Sometimes when a player gets some attention, it's down to him. Sometimes the team puts out some flowers to attract the bees. For a little of both reasons, Simon Benoit is getting buzz, and talk has turned to re-signing him. It does two things for the Leafs: It stops everyone talking about William Nylander's contract, and it keeps everyone who likes grit and grind, fights and big hits from noticing that Ryan Reaves has been memory-holed.

That's timing related, but why talk contract at all?

Benoit, 25, is currently on a one-year, minimum-salary deal of $775,000. The deal expires with Benoit as an RFA with arbitration rights. The Qualifying Offer he would be due in the summer is $813,750, which means he would make at least that much by taking his QO or by electing arbitration. Any negotiated deal, either now or in the summer, can be for any amount at or above the minimum, which is $775,000 for the next two years.

On the Leafs, Benoit is unique. He is the only depth defender who is primarily relying on size and reach to play simple, reactive defence. He plays the PK, he clears the crease, he does some big hits, and he has some agitator qualities. He isn't there for offensive skills, which is good, since he doesn't have any.

His skills are largely devalued by fans focused on points and by those who don't recognize what he does as a skill. His skills are overvalued by fans focused on the spectacle of physical domination. But aside from Mark Giordano – who has a lot of other skills too – he's really the only player on the Leafs playing this kind of game.

Is it working? My definition of working is: Does Simon Benoit add or subtract from the probability the Leafs will win games. The answer depends on who you ask. So I'm going to ask a bunch of people.

Sheldon Keefe

In a minute, I'll ask HockeyViz directly for an opinion, but that site has some methods of discerning the coach's thoughts about a player.

Keefe plays Benoit at about the same amount of minutes until the team is up by one or two goals, and then he gets less time. When the team is up by three or more, though, Benoit gets a lot of minutes. Keefe thinks the Leafs are bad at holding leads and better defenders than Benoit get that job.

Benoit and William Lagesson have played nearly identical minutes both in total and per game played. They are the least used defenders, not counting Max Lajoie, who has played very rarely and is back in the AHL.

All of Benoit, Lagesson and Conor Timmins play with better forwards (by icetime) than they oppose and with worse defenders than they face. Note: the fact the Leafs have forwards who play extremely high minutes, and others, naturally playing extremely low minutes makes it possible for most Leafs defenders to have this pattern except Mark Giordano and TJ Brodie

Keefe starts Benoit almost exclusively in the defensive zone, unlike Timmins, who is used only offensively and Lagesson, who he can't seem to decide what to do with. I think this is key to where things are now. Benoit is filling a clear role no one else does, and Lagesson never was.

Keefe is using all of Giordano, Jake McCabe, Lagesson, Benoit and Brodie when it would matter if the Leafs are scored against, and using all of those defenders less when they need goals. Less than Morgan Rielly – the now lone offensively trusted defender with Timmins in the pressbox.

Benoit has been playing mostly with McCabe lately, but has been paired with Timmins and Lagesson quite a bit. At five-on-five, he has played most with Calle Järnkrok, Max Domi, William Nylander, Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner, and on down through the top nine. He rarely sees time with the fourth line or Mark Giordano and Timothy Liljegren.

While he's on the lineup card right now on the second pair, the Leafs have a clear top pair and bottom four arrangement (like most teams) and it doesn't matter how often you say "top four" it's not a real thing. So his actual TOI is the same as it's always been.


HV doesn't like him very much. He's rated as a just barely NHL-level third-pairing defender. His value is a mild improvement to the PK, and replacement-level defending without serious offensive detriments. A simple WOWY showing his on-ice defensive results vs off-ice favours Benoit very strongly, but the HV model seems to be assigning that effect to other players.

Remember, the quality of the forwards he plays with outstrips their competition. He is playing with groups that start in the defensive zone, but are designed to win the matchup and get out of there.

Evolving Hockey

EH broadly agrees with Keefe and HV about what he's good at: the PK and defending. But their GAR model sees a bigger skew between his negative effect on offence, and his very positive defence. Their RAPM model looks at Corsi and Expected Goals isolated for all that usage context discussed above. It has him with a good impact on Corsi For and on Expected Goals Against, but gently negative values in Goals (real or Expected) For.

I think EH likes him a bit more than HV. But that just makes him a better depth defender in their model's view.


We have here the thorny problem of a player who is obviously not doing anything to put the puck in the net, but has some other value that is much harder to define. You can easily grasp his lack of offence by watching him, unconcerned that any bias could be colouring your perception.

It's also easy to watch him make some mistakes, lose some board battles and conclude he's terrible. All defencemen do those things. But it is impossible to see things that aren't there. You cannot see lower Expected Goals Against. You cannot see a positive impact on shotshare. You particularly cannot see this in a player who is often the least qualified NHLer on the ice at any given time. You aren't even going to see if he's helping to survive defensive zone time and exit the zone all that well.

Various opinions on him say he's mildly useful at those things when not tested too hard.

So... why are we here? He's replacement level, so who cares. He is that, but he gets to that result by a path almost no one else treads on the Leafs. It seems the Leafs think that matters, that the how is important, and I am of a mind to agree to some extent. For 15 minutes a game, a PK defender doesn't need to be a transition and passing maestro who can't defend. He can just be a decent defensive player who is going to help you in the half of the game you're playing in your own end.

Players like him are cheaper too. And nothing greases a player through waivers like a little term. Well, except an unburiable contract amount, but that's not where this story is headed. If the Leafs want to sign him for a year or two at a million or less, it saves on spinning the UFA wheel in the summer, and lets them send him down between the deadline and the playoffs if they have to.

I don't see any risk in a deal like that, other than the angst felt by people who only want the types of players they like on the team they watch. And if he helps wean Brad Treliving off of Ryan Reaves, even better.

So, distraction over, now back to the Nylander circus.