It's mid-July. Do you know how your lineup looks?

Cam Charron
July 15 2013 09:23AM

Right into the dog days of summer as the initial free agent frenzy appears to be over.

The best players still available in free agency are Tom Gilbert and Mikhail Grabovski. Since the Toronto Maple Leafs are forbidden from signing one of those players and don't have an awful lot of money left for the second, it's safe to say that any roster tweaks that appear between now and September 15th will be minor. Not that there's a problem with that, because the top six looks pretty good on paper, but because the Leafs didn't improve in the spots it needed to improve.

So before getting into a few important statistics about play by Leafs centremen in split zone start situations, let's kick off the week by looking at what Toronto has on July 15, ten days after free agency began. Seems like a good jumping-off point. Salary info via Capgeek.

CENTRE

Tyler Bozak ($4.2-million)
Dave Bolland ($3.375-million)
Jay McClement ($1.5-million)
Joe Colborne ($600K)
Trevor Smith ($550K)
Nazem Kadri (RFA)

I didn't think it was possible for the Leafs to downgrade at this position, but here we are. Despite the calls for a No. 1 centreman in Toronto and the assurance during the frenzy that the Leafs weren't paying Bozak to be a No. 1 centreman, the Leafs will not go into next season with a No. 1 centreman.

Not too worried about Nazem Kadri's situation and neither should you. I'm guessing Kadri wants something long-term while Nonis wants a bridge contract, and given Kadri is coming off what will probably be his highest On-Ice Sh% season of his career, it's probably preferable for Nonis to play hardball here. Still, Kadri may miss a few days of training camp but I don't think he has the leverage for an extended holdout. Bolland is listed as the second C here, but Kadri will have the second-line C spot on this team.

RIGHT WING

Phil Kessel ($5.4-million)
David Clarkson ($5.25-million)
Colton Orr ($925K)

There is a hole here thanks to Clarke MacArthur's departure, and may be filled by a minor leaguer like Tyler Biggs or Josh Leivo. Despite the departure of MacArthur, Randy Carlyle's reluctance to play him in higher-leverage situations means that Toronto does have an upgrade in the top six for next season—I'd rather David Clarkson on Nazem Kadri's wing than Colton Orr or Matt Frattin, and I think Clarkson and Kadri's games complement each other's quite well. Kadri is a puck-control player that creates shots on goal, while Clarkson drives to the net and takes them.

Phil Kessel is around for at least the start of one more season and I'd like to see the Leafs re-up him for a not-too-crazy deal. The maximum term they gave give him would take him through his 34-year-old season. I'd rather see him get more dollars and less term but I suspect Nonis feels differently.

LEFT WING

Joffrey Lupul ($5.25-million)
James van Riemsdyk ($4.25-million)
Nikolai Kulemin ($2.8-million)
Frazer McLaren ($700K)

Joe Colborne's a left shot as well, so he'll likely play on this wing if he makes the team. Even Randy Carlyle didn't play both Frazer McLaren and Colton Orr every night, so the Leafs will need somebody to rotate in and out of that fourth line winger job that's waiver-exempt, so that could be Colborne, or Jerry D'Amigo or they could flip Carter Ashton back to his natural wing.

With the exception of Facepuncher No. 2, the Leafs look pretty good at left wing if Joffrey Lupul can continue firing pucks in the net at a rate above 12%. Both Kulemin and van Riemsdyk would look excellent on Clarkson's other wing, and either way, the Leafs will have a two-way winger slot alongside David Bolland on the third line unless the team does something stupid like trade away the other guy that speaks English.

RIGHT DEFENCE

Dion Phaneuf ($6.5-million)
Korbinian Holzer ($787,000)
Cody Franson (RFA)

This looks pretty thin. Had the Leafs concentrated on the centres and the right-side D going into the offseason rather than top six wingers and goaltending, they'd have gone into this week with a significantly-better team. This would be the appropriate spot for Tom Gilbert, and letting Korbinian Holzer become a depth option rather than one expected to play as an everyday player. They won't do something colossally stupid like play him alongside Dion Phaneuf again.

Cody Franson being an RFA scares me more than Kadri. With six years of pro experience, I'm quite surprised that Franson didn't file for arbitration when he could have. He played 18:47 per game last season and had 29 points, which is impressive for any defenceman over an 82-game season, much less 48 (although he played just 45 games). Maple Leafs Hot Stove had a theory on why Franson chose not to go the arbitration route, but I doubt that Franson would want a long-term deal now. On June 30, 2014, he would be 27 years old and thus eligible for Group 3 unrestricted free agency and make a whole lot more money. 

Franson to me is a player that you lock down for a few years and take a salary cap hit because he has some top four potential. His defensive game showed last season and he's a terrific puck-mover. Him and Jake Gardiner looked fabulous together in their brief moments with each other in the playoffs, and I like the idea of partnering him with a player that can skate.

