Moving Pieces Up Front

Perhaps one of the most interesting things about the James van Riemsdyk for Luke Schenn trade that went down this past weekend is the way it quickly re-shaped the Maple Leafs’ roster. Schenn was all over the place on the blue line, minutes climbing and falling from game to game, but his counterpart in the deal likely won’t suffer the same fate.

As Cam pointed out before, Schenn’s role on the team was somewhat murky and he didn’t pan out to much of anything specifically. "JvR" is a different story, as we’re expecting him to plug right in to the Leafs’ top six forward group, bolstering their wings quite substantially. This has resulted in talks of how the team can fit him in, given the current state of what the Leafs have up front.

In terms of percentage, the Leafs iced the Kulemin-Grabovski-MacArthur line as their "second line" a lot last season. The only combination used more, as you’d expect, was Lupul-Bozak-Kessel.

Since we’re finding it tough to envision a break up of the top line, especially between Lupul and Kessel, it means we’ve gone to the second line as JvR’s new home. The idea, of course, being that he will simply bump Kulemin out and play the left side. This makes sense right now.

However, the Leafs are probably not done re-tooling.

As Danny Gray put it the other day;

"I have a hard time with the fact that one of Mac, Kulie, or Kadri is likely on their way out. Why can’t we get rid of Lupul?"

I have a hard time with this fact as well. I guess it doesn’t HAVE to happen, but otherwise we’re left with a roster that looks something like this;

Lupul-Bozak-Kessel

JvR-Grabovski-MacArthur

Kulemin-Connolly-Armstrong

Then some mixture of Brown, Steckel, Lombardi, Kadri, Rosehill, Frattin, D’Amigo or something. I don’t know, man. It’s weird.

So, like Danny pointed out, something has to give here.

Before Burke unloads one of MacArthur, Kadri or Kulemin, I hope he’s exhausted ways to upgrade on Lupul and Bozak. We’re getting more value from MacArthur than Lupul, so it would be sad to see the former get tossed aside. Kessel was an absolute machine this past season, so I doubt Lupul’s replacement (especially if there was a good Bozak replacement thrown on that top line as well) would have awful numbers.

The Leafs don’t need more scoring, they need players on Kessel’s line who aren’t liabilities defensively.

Obviously I don’t have any firm answers as to what the Leafs will do to sort out what they have at forward, but I figured this morning it’s a pretty good talking point. What moves would you like to see made to give this lineup a little more structure?

Personally, I hope the potential combination of van Riemsdyk-Connolly-Kessel gets a look this season. A look that lasts more than a game or two.

Leave your thoughts in the comment section below.

  • Danny Gray

    The only snag would be that plenty of GMs realize that it’s selling high on Lupul for a season he may never repeat. I think odds are he sticks around as Burke likes him and it’s hard to trade a guy after the season he had. I just think that the Leafs can’t be throwing away relatively cost controlled NHL players. My gut tells me the Leafs and Kulemin agree to a one or two year deal.

  • I don’t understand the hatred of Lupul. Over past 2 seasons Kessel’s goals for per 20 minutes of ice time is 1.281 with Lupul and 0.641 without. When Kessel played with Lupul, the Leafs scored 51.2% of the goals but when Kessel was on the ice without Lupul the Leafs scored just 39.8% of the goals. The proper solution is not to trade Lupul, but to find Lupul and Kessel a defensively capable center.

    Burke has said he envisions JVR on Grabovski’s wing and I think that is where he ends up. It would not shock me if Grabovski’s other winger is Kadri. Kulemin may drop to 3rd line, or may be used as trade bait for a #1C.

      • Third line or trade bait for #1C though Kadri could be used for that too opening up his second line spot.

        Personally, I think Kulemin is a great third line player. He hits, he is defensively sound, he will chip in some goals. Not great at any one thing, but good all-round winger.

      • Danny Gray

        The guy I have always liked and thought would be a perfect center for those two is Travis Zajac. Would love to pry him away from the Devils. He is a UFA next summer so might be able to snag him then too. Another guy I really like is Joe Pavelski of the Sharks. Those two are the kind of guys I think Burke should target. They aren’t elite offensive players so won’t cost you $7M in cap space but will contribute offensively and defensively sound.

        • Danny Gray

          Yeah it would be great to basically get another Grabovski. What’s nice is that when that’s what you’re looking for more players become available.
          Wonder if Burke makes and offer to Doan.

  • If there aren’t major trades, I’d love to see Burke trade or bury as much of the deadwood as possible, and run Kadri out btw Kessel and Loops. He’d be as good or better than Bozak possession-wise, he draws penalties, and he wouldnt have to shoulder the scoring load on that line.

    Bozak makes a nice sheltered-scoring third line C:

    Lupul-Kadri-Kessel
    JVR-Grabovski-MacArthur
    Kulemin-Bozak-Frattin
    Komarov-Steckel-Brown

    that’s actually not half bad. Now, uh, defence and goalies….

  • Danny Gray

    JVR played Centre for years until he got to Philly. He got shifted over to be fit into the roster right away cuz he wasn’t gonna bump Richards or Giroux. Y not put him between Kessel and Lupul? Bozak would be an ideal 3rd C between Connelly and Kadri

    • Danny Gray

      Burke has said it is up to the coach where he plays JVR, but that Burke made the trade envisioning him as a winger (and in particular on Grabovski’s wing).

      I take that to mean that Burke is still looking for a center for Kessel/Lupul via trade. If he can’t make that happen, I think we might see JVR given an opportunity to win that job, but more likely candidates are Bozak, Connolly, Kadri and maybe even Colborne (but I think he starts with the Marlies).

          • It’s funny because with the pretty big pipeline of d-men, you’d expect him to unload one in attempts at a center. Really Burke needs to flip a center and a winger from his own club in return for a center. Leafs have 5 pretty good wingers, and one good center right now. Ideally you’d want to flip a winger and a center, get back a center and still have room for Kadri and Frattin or whatever other Marlies might be able to make the jump. Leafs are in a weird spot. Somehow they have too many D, too many forwards, and still suck.

          • Yeah, the Leafs have a really bad combination of players, particular centers and defensemen. Too many guys that are small and one-dimensional.

            The way I see it is they have a #2C (Grabovski) and a #4C (Steckel) but lack a #1C and a #3C. They probably have second #2C in Connolly and Bozak has some ability too but neither have the defensive awareness or all round game to be an ideal #3. Can they flip a Bozak and a winger (i.e. MacArthur, Kulemin or maybe Kadri) and maybe a prospect for a reasonably good 2-way #1C? You won’t get a star center back, but hopefully something decent. That would be an ideal situation I think.