What to do with Matt Lombardi

In reading Steve’s post yesterday, I came away thinking, “oh, right, Matt Lombardi is another natural centreman that the team doesn’t really have a use for”.

I thought the original trade for Lombardi, which also brought Cody Franson to the Maple Leafs while getting rid of Brett Lebda, worked out. You take on two years of salary in exchange for a promising young defenceman. Lombardi has been less than stellar with the Leafs, however. Here are his offensive stats over the last five years:

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  Goals/82 Shots/Game Sh% GP Goals Shots
2008 14.0 2.21 7.7% 82 14 181
2009 16.6 2.57 7.9% 69 14 177
2010 20.0 2.23 10.9% 78 19 174
2011 0.0 3.00 0.0% 2 0 6
2012 10.6 1.63 7.9% 62 8 101
Total 15.4 2.18 8.6% 293 55 639

Basically, if the guy was capable of playing a full season, he might not be bad. Since his last full season, he’s been subject to two “lower-body injuries” and two “upper-body injuries” including a concussion that shut him down in 2011 and last season’s arm injury.

He has a year left on a three-year contract that will pay him $3.5M. Since you don’t really know whether he’ll be hurt or healthy, you cant pencil him in to any lineup position and sort of play it by ear. Should he stay healthy, I have three options, but #1 and #3 are almost the same:

#1 – Play him with Tim Connolly and wait him out

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One of the few Leafs that Lombardi displayed any sort of chemistry with was a fellow centreman in Tim Connolly. Together, the two had a 52.6% Corsi rate, and both were far worse without the other. With the first and second lines more or less set, one option is to keep David Steckel with Jay McClement together on the fourth line and free up a centreman spot on the third line for some sheltered minutes for Connolly, Lombardi, and the call-up ‘du jour’, whether it be Matt Frattin or Nazem Kadri or Joe Colborne.

#2 – Trade him for a defenceman

The beauty with Lombardi’s deal is that it’s only around for one more year. How many cap teams have an expensive defenceman that they don’t particularly need, but the Leafs do? This could be anyone from Jay Bouwmeester to Keith Ballard to Nik Hjalmarsson, if maybe the team is ready to part with another asset to pick up a player to stabalize the Top Four.

If the Leafs were going to trade him, they might have to take on a contract, so that may make it counter-productive.

Some suggestions…

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#3 – Shelter him, and hope for the best

  Relative Corsi Rel QoC Ozone%
2008 -8.8 0.482 49.4%
2009 -1.7 0.306 52.4%
2010 -0.6 0.167 57.7%
2012 -9.4 -0.108 52.5%

Lombardi was never a play-driver everywhere. Despite favourable minutes in his last two full seasons, he’s never been a plus-possession player compared to his teammates.

The first chart on this page shows that, offensively, he can be okay as a third liner. This next chart shows that he’s never put it together defensively, even before he came to Toronto. To be successful, the Leafs will probably need to start him in the offensive zone 60% of the time in non-pressure situations, meaning he won’t be run out against the PK Subbans and Zdeno Charas of the world all that often, since Lombardi is the type of player that good defencemen just eat up on and push the play back the other way.

But, if he’s out in non-pressure situations, you cause the other coach to toss out their third pairing defender, and maybe Lombardi can see some success there alongside Connolly.

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There’s not a lot that can be done with him, if sending him to the minors won’t be an option anymore.

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  • Not Norm Ullman

    Funny how we were all excited about seeing Lebda actually traded now lament over more garbage moves. It shows you can’t fix a mistake with another mistake.

    Lebda would have been better served to play in AHL or bought out. Even with the benefit of Franson who is used as much as an 6/7 dman, the trade with Lombardi has caused more roster damage than it was worth.

  • The tough thing is that giving Lombardi such cushy minutes means that some other line is going to get thrashed. It’s not exactly an easy thing to manage, and it doesn’t make sense to play a guy so much when he really only deserves 3rd line minutes. Carlyle would hurt his team offensively when Lombardi was given good minutes in place of someone else and again when the other line gets crushed defensively.

  • If Lombardi can’t play on the top two lines.. I don’t think there’s a spot for him. With the top 6 looking set I think he’ll ultimately be on the outside looking in. He’s no 3rd line winger – especially in a Randy Carlyle system.

    I know.. this is always easier said than done – but my thinking is he’s either 1)in the press box, 2) in the AHL or 3) in another uniform.