Note that Morgan Rielly could start the year here, but the better plan is to have him back in junior and develop another year. While he won't be on a good team if he stays with the Moose Jaw Warriors, that's probably the preferred situation since it means he can go play in the AHL sooner and spend some regular season time with the Toronto Marlies.

LEFT DEFENCE

John-Michael Liles ($3.875-million)
Jake Gardiner ($1,116,667.00)
T.J. Brennan ($600K)
Carl Gunnarsson (RFA - Arbitration)
Mark Fraser (RFA - Arbitration)

I'd expect Carl Gunnarsson to get a little under $3-million and Fraser could get a little over $1-million. Still, not buying out John-Michael Liles looks a little silly. The Leafs added T.J. Brennan, another offensive player that can skate and there's no way they can hold Gardiner back from being an everyday player this season.

I guess there's the possibility of the more offensive Brennan moving to the right side to capitalize on his skating and shooting talents, but despite the five players the Leafs will have under contract to start the season, there are a lot of questions. How durable is Gunnarsson? His injury really melted his play last season. That and the tough minutes and Gunnarsson had a career-low -14.21 Corsi/ON per 60 minutes of play. I like him, but who plays alongside Phaneuf in the absence of Mike Kostka?

GOALIE

Jonathan Bernier ($2.9-million)
James Reimer ($1.8-million)

Two potential 55-game players for real cheap. In a vacuum this looks excellent. Let's keep it in a vacuum.

TOTALS

I gave Gunnarsson the same money as Karl Alzner, I gave Kadri Matt Duchene money and I gave Mark Fraser $950K. I'm not too sure on comparables for Cody Franson, since his ice-time and point totals were elevated this season. We'll go with James' estimate of $2.85-million although I think the Leafs would be wise to sign whatever will keep him around for four years.

Those bullish estimates on Leafs restricted free agents puts the team at 24 players and $1.2-million over the salary cap. Can get under that by demoting Smith and Brennan, so we'll put the Leafs at 22 players to start the season.

Remember when the Leafs had space to work with and spent half of it on Tyler Bozak? The potato did pretty well last week, in my opinion.

PROJ. OPENING DAY LINES

Joffrey Lupul - Tyler Bozak - Phil Kessel
James van Riemsdyk - Nazem Kadri - David Clarkson
Nikolai Kulemin - David Bolland - Tyler Biggs
Frazer McLaren - Jay McClement - Colton Orr
(Joe Colborne)

Carl Gunnarsson - Dion Phaneuf
Jake Gardiner - Cody Franson
John-Michael Liles - Korbinian Holzer
(Mark Fraser)

Jonathan Bernier
James Reimer

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Cam Charron is a BC hockey fan that writes about hockey on many different websites including this one.
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#1 James F
July 15 2013, 09:35AM
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Looks good. I would start Reimer though.

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#3 rw970
July 15 2013, 10:34AM
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It's of enduring mystery to me how we started off the summer with lots of cap space and now find ourselves with (1) negative cap space; (2) fewer NHL players; and (3) overall worse situations at forward and defense.

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#4 MaxPower417
July 15 2013, 10:49AM
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Ugh. Not the worst I guess, but it was so easy to put together much better theoretical lineups a couple weeks ago.

Any idea how much Tom Gilbert would sign for? If he could be signed and Liles moved, that would seem a fairly significant upgrade.

The top 6 forwards (minus Bozak) and top 4 D are passable, but the depth on this team is gag-inducing.

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#5 Getrdone
July 15 2013, 10:51AM
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After reading this I still wonder how guys that get the job as manager for the Leafs are so brainless that they would not follow the advice of well respected Leaf followers. How could the Leafs screw it up so badly as to let a guy who makes over 5.5m go and produced little in the last year and go for an energy guy that will add bite to the team. All I have heard from the couch(potato)managers is how bad the guy that gets paid to do the job has done. Do the Leafs need more pieces? Yes. Upgrade on D from Kostka, Holtzer and Mcwhatever. A 1st. line center would be nice, did anyone see a real grabber available in free agency there? I get it, that when you write a blog or whatever you do need some controversy, but it would also be nice to have some positive support for what has been done.

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#6 MaxPower417
July 15 2013, 11:11AM
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@Getrdone

How this should work.

1) Read 2) Comprehend 3) Comment

I think you missed a step or two.

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#7 Declan Kerin
July 15 2013, 11:30AM
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0% chance that Biggs makes the NHL this year, or next. Still learning the pro game and getting his game under him. He's on the Marlies for 2 years minimum.

D'Amigo and Carter Ashton would be the 2 players that could take that spot internally.

