UP THE MIDDLE, LEAFS AIN'T CUTTIN' IT

Steve Lansky
December 13 2010 09:08AM

Ahhhh, one of the great books of my childhood. Without solid centremen, a team is nothing. I’m not entirely sure I accept that as a truism, but it’s hammered into my head enough by half-baked hockey fans that it’s starting to stick. Twenty-nine games into their season, the Maple Leafs’ are embarking on a three-game swing through Western Canada. The Oilers spanked the Leafs 5-0 at ACC on December 2nd. And the Canucks demoralized Toronto exactly one month ago, when Mason Raymond scored on a stupidly long slapshot that J-S Giguère still wishes he could have back. Time to rate the Leafs’ centres 29 games into the season.

MIKHAIL GRABOVSKI ~ 26 yrs old, 29 gp, 8g, 12a, +1 rating, 18:34 TOI – Rates an A

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again, I have never been a big Grabovski fan. To me, he always looks like he’s skating miles, when feet will do. That said, he has been the best surprise of any Leafs’ forward this season – especially when he shoots the puck. He’s been in the right place at the right time, and he leads all Leafs’ centres (by a lot) in SOG with 73. But he could still shoot more. Turn those 8 goals into 18.

TYLER BOZAK ~ 24 yrs old, 29 gp, 4g, 6a, -7 rating, 18:53 TOI – Rates a C

Gotta tell ya, I’m not impressed. I’m not impressed with his tenacity. And I’m really not impressed with his inconsistency. He is one of the biggest Leafs' disappointments up front this season. He started the year on the top line between RW Phil Kessel and LW Kris Versteeg and has been slowly sinking in the west ever since. I think a nice, hot fire under his a** might work…but it’s up to Bozak to light it himself.

TIM BRENT ~ 26 yrs old, 29 gp, 3 g, 2 a, -1 rating, 11:54 TOI – Rates a B

I love what Tim Brent brings to a team. I loved what he brought to the OHL’s Toronto St. Michael’s Majors a decade ago, and I love what he brings to the Leafs. On Saturday night, against Montreal, Brent took a wicked cross-check in order to help set up Tomas Kaberle’s game-winning goal. For this team, right now, he’s doing exactly what’s expected of him. But, if he scored a little more, it wouldn’t be the end of the world.

NAZEM KADRI ~ 20 yrs old, 14 gp, 0g, 6a, -3 rating, 17:30 TOI – Rates a C+

When Kadri was recalled from the Marlies (for that Vancouver game on month ago), his enthusiasm was immediately infectious and almost tangible on the ice. But every game that’s gone by without him scoring his first NHL goal, that lustre fades a little more. Against Montreal, last Saturday, he played just 11:25. And his current face-off percentage is 38.2%. Problem is, the kid hasn’t figured out that it’s not playtime out there. It doesn’t seem to have dawned on him that each shift is life and death. Maybe one day it will…or maybe it won’t.

JOHN MITCHELL ~ 25 years old, 16 gp, 0g, 1a, -5 rating, 12:19 TOI – Rates a C-

John Mitchell is what he is – a fourth-line centre on a team without great centremen. His 55.1 face-off percentage leads the group, but that’s about the only department in which he shines. There is lots of venom thrown his way from Leafs’ fans, which makes it that much harder to perform. And he’s been a healthy scratch 13 times this season. John Mitchell is not the future of the Toronto Maple Leafs.

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Steve Lansky's first exposure to the game was at storied Maple Leaf Gardens, running downstairs at the end of every period just to watch the great Dave Keon walk off the ice to the room. A decade later, while he was still in high school, Oilers' head coach Glen Sather asked Lansky, "Hey, how'd you like to be our team statistician?" In 1983, at the age of 22, Lansky became the youngest producer in the history of CBC's Hockey Night in Canada, giving him a front-row seat to the Edmonton Oilers' dynasty. Lansky also helped launch Rogers Sportsnet's fledgling hockey coverage when the network made its début in 1998. You can follow him at bigmouthsports.com and at twitter.com/bigmouthsports
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#1 Eric Johnson
December 13 2010, 02:22PM
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There are few teams in the league without at least ONE solid center. The ones without are easy to spot as they are in the bottom of the standings, and thats where they'll stay until they get at least ONE player who can dominate up the middle.

In my opinion a team needs a big minute center more than the big minute D-man.

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#3 Eric Johnson
December 13 2010, 08:32PM
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Ya know Mr. Lansky, we just agree don't we?

I can't think of a difference we've had yet. Doesn't exactly initiate riveting debate, but I sure like the cut of your jib.

Kessel desperately needs a set up man. Best start looking at the 2011 draft for hopeful candidates.

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#4 Pension Plan Puppets
December 14 2010, 06:17AM
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How the hell can you say that you are not convinced that Phil Kessel is a goal scorer? The guy already has two 30 goal seasons and he's just 23!

Jesus wept.

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#5 SkinnyFish
December 14 2010, 02:23PM
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Hey look! A story on how the Leafs lack a true #1 Center. Insightful.

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#6 Rexall Robots
December 14 2010, 05:04PM
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I thought the Leafs drafted Tyler Seguin to be their number one centre...what's that...hmm, it appears that the selection was traded away.

Ok, well, the Leafs could draft Sean Couturier or Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, or Victor Rask this year to help fill the gap...WTF...no first round selection this year either.

Oh well, there's always Nail Yakupov or Martin Frk in 2012.

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#7 Pension Plan Puppets
December 15 2010, 10:18AM
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Rexall Robots wrote:

I thought the Leafs drafted Tyler Seguin to be their number one centre...what's that...hmm, it appears that the selection was traded away.

Ok, well, the Leafs could draft Sean Couturier or Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, or Victor Rask this year to help fill the gap...WTF...no first round selection this year either.

Oh well, there's always Nail Yakupov or Martin Frk in 2012.

Pretty fresh from a team that a. doesn't have a top end centreman and b. didn't draft a top end centreman but c. I guess you'll get Couturier.

Silver lining I guess.

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#8 Rexall Robots
December 15 2010, 10:47AM
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Pension Plan Puppets wrote:

Pretty fresh from a team that a. doesn't have a top end centreman and b. didn't draft a top end centreman but c. I guess you'll get Couturier.

Silver lining I guess.

Keeping the Oilers one step ahead of the Leafs it would seem!

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#9 Pension Plan Puppets
December 15 2010, 02:03PM
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Rexall Robots wrote:

Keeping the Oilers one step ahead of the Leafs it would seem!

Except the Leafs are ahead of the Oilers right now.

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#10 Rexall Robots
December 16 2010, 09:20AM
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Touché on that point.

But looking at the big picture, that only moves the Oilers one step closer to having a potential number one centre.

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