Leafs Team Needs: Number One 'C'

JP Nikota
June 06 2012 11:04PM

Although Toronto's top line produced well this year, most educated Leafs fans are well aware that Joffrey Lupul is due for a big regression next season, and Phil Kessel for a bit of one, as well. While things were great were those two were scoring, Tyler Bozak, God bless him, just isn't deserving of his current rank in the lineup, and isn't fit to carry the mail when Lupul and/or Kessel falter. Heck, he isn't fit to do so even when Lupul and Kessel are producing.

It's news to almost no one: the Leafs need a number one 'C'.

The Diagnosis

For a free agent signing that cost the Leafs nothing, Tyler Bozak has been a great addition to this team. He was NHL-ready at the time of his first NHL contract, he's proven himself to be a reasonable point producer, and has become the Ernie to Phil Kessel's Bert. 

Of course, 47 points in 73 games isn't exactly spectacular when you've been playing between two point-per-game players - especially when you've been the beneficiary of some puck luck. Bozak's 16.5% shooting percentage is far too high to be sustainable, and, since this was also the case with both of his principal linemates this season, we can expect a downturn in his offensive numbers as well.

109 shots is simply too few chances generated for a guy that spends 14.82 minutes on the ice at 5v5. His Corsi numbers look poor, even on a bad team. His on-ice shooting percentage reflects the good luck that he, Lupul, and Kessel had this year, although their PDO's don't look so hot because of the terrible goaltending that has plagued the the post-lockout Leafs. The only slightly redeeming number at Behind The Net are his zone starts. At least he seems to finish his shifts in the right zone.

All of this is to say that while Bozak may be a fine 3rd or 4th line centre (a very admirable and worthwhile occupation), someone else needs to be brought in if the Leafs are to be taken seriously in the months of April, May, or June.

Possible In-House Solutions

Mikhail Grabovski is the closest thing the Leafs have to a first line centre. In fact, if it weren't for the fact that he works so well between Nikolai Kulemin and Clarke MacArthur, our dear Grabbo would likely have seen a lot more time on the first unit. To tear apart the Leafs' "second" line, however, would just make it that much easier for opponents to shut them down. A more balanced attack will be necessary for any playoff push. Let's leave Grabbo where he is.

Tim Connolly was brought in as an alternative to Tyler Bozak. The problem is that Connolly really isn't capable of contributing more points than Bozak, especially with his propensity to get injured. I'm not sure if there is a whole lot of good that can be said about TIm Connolly that doesn't begin with "his contract expires in a year". The man pushes some other replacement-level NHLers out of the lineup (again, when he's healthy), and that's great, but he'll never be a viable option for the Leafs as a pivot for Kessel and, dare I say it, Lupul.

As far as prospects are concerned, Nazem Kadri doesn't seem to have the defensive acumen to handle the job at the pro level, and Joe Colborne is unlikely to develop the offensive flair. Matt Frattin? He's a truly wonderful player to have been plucked in the fourth round (99th overall), but he'll never be a top-line center on a contending team.

The Open Market

The problem with free agents is that when dealing with them Brian Burke is just as likely to shoot himself in the foot as he is to actually benefit his team in some way. Names like Mike Komisarek, Colby Armstrong, and Colton Orr are sure to haunt the annals of Maple Leafs history for decades to come.

Having said that, is there even anyone worth persuing?

When Olli Jokinen is the top point-producing centre coming available, you should probably close the book on this chapter. Maybe another top-six winger is the real solution, but we'll leave Zach Parise for another post.

The Trade Market

Here's where things get crazy. I can't very well speculate on who is actually available because there is just no way to know (see: Dion Phaneuf trade).

On top of this, it seems that every player whose name comes up in conjunction with the Leafs is a winger. Rick Nash? Winger. Alexander Semin? Winger. Bobby Ryan? Winger. James vanRiemsdyk? Winger. Heck, these are only pipe dreams, anyway.