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#8 Brandon
July 15 2013, 12:17PM
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The thing is, we were rolling with 3 potentially offensive lines last year, with the third being Kulemin, Grabo and MacArthur. That's not how Carlyle runs his lines. We have a solid checking line now and our Top 9 looks more like what it should be with Carlyle. It must have been torture for those 3 to play that checking line. Whatever your opinions on those guys are, they weren't fitting into Toronto. So in that sense, we got an "upgrade".

It's a little unfair that everyone's pinning this blame on Nonis when it's the teams decision as a whole, including Carlyle. Nonis just puts the final stamp on it. Thus making all this heat Nonis is getting simply ridiculous. Everyone's calling for Burke back when, believe it or not, this is the team Burke would have wanted, ya goofs.

TL;DR This is Carlyle's team, deal with it. Don't like it? Ask for Wilson back. We all know how well that went.

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#9 Badger M
July 15 2013, 01:19PM
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Gonna stick with this prediction: Leafs place Bottom 5 in Fenwick again this season and still make the playoffs.

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#10 AKBLoom
July 15 2013, 01:23PM
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Brandon wrote:

The thing is, we were rolling with 3 potentially offensive lines last year, with the third being Kulemin, Grabo and MacArthur. That's not how Carlyle runs his lines. We have a solid checking line now and our Top 9 looks more like what it should be with Carlyle. It must have been torture for those 3 to play that checking line. Whatever your opinions on those guys are, they weren't fitting into Toronto. So in that sense, we got an "upgrade".

It's a little unfair that everyone's pinning this blame on Nonis when it's the teams decision as a whole, including Carlyle. Nonis just puts the final stamp on it. Thus making all this heat Nonis is getting simply ridiculous. Everyone's calling for Burke back when, believe it or not, this is the team Burke would have wanted, ya goofs.

TL;DR This is Carlyle's team, deal with it. Don't like it? Ask for Wilson back. We all know how well that went.

Finally someone who gets it. I loved grabo (bought his jersey a few years back) and think he is a great player... but if we are going to play him 10 minutes a night I understand why he had to go.

Truth is, I have never enjoyed hockey as much as this year when we steam rolled over Montreal and Ottawa. That's the hockey I like to watch, and the hockey that wins cups. We are going to be a beast next year. Bolland is gunna kill it playing for Carlyle and Clarkson will be a fan favourite (we can worry about that contract in a few years).

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#11 MaxPower417
July 15 2013, 01:33PM
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@Brandon

Here's the thing. It's possible (with careful cap management) to have 3 scoring lines AND a shutdown line, if you ditch the goon line.

That's what most of us here wanted I think.

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#12 LeafsWantStanley
July 15 2013, 02:17PM
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5 more years of a 3rd line center as our #1C. I hope to god that Kessel does not waste his prime with god-awful Bozak as his center, please god dont do this...

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#13 millzy09
July 15 2013, 02:24PM
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I'm still baffled as to how the Leafs missed getting Crosby and Weber this year in free agency!!

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#14 jasken
July 15 2013, 02:26PM
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I like how the Leafs are shaping up, would have preferred bringing up some young talent to give them chance.

I would switch Lupul and JVR, prefer Kadri with Lupul and Clarkson.

Colborne where Biggs is, Biggs get some more AHL experience dont think he is NHL ready, maybe Ashton, or D'Amigo as extra forward.

Holzer replaced with Brennan

Never liked the terms of contracts they were to long and risky.

Waiting on RFA's to decide my over all opinion on what has happened so far. If Leafs can sign them and stay under cap no harm done.

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#15 jasken
July 15 2013, 07:15PM
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Not me at 2:26. Nice lineup but Missing a bigtime top center, again

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#16 m@
July 15 2013, 10:10PM
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Declan Kerin wrote:

0% chance that Biggs makes the NHL this year, or next. Still learning the pro game and getting his game under him. He's on the Marlies for 2 years minimum.

D'Amigo and Carter Ashton would be the 2 players that could take that spot internally.

Agreed.... and good to see you old friend!

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#17 Neil B
July 15 2013, 11:14PM
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millzy09 wrote:

I'm still baffled as to how the Leafs missed getting Crosby and Weber this year in free agency!!

Not much in free agency this year, it's true; but apparently Horcoff & Seguin were available as trades. Either is an upgrade on Bozak, talent-wise; Horcoff also adds veteran leadership as well as bona fide defensive prowess. A little birdie told me that Setoguchi was available for cheap as well; and rumour has it that Gagner is available (for the record: younger, better scorer, better playmaker; lousy faceoff man).

Free agency is about adding assets; trades are about maximizing those assets. Signing Bozak to the deal they have means that they cannot add a #1 C(or a top-4 defenceman)in trade.

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#18 Jerconjake
July 16 2013, 10:10AM
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LeafsWantStanley wrote:

5 more years of a 3rd line center as our #1C. I hope to god that Kessel does not waste his prime with god-awful Bozak as his center, please god dont do this...

Phil Kessel is the new Jarome Iginla.

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