Does Kessel Have to Play With a #1 Centre?

A. Bates
July 17 2012 02:01PM

 
Ryan Remiorz/The Canadian Press

An ongoing problem for the Leafs, in every summer that I can remember, is finding them a number one centre that can transform Phil Kessel into the next Great One.

It seems like, in Toronto, no fan will be happy with anything less then the reincarnation of Mats Sundin. I have to tell you folks, the Maple Leafs might not have a centre like Mats Sundin for another 20 years, or maybe even ever (okay, that would be really sad), and that's okay.

Follow me over the jump to find out why.

Before I get to my point I want to go over a few things:

  • Right around a year ago a contributor from PPP named @draglikepull did some research on what the top three scorers on playoff teams of the past five years looked like (you can find the article here).
  • The past five years (not including last year) saw the averaged top scorer from all 16 playoff teams score just over a point per game. Over that five year span scoring has slipped, the averages have come down every year except for '08 and have been steadily coming down since '08.
  • Draglikepull makes a good point in the article: not all top scorers skate on the same line with each other. 
  • I did a post last season on how often the top scorers of good teams play together. I found that the top scorers, on playoff teams, play together a lot less then we would think. Of the top eight teams in the NHL at the time of the post, top scorers played, on average, 54% of the time together. 
  • The research's findings on the average top three scorers of a playoff team:
  1. 1st scorer - 82.625 PTS
  2. 2nd scorer - 69.8 PTS
  3. 3rd scorer - 59.775 PTS


Knowing all of this let's take a look to see if the Leafs had the makings of a first line:

Phil Kessel - 82 GP 82 PTS
Joffery Lupul - 66 GP 67 PTS (83 PTS pro-rated to 82 games)
Mikhail Grabovski - 74 GP 51 PTS (57 PTS pro-rated to 82 games)
Tyler Bozak - 73 GP 47 PTS (53 PTS pro-rated to 82 games)

DO THE MAPLE LEAFS HAVE A FIRST LINE?

The Leafs had two players that were able to meet the qualifications of a top scorer for a playoff team in Kessel and Lupul. They also had two centres that were able to come very close to the qualification of a third highest scorer in Grabovski and Bozak. That's four players that should be good enough to be a part of a playoff team's top trio of scoring.

I couldn't agree more that Bozak is not the man to play with Kessel, he's not solid enough defensively yet to make up for Kessel and Lupul's defensive weaknesses. However, that doesn't mean we need to sell the farm or 7+ million in cap space to find a 80 point centreman to play with Kessel. What the Leafs really need is a defensively sound centreman with enough skill to be able to produce like a second line centreman playing with Kessel (someone like Tim Connolly maybe?).

Does it really matter if our second line centre plays on the first line and our first line centre plays on the second line? I don't think so at all and it's something that a lot of playoff teams currently do in some fashion.

We might as well get used to it already: We already have a first line centre and he doesn't play with our first line wingers. 

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Missing old man Fletcher @thesilverfoxto
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#1 RexLibris
July 17 2012, 03:22PM
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The Great One played center. Unless you mean that the Leafs need a center to make Kessel the next Adjacent to the Great One.

I'm of the opinion that while a playmaking center is very valuable, there is nothing intrinsic in the game that suggests that the play can't revolve around a play-making winger.

While the Leafs could use a bona fide 1st or 2nd line center, there are many teams that could say the same thing. Failing that addition they might be best served by finding auxiliary scoring so that the team isn't left to rise and fall based on his performance along (I realize goaltending was a significant factor in the Leafs fate last year, as well).

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#2 leafer4life
July 17 2012, 03:43PM
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They may not need a 1C but if you are going to pair a 1 dimensional offensive player like Lupul with a 1.33 dimensional offensive player like Kessel who is afraid of his own shadow then that C needs to be defensive stalwart who ideally can hit and open up space for Kessel.

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#3 Cam Charron
July 17 2012, 03:44PM
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I think they're covered for offence. I'd like them to get a guy who can at least play defence. As many points as that line is scoring, they're giving up just as many goals against.

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#5 RexLibris
July 17 2012, 04:49PM
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Well then, have I got the Horcoff for you! ;-)

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#6 JP Nikota
July 18 2012, 09:51AM
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Interesting thought, Kessel not needing a C. A lot of this is contingent on Lupul being able to maintain last year's point-per-game pace, which I have serious doubts about.

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