I mean, who would be crazy enough to move a legitimate first-line centre? Tavares? No. Elias? No. Staal? No. Kane? Hm, no, even if he is a crazy party animal.

Conclusion

I won't mince words here: I don't see how Brian Burke is going to conjure a legitimate first-line centre out of the spare parts he's assembled so far in Toronto. Not even in a trade. A UFA? Even less likely.

Let's hope the Leafs get plenty more scoring from the wings next year.

D84a93f7cd388193e2fcf402ddc4805f
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#1 Danny Gray
June 07 2012, 06:59AM
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He could always draft one at #5.

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#2 John
June 07 2012, 07:08AM
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All very good points that being said i do disagree with a couple points. First off I believe Kadri well not very good defensively is currently our best option as he would give that line even more potential firepower and take pressure off of kessel on that line. I see Colbourne as more of a talented 3rd line checking/scoring. And Frattin is not a centre so he would be a very surprising pick for the top centre position.

lastly in terms of how the free agent signings were shoots in the foot. I disagree with the colten orr statement. Well he isn't insanely talent. I like what he brings to the game. being toughness, determination, and from what i've read and seen a fantastic work ethic.

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#3 Curt S
June 07 2012, 07:15AM
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Bobby Ryan has spent a fair bit of time playing center at the NHL-level with mixed results. He's much better on the wing than he is at center but if that pipedream does come true, it's probably the best case scenario for the Leafs' #1C slot next year. Other than him, it's every bit as bleak as you make it sound.

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#4 Danny Gray
June 07 2012, 07:51AM
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@Curt S

STASTNY

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#5 Cam Charron
June 07 2012, 08:05AM
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Lombardi, Connolly, Armstrong, Komisarek: If we could find somebody to eat some change out of the "Big Four", what do you think Colorado would want back for Stastny?

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#6 Phil S
June 07 2012, 08:25AM
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A #1 center eh? Hmmm...wherever would the Leafs find one of those?

Especially one still under an entry level cost controlled deal? With super star potential?

Wait...wait..it's coming to me...

Sorry for the troll. But still insanely bitter about the deal. Plus Hamilton is going to be a massive stud as well.

Burke's arrogance killed this team.

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#7 Tach
June 07 2012, 08:51AM
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Calgary has been trying to find a "1st line centre" since 2006. We also found Jokinen. Good luck with that.

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#8 Adam
June 07 2012, 09:04AM
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G A L C H E N Y U K

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#9 Danny Gray
June 07 2012, 09:05AM
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@Tach

Jokinen actually was not terrible, but he's old, relatively speaking, and not what the Leafs need.

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#10 Cam Charron
June 07 2012, 09:32AM
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Phil S wrote:

A #1 center eh? Hmmm...wherever would the Leafs find one of those?

Especially one still under an entry level cost controlled deal? With super star potential?

Wait...wait..it's coming to me...

Sorry for the troll. But still insanely bitter about the deal. Plus Hamilton is going to be a massive stud as well.

Burke's arrogance killed this team.

So then we're looking for a first line winger. How was Burke supposed to know that in the summer of 2012, the only people available would be wingers?

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#11 SD37
June 07 2012, 10:16AM
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The draft?

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#12 Terry Cain
June 07 2012, 11:03AM
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San Jose lookin to clean house ... Joe Thorton might be available. I know he's gettin old, but could be an effective stopgap for 2-3 years.

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#14 Top Shelf
June 08 2012, 10:41AM
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Some possibilities? All would cost a fair bit in terms of assets but wouldn't be Getzlaf expensive and MIGHT be available.

1. Stastny 2. Koivu 3. Berglund (or Oshie)

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#15 John Lofranco
June 13 2012, 02:00PM
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If Grabbo is a reasonable option, why not look for a #2 guy. It would still push Bozak down the depth chart. Koivu is an interesting name for sure. He's probably one of the more under-rated players in the league.

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