafs and arguably even better than both Timothy Liljegren and T.J. Brodie this season, both of whom suited up last night. Following the win in Montreal, Sheldon Keefe mentioned the reason for his decision to scratch the Laval, PQ native at home. Apparently, the decision had been made well ahead of time, back when the Leafs had acquired Joel Edmundson from the Capitals back on March 7th.

"When [GM Brad Treliving] built the team, this was the six guys. And while we love the depth that Benoit has brought to us and his ability to come in [and play well], Lily playing tonight was important. It's important for us to continue to work with him."

Keefe intimated that it was important to keep Liljegren, one of only two right-shot defensemen on the active roster, involved and help him fine tune his game and improve ahead of the playoffs, where he's going to be leaned on to play a key role for he team. Keefe and Treliving also wanted Liljegren to get comfortable with Edmundson, his new D partner.

Sometimes, the game can be very unfair. Benoit certainly deserves to play in Toronto, but with so many healthy bodies on the back end right now, some difficult decisions needed to be made. Benoit is currently buried on the depth chart on the left side, behind Rielly, Brodie, McCabe and Edmundson. Brodie, McCabe and Edmundson all also having experience on the right side might mean that Benoit will get back into the lineup eventually, but unfortunately for him, right now that would likely require an injury to one of the team's two right shot defenders forcing someone to slide over to their off-side.

March 10   |   556 answers
Leafs reveal controversial reason for sitting hard-hitting defenseman

Does Simon Benoit deserve to be in the regular top-6 D spots for the Maple Leafs?

He's the 7th defenseman437.7 %
He's definitely a top-6 defender on this team46283.1 %
It's so tough to say for sure519.2 %
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