The next stop in our ongoing series of 'Leafs Team Needs' is a Top 9 Forward. (Previous: Top-Line centre) While the Maple Leafs lack high end talent up-front they have no shortage of options when it comes to filling the spots of Lombardi, Armstrong, and Connolly who make far too much money. I'm not sure exactly what kind of voodoo Burke is going to have to resort to in order to get rid of them, but the Leafs need to fill those holes as cheaply as possible.
As it currently stands the Leafs 3rd line next season could consist of Colby Armstrong, Matthew Lombardi, and Tim Connolly. This disaster of a line would carry an 11.25 million dollar cap hit. Think about that for a moment, I mean really, really think about that. I don’t think anything else better sums up the mistakes Burke has made building this team than that. If that is the Leafs third line next season they’ll likely be a lottery team once again. It’s not so much that these are terrible players, but that they make far too much money for what they provide the team. Two of the three need to be replaced by much much cheaper players.
Thankfully the Leafs have a variety of options available to them both in their system and around the league. With two Top 9 Forward spots to fill, and they need to do it as cheaply as possible. Let’s take a look at their options.
The Niftiest of Mittens -AP
While the Leafs Top 6 definitely has some holes- see JP’s post on the need for a Top 6 C- its has scored enough goals over the past two seasons that anyone brought in to replace Connolly, Lombardi and Armstrong does not need to carry the water offensively. What the Leafs need on this line is versatility. My preference would be to use the 3rd line as a sheltered scoring line with players who can move up in the line-up when injuries occur and that can also take on some PK duty.
The Leafs have almost too many options in the system when it comes to finding a Top 9 forward.
Tyler Bozak, Nazem Kadri, Joe Colborne, Matt Frattin, Jerry D’Amigo, Greg Scott, Carter Ashton, Nicholas Deschamps are all players would could step into that role next season. Next week I’ll take a more in-depth look at these players, but here is a quick look at some of the candidates.
As JP demonstrated, Bozak is a capable NHL C, but not #1 material. If the Leafs do manage to find someone to take his spot he would be an ideal candidate to center the 3rd line. He puts up respectable numbers and generally moves the puck in the right direction. He’s also best friends with Phil Kessel and can move up to the top line if absolutely necessary because of injuries. Oh, and he makes half of what Colby Armstrong does.
Many people believe that the upcoming season represents Kadri’s last chance to stick with the Leafs. Since being drafted in 2009 he has seen time with both the Leafs and Marlies but has yet to become a permanent member of the Leafs roster. While some observers are ready to call him a bust, he is a PPG player in the AHL and has performed average relative to his peers. Time on a sheltered scoring line with solid linemate and some PP duty should be enough to keep him producing in the NHL. I have to believe one of these spots is going to Kadri.
Matt Frattin looked like a capable Top 9 forward most nights for the Leafs this season. 8 goals in 56 games is respectable and he absolutely tore up the AHL during the playoffs.(unsustainable shooting % is noted, but I enjoyed the ride) I’d say that this is his spot to lose, but he’ll likely have to contend with Kadri so it could get interesting.
Jerry D’Amigo or Greg Scott:
Should the Leafs find themselves without Tyler Bozak for some reason, either one of these guys would be worth a look for the 3rd line. They have been beasts with the Toronto Marlies during their recent run to the Calder Cup Finals; killing penalties and scoring short-handed goals at will. They would help the Leafs PK and could provide some offense if used correctly. Again, the key things we’re looking for here are cheap, and better than Colby Armstrong, I’d give either one of them a shot.
Some Old Guy
The Free Market/The Grey Beard Quota:
While I believe that the Leafs already possess the players necessary to fill both these spots, there is the potential to bring in an older, more experienced player as a UFA to add some, apparently, much needed veteran leadership to the team. We’ll call it, the Mark Recchi factor. While they won’t come as cheap as the in house solutions there are some interesting UFA options that would be preferable to what the Leafs have now. The only problem here is that the Leafs aren’t going to be contenders anytime soon, bringing in a UFA vet takes a spot away from a younger player. But if it’s something the Leafs are interested in pursuing they have options.
Last Summer the Blues signed Arnott to a one year deal for the exact same reason, and it worked out pretty well for him. The 37 year old put up 17 goals in 72 games. He’s scored a Stanley Cup winning goal, and can obviously still play. His cap hit was a little high at $2.75M last year. Would he take less for a longer deal?
The 39 year old Knuble has spent the past three seasons with the Caps. While his numbers dropped significantly last season he possess the sort of intangibles that Burke adores. He made $2M last year, if the Leafs are interested I hope they don’t toss Colby Armstrong money at him.
The youngest of the Grey Beards and not really a Grey Beard at all. Moen won a cup with Burke and the Leafs were apparently interested in him before he signed with the Habs three years ago. He’s definitely a Brian Burke and Randy Carlyle type guy. But he doesn’t score and will be overpaid, can’t wait.
The Trade Market:
Trying to predict a Brian Burke trade is an exercise in frustration and futility. I think it’s more likely that the Leafs ship out a few of the above names rather than bring someone in. That being said I’d look at guys like Magnus Paajarvi-Svensson or Linus Omark on the Oilers as examples. Guys with offensive upside that haven’t been able to stick with, or have fallen out of favour with their current teams. Something similar to the Keith Aulie-Carter Ashton trade could address the issue.
In my opinion this is a position that needs to be filled in-house. Burke has retained or acquired some forwards capable of filing this role cheaply and effectively. The Leafs need cap space, and having guys like Armstrong or Lombardi eat $6.5 Million of it on the 3rd line is a waste. The Leafs need to use what assets they have to fill out the top of the line-up, not the middle and bottom. It’s possible that one of the in-house solutions is dealt in a trade for help elsewhere. Should that happen it’s up to those left to fight for that spot.
Ideally I’d love to see a 3rd line of Kadri-Bozak-Frattin. They’d be cheap, offensively capable, and give the Leafs much more flexibility to address other needs throughout the roster.