The Toronto Maple Leafs practiced today, with new lines. Lupul-Bozak-Kessel is back together, Jake Gardiner may actually play, and a bit more shuffling went down too. But here’s something that bugs me.
Colton Orr appears to be in tomorrow’s lineup, skating on line three. Matt Frattin isn’t. This, at least in my eyes, is a terrible idea.
My initial evidence for this being bad goes to last season, when both of them were on the Toronto Marlies for their Calder Cup Finals run.
Lets talk about Frattin:
- Frattin played in 13 games during that run, missing the Finals sweep by Norfolk due to an injury suffered while crashing the net to score his 10th goal of the playoffs, which lead the team and AHL.
- He also finished second on the Marlies in points, sixth in the AHL. All of this in his first ever pro playoff run.
- To go with this (anecdotal evidence because the AHL doesn’t track anything other than the most basic of stats), Frattin was no stranger to throwing hits and playing physical hockey over the course of the playoffs. High intensity late season hockey, exactly what you want out of a guy beyond April. He’ll be the first to tell you those are the type of games he lives for.
- Frattin’s potential usage would involve giving the third line an extra offensively capable player to develop a scoring chance with, one with a heavy, accurate shot that can capitalize from more positions than most if a scoring chance arises. Away from the puck, he’s got a bit of defensive capability and can finish checks.
Now, lets talk about Orr:
- Orr was healthy and available for all 17 games of last year’s playoff run. He played in 8 of them, being scratched for the other 9. That number may be more lopsided if Frattin didn’t get hurt, seeing as Orr played all four games in the finals.
- The Marlies were involved in just four fights the entire playoffs, two of them in the same game. The fighters? Colton Orr (Round 2, Game 4), Will Acton (Round 3, Game 2), Korbinian Holzer (Round 3, Game 2), and Mark Fraser (Round 4, Game 1). Clearly, fights weren’t incredibly necessary.
- Orr’s fight came with two seconds left in a 3-1 game that the Marlies were winning.
- He also took two minor penalties, was a -2, and took 8 shots over the course of the playoffs, scoring zero points.
So, what we see from a successful playoff team from just a year ago, is that Frattin is a viable option for offense and physical presence, while Colton Orr isn’t worth playing for half the games, and when he does, he contributes nothing offensively and barely fights.
After all, we’re talking about the playoffs; where fight frequency drops by over a third, and the fights that do happen go from “goon vs. goon agreed to at the draw” to “you just made my teammate bleed, you must pay”. So why do you need a staged fight based enforcer?
It would be one thing if the Leafs had nobody to step in for reactionary scraps. But guys like Mark Fraser, and if desperate, Dion Phaneuf, can do just that. Half this team has dropped the gloves when need be, so while it isn’t in their hopes, they can stand up for themselves in a time of need.
It would be one thing if Orr in any way intimidated the Bruins. But he doesn’t – they see no need to fight him. It doesn’t prove a point for them, and lets be honest, their fighters are all much more talented than he is, and recognize that the best favour they can do their team is not go to the box with him for five minutes. Will Orr’s presence stop Milan Lucic? No way. They could make for a good scrap, but Lucic isn’t dumb enough to swing back and leave his team without his hockey playing ability for five minutes while the Leafs put on an actual player.
The same goes for Shawn Thornton, Adam McQuaid, Gregory Campbell, Zdeno Chara, Nathan Horton, or the other tougher Bruins players. Intimidating the Boston Bruins by wanting to punch them in the face will not work. If you want to use physicality, hitting is more effective, and Frattin does that. But really, the only way to intimidate them is to take offensive control, and make Tuukka Rask feel the pressure. An enforcer doesn’t do that. A sharpshooter does. Matt Frattin fits that description much more than Colton Orr.
While toughness helped the Bruins win the Stanley Cup in 2011, it wasn’t toughness by goonery, rather toughness coming from already talented players. Which they had a lot of. Realistically, the biggest factor was having multiple lines capable of scoring goals, so they could capitalize on teams once they had to put out a weaker defensive pairing.
If there’s any “beat Boston at their own game” strategies to use, it’s that one. But as long as the Leafs are playing enforcers on their third line instead of trying to score, Randy Carlyle will remain confused as to why Zdeno Chara only goes out when Phil Kessel is on the ice, and why the Bruins don’t really care about who faces the bottom six.
I guess what I’m saying is; Frattin can give the Leafs another scoring option when the top six is being shut down. Orr skates around the ice getting rejected by potential fight opponents because there’s no benefit for them to face him. We have a glaring, recent case study of these two being in and out of a playoff lineup. But, at least for now, Randy Carlyle will ride the enforcers win championships mantra off into the sunset.
The Leafs and Bruins face off in Game 2 tomorrow night, in Boston, at 7PM.