Centre of Confusion

Steve Dangle
July 26 2012 06:42AM

It's late July, and I'm a very bored hockey nut. Today I did what I always do around this time of year: Bust out a pencil and try to figure out what the Leafs' opening night lineup is going to be.

I am now thoroughly confused.

Unless I'm missing something, or unless the Leafs still have a trade up their sleeve, this is going to be one weird-looking Leafs lineup in October.

Here's how the process went...

First I got the MGK line out of the way, simply because they've played so much together. We'll assume that's the "second" line. 

Let's also assume Joffrey Lupul and Phil Kessel stay together on the top line since they produced like mad men together. For now, we'll put Tim Connolly between them because when he's healthy and on his game, that's probably what the Leafs had in mind for him when they signed him. Alright, so there's two lines.

Let's slot Tyler Bozak into the number three centre slot between James van Riemsdyk, who usually played left with Philly, and... Matt Frattin, I guess? Why not. The other option is Mike Brown.

Then we put David Steckel between Matt Lombardi on the left and Mike Brown on the right. That gives us...

Lupul-Connolly-Kessel
MacArhur-Grabovski-Kulemin
van Riemsdyk-Bozak-Frattin
Lombardi-Steckel-Brown

Makes sense, right? 

Oh, wait a sec. I forgot somebody pretty important - Jay McClement. Toronto didn't sign this guy for nothing, after all. He's considered by many to be one of the league's better penalty killers, and he's being given $1.5 million for the next two seasons, so you should assume he isn't scratched. Alright, how about...

Lupul-Connolly-Kessel
MacArhur-Grabovski-Kulemin
van Riemsdyk-Bozak-Frattin
Lombardi-McClement-Brown

There. Perfect...Wait a sec. Now Setckel's benched. The guy was sixth in NHL faceoff percentage, and he's an opening night scratch? No, no. Let me try this again.

Lupul-Connolly-Kessel
MacArhur-Grabovski-Kulemin
van Riemsdyk-McClement-Frattin
Lombardi-Steckel-Brown

There! Now the Leafs have both McClement and Steckel in the lineup. That's actually a decent bottom six defensively. I like how this lo-WAIT A SECOND! Where's Bozak? Scratched? That can't be. SO MUCH CONFUSION!

OK - What if we just put Bozak on the right wing on the third line and send down Frattin? Actually, Frattin just signed a one-way deal, so that doesn't make much sense...

How about if Bozak plays RW on the third line, bump Frattin down to the fourth line, and Mike Brown gets scratched? Actually, no. That's dumb. Give Frattin five minutes a night in place of Mike Brown, a guy who you signed specifically for that role? No. Just no.

Crap! Know who I forgot? Leo Komarov! They just signed this guy, he's 25, fresh off of a KHL title, and a born agitator. OK how about...

Lupul-Connolly-Kessel
MacArhur-Grabovski-Kulemin
van Riemsdyk-McClement-Frattin
Komarov-Steckel-Brown

There. Agitator on the fourth line with Mike Brown? Could be decent. I mean, Matthew Lombardi's $3.5 million salary cap hit will just be sitting in the press box, but hey. If Komisarek can sit, so can this guy.

Oh, wait... I forgot Nazem Kadri. Oh, and Carter Ashton. Oh, and AHL playoff phenom Jerry D'Amigo. Oh, and I'm assuming Colton Orr remains in the AHL and Jay Rosehill isn't re-signed.

Suffice to say, I'm pretty confused.

I'm left with a few burning questions:

  • How the hell are the Leafs going to try van Riemsdyk, a player with just 10 career NHL faceoffs, as a centre, when they already have six natural centres (Connolly, Grabovski, Bozak, McClement, Steckel, Lombardi) on the roster, not including prospects? 
  • Is Matt Frattin the real deal?
  • Will Nazem Kadri emerge as a legitimate full-time NHL player?
  • Can the likes of Jerry D'Amigo or Carter Ashton steal an opening night job?
  • Would Leo Komarov bolt back to europe if he were assigned to the AHL?
  • What happens if Matthew Lombardi has a comeback season?
  • What happens if Matthew Lombardi sucks?
  • Will Jay Rosehill or Colton Orr ever play in a Leafs uniform ever again?
  • Why do I do this to myself?

 I haven't even gotten to the defence yet! Nation, I'm turning to you for answers. What is going to happen?

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Steve Dangle has a YouTube channel with over 3 million views and is the co-host of the Steve Dangle Podcast on iTunes and SoundCloud. Steve has also worked for CBC, the NHL Network, Leafs TV, Nike, the KHL, and most of all, the Toronto Zoo. stevedangle.com
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#1 Cam Charron
July 26 2012, 06:53AM
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I've been thinking of the Leafs possibly using McClement and Steckel on the same defensive unit. Randy Carlyle has been a guy who has, in the past used a pretty secure checking line and he was behind the acquisition.

So that's one centreman down... I'd think that Tyler Bozak or Matt Lombardi have at least some trade value, and it may be worth letting them go just to open up a spot for Kadri or Colborne, even if they don't get to play C.

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#2 David Johnson
July 26 2012, 07:40AM
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@Cam Charron

It seems to me that they have penciled McClement in as the 3rd line center and Steckel as the 4th line center though both will be on the ice to take key defensive face offs in case one gets thrown out. I would have preferred my 3rd line center to have more offensive ability but I think his signing had definitely signaled we are back to a top six-bottom six line up.

If you ask me, I think Frattin-McClement-Kulemin would be a really nice 3rd line. Frattin and Kulemin will create a bit of offense and both are defensively responsible. Third line is Steckel with some combination of Brown/Lombardi/Komarov.

