Nick Leddy began his Detroit Red Wings tenure paired on defense with Moritz Seider; now he’s back at that spot as the Wings try to regain their footing during a particularly challenging stretch in the schedule.
The Toronto Maple Leafs are on deck for a Saturday night Original Six date at Little Caesars Arena. The Wings (23-23-6) are coming off a loss to the Colorado Avalanche, and next week’s slate features Eastern Conference heavyweights such as the Carolina Hurricanes, Tampa Bay Lightning and Florida Panthers. Dylan Larkin, who played Wednesday, had a maintenance day Thursday to deal with an undisclosed injury, and there’s some uncertainty regarding his availability.
The Leafs scored five goals in the final 10 minutes of their previous visit to LCA, on Jan. 29. In hopes of containing one of the NHL’s top offenses, Leddy and Seider are together for the first time since their initial pairing was split up five games into the season.
“There were times it wasn’t a great pairing,” coach Jeff Blashill said Thursday. “Overall, there were moments of good, moments of not, so we just at that time felt it was the right move to try to mix it a little bit.”
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Seider, who at 20 already has established himself as the team’s No. 1 defenseman, has been paired mostly with Danny DeKeyser (and sometimes with Jordan Oesterle(. But Leddy is a top-notch skater, and the thinking is that will help contain Toronto’s top scorer, Auston Matthews, and his linemates.
Matthews entered Thursday ranked second in the league in goals (34) and tied for sixth in points (62), while Mitch Marner has 46 points, good for 42nd in the league. The third member of the line, rookie Michael Bunting, has 35 points and put up a hat trick in that Jan. 29 win over the Wings.
“Leddy is pretty strong on his skates and can battle a little bit against some of those bigger, heavier guys,” Blashill said. “Matthews can be such a beast that it’s the way we feel we’ll stay going into the game.”
The Wings have shied away from pairing their two biggest defensemen — Seider, at 6 feet 4 and 197 pounds, and Marc Staal, at 6-4 and 208 — because Staal “is really good on the penalty kill, we think he’s real good on three-on-fives, he gets lots of minutes in those situations,” Blashill said. “If you play with Seids, your minutes can get really, really high. I don’t know that that puts Staalsie in a position to have the best success. … Staalsie and Seids are probably our two hardest defensemen in terms of their physicality. It’s been solid in our mind to keep them apart.”
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Leddy was acquired by general manager Steve Yzerman last July, in a deal the New York Islanders made to avoid an expansion draft crunch. In return for a second-round pick in 2021 and little-used forward Richard Panik, the Wings gained a veteran defenseman with a Stanley Cup on his résumé who was entering the last year of his contract.
“One, I thought he could bring experience level of playing on some really good hockey teams that could help guide everybody here — the players and coaches,” Blashill said. “I think we all look for opportunities to learn from one another in ways that he’s seen, in Chicago and New York. Two, we felt like we were getting an elite-skating defenseman who could break you out of your end just with his skating, could push us up the ice with his skating, could join the rush with his skating.”
Leddy had three points in his first three games combined, but just eight in the 44 since, while putting up a team-worst minus-27 rating overall. He has a $5.5 million salary cap hit and turns 31 on March 20, a day before the trade deadline. Though his numbers in Detroit haven’t been great, Leddy has topped 30 points seven times in his career, including as recently as last season. Considering Leddy’s ability to skate, run a power play and that Cup-winning experience in 2013 with the Chicago Blackhawks, Yzerman could flip him to a contender. Leddy is unlikely to fit into the Wings’ future, because 2021 first-round pick Simon Edvinsson projects to make the team next season, and Staal is more likely to be the veteran the Wings try to re-sign.
Contact Helene St. James at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @helenestjames. Read more on the Detroit Red Wings and sign up for our Red Wings newsletter. Her book, The Big 50: The Detroit Red Wings is available from Amazon, Barnes & Noble and Triumph Books. Personalized copies available via her e-mail.