The top six guys are Kessel-Connolly-Lupul and JVR-Grabovski-MacArthur though I am still scouring the trade market for an upgrade on Connolly at #1C. Alternatively, I wouldn't object to bumping Grabovski to #1C and Connolly back to a line with JVR and MacArthur.

Not sure where Kadri fits in. He deserves a shot at the top six but there aren't really any suitable openings unless he really excels and pushes Connolly out of a job.

As for Bozak? Who cares. The less he plays the better IMO. Trade bait if you ask me.

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#3 Tyler
July 26 2012, 07:43AM
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Well... Part of your issue will be alleviated because Frattin won't be ready to start the year.

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#4 David Johnson
July 26 2012, 07:53AM
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@Tyler

I am hoping the Frattin injury gives Kadri ice time to audition for a permanent role on the team.

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#5 Curtis Morrison
July 26 2012, 07:54AM
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McClement and Steckel, like the commenter above me said, could possibly be used on the same unit. Now that the refs are getting more and more throwout-happy during faceoffs, if a guy like McClement gets thrown out, having a guy like Steckel to come in and still be able to take an important draw would be a great advantage.

Personally, I don't see Connolly fitting on the first line spot whether hes 200% healthy and just drank ten 5-hour energies. He's just not there talentwise because of how his injuries affected his talent since the 1999 Draft.

This is what I would put as the lines personally, ASSUMING that JVR doesn't work at center (which it likely won't), and that Kadri/Colborne/D'Amigo once again fail to make a team already loaded with offensive depth (probably most realistic but who knows?) I can really only do the 1st and 3rd lines because I have specific feelings on who I want there.

1ST LINE Kessel - Bozak - Lupul (Bozak played well in between these two last season and you'd have to hope chemistry would continue to build.)

3RD LINE Komarov - McClement - Kulemin (At this point I'm just taking pieces and saying GO THERE. This line kind of looks like a jumble but I can see here is Komarov and Kulemin both playing solid defense, gritty D on Komarov's part. McClement goes in here because while I would want to keep him and Steckel together for key faceoffs, we can always just send them out together and forgoe the line combos in that kind of situation. McClement plays a defensive game as well and with this solid shutdown line I think we could solve some serious problems.

I can't even do a 2nd or 4th line. It's too confusing with the depth we have. I'd love to have Frattin on the 2nd line RW spot but with JVR, MacArthur, Kessel, Lupul, and Kulemin already in the hunt for those top 6 spots, sticking another player there would be kind of pointless.

Hopefully there's a deal made involving Lombardi, maybe one of our two faceoff guys (Clem and Stecks), and whatever else we can throw at a team, for some much needed goaltending.

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#6 leafnerd
July 26 2012, 08:30AM
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I have no clue what is going on with the leafs.

My thinking is JVR at centre talk is disaster management by the leafs who are now realizing they cannot put a package together to trade for a 1C as they promised. Fans and management will soon talk about how the leafs traded for a JVR to slot in 1C but that didn't work and well they were just unlucky.

Burke has also accumulated lots of mediocre to crappy depth that he hopes to turnover in trades.

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#7 Danny Gray
July 26 2012, 10:11AM
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@leafnerd

What's interesting is that this JVR talk is preventing people from saying that Kadri should get a shot at the #1C.

I think there are more deals coming. Maybe not great ones, but players will be cleared out.

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#8 tofor
July 26 2012, 10:25AM
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Next season is definetly looking like a season to be...."less confused". With Connely and Lombardi UFA's, (not to mention MacAurthur and Lupol), and Bozak is an RFA, we can ussume there will be openings, not to mention some salary cap space. But this year, unless there is some trading, looks like a log jam, and not much hope for the younger (and probably more talented) players, Such as Frattin, Kadri, Colbourne and D'Amigo. I personally, would love to see what Kadri can do as a top line center. Trade MacAuthur for a pick or something and let JVR take his spot. As much as I would like to see Luki get back on track, I wonder if Frattin would be the good addition with Grabo and JVR. Let Kuli slip to the 3rd line unless he starts scoring again. So Lupol/Kadri/Kessel Frattin/Grabo/JVR Kuli/Connely/Kamarov Brown/McClement/Steckel

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#9 T
July 26 2012, 12:10PM
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Kessel-Kadri-Lupul JVR-Grabovski-Kulemin Bozak-McClement-Frattin Brown-Steckel-Komarov

Trade Macarthur, try to trade Lombardi, if not, put him in the minors

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#10 Matt
July 26 2012, 07:20PM
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Lupul-Grabo-Kessel

JVR-Bozak-Kadri/Frattin

Kule-McCl-Frattin/Kadri

Leo-Stecks-Brown

get rid of the dead wood...

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#11 Adam
July 27 2012, 06:55AM
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There HAS to be a trade sometime between now and October.

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#12 @TML__fan
July 27 2012, 07:23AM
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Other than some speed I haven't seen much from Lombardi that warrants a spot in the lineup. Maybe Burke can package him in a deal.

A lot will depend on the young kids and how ready they are to crack the lineup. Frattin (once 100% healthy) should make the team. But will Kadri and Colborne make the jump? Ashton is a decent call-up but as yet hasn't shown he's deserving of a spot with the Leafs. D'Amigo is probably in a similar spot as Ashton.

Will the real Tim Connolly please stand up and be accounted for this season. He's being paid as a top 6 player, hopefully he shows he's worthy.

With the kids * ... Lupul - Bozak/Connolly - Kessel MacArthur - Grabovski - JVR Kulemin - Colborne*/Kadri* - Frattin McClement - Steckel - Brown/Komarov

Without the kids... Lupul - Connolly - Kessel MacArthur - Grabovski - JVR Kulemin - Bozak/McClement - Frattin Komarov - Steckel - Brown

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