The timeline for David Bolland’s injury could range anywhere from a few weeks to a few months. Erik Karlsson missed 31 games when his left achilles was lacerated last season on a similar play to the one that felled Bolland in Vancouver. Other recent examples are Vancouver’s Kevin Bieksa missing 27 games to a leg laceration in 2009-2010, and Carolina’s Cam Ward missing 13 games in the same season.
We haven’t been updated yet on the severity of the injury, but it’s probably a foregone conclusion that Bolland will be put on the long-term injured reserve shortly. That would keep him out until at least November 29th against Buffalo, but that’s an optimistic date to circle on the calendar given how serious the injury looked at the time and the immediacy of the surgery. Bolland couldn’t put any weight on his leg being taken off the ice.
So what to do at centre? Tyler Bozak is out for at least six more contests so the team is down to just Jay McClement, Nazem Kadri, and Trevor Smith.
James van Riemsdyk used to play centre in college and was drafted as one. The idea to have van Riemsdyk at centre actually has roots back to last summer. At the time, we didn’t think that the move was feasible, but in absence of other options, why not?
Carolina waived Brett Sutter on Sunday and that’s another option. I don’t think that Sutter has much of an NHL future as his career high in points in junior was 57 in 67 games. So far this season, he has pretty gaudy possession numbers facing the worst forward competition among all Hurricanes skaters, and about the only thing going for him is that he’s drawn six penalties. Still, he’s taken 47 draws as well as has at least some experience at the position and he’d be a real short-term solution. I think he’s worth placing a claim on, although I wouldn’t let the existence of Brett Sutter stop me from pursuing other options.
Jerred Smithson was recently signed by the Toronto Marlies to a PTO and he’s the most experienced NHL centreman on that team, but I think Smithson’s career as an NHLer has waned. He has been arguably one of the league’s worst players over the last several seasons. Among 301 forwards from 2010 to 2013 with at least 1500 minutes played, Smithson had the third lowest goals rate, lowest points rate and lowest shots rate. Strictly speaking, his offence isn’t close to being good enough to make him an NHL regular no matter how good at defence he is.
Otherwise on the Marlies, the centremen are Greg McKegg, Andrew Crescenzi and Sam Carrick. McKegg is the leading scorer among that group with four points, which is hard to get excited over. Smith is the best C on the Marlies this season, but he’s already been called up and he’ll probably take over spot third line duties while we wait for Bozak’s return.
Is there anybody out there worth pursuing, do we figure? The Leafs are currently carrying around John-Michael Liles and his $3.75-million salary cap hit. I don’t think Liles has any trade value, but can he be used as insurance if the Leafs wanted to trade a defenceman for a centreman of value? We may have to reset the Cody Franson and Nik Kulemin trade rumours, since they’re probably the two moveable players on the Leafs that could net a reasonable return. If there’s the possibility of Patrik Berglund or Mikael Backlund (Backlund was scratched in Calgary when they played the Leafs and the coaching staff has never seemed to take a liking to him) coming available, with either acting as a decent long-term option is it worth giving up a solid player like Franson or Kulemin?
I don’t really know for sure. The team will have a week or so to dwell on it. The schedule doesn’t really work in the team’s favour if they want to give JvR a game’s worth of a look at centre, since the Leafs play in a back-to-back after their five day break and probably won’t have the time to acquire reinforcements between the games against New Jersey and Boston in time for anybody to suit up. A call-up from the minors could work in that quick of a turnaround, but probably not a trade.
I think the worst moves teams can make is when they feel like they have to make a move. Trading partners that are a little hesitant about giving up a centre could be a little more hesitant to give up a dangled piece if they know that perhaps Nonis needs to make his move quickly. It’s really the next six games, until Bozak is back, that the team really needs to act. That’s where a waiver claim makes sense.
As for Bolland, I don’t think anybody can replace what he’s brought to the lineup so far this season. He’s led Leafs centremen in possession so far this season (and only David Clarkson and Carter Ashton are ahead of him, and neither have played close to the minutes Bolland has). He’s taken 22% of his faceoffs in the offensive zone and 37% in the defensive, and faces above average forward competition. His only weakness so far this season is that he’d taken nine penalties and drawn just one, but he was everything he was advertised as, otherwise.
You never know when injuries will happen, or pile up, but it ultimately needs to be something you can prepare for. There’s a lack of offensive talent in the system down the middle, or really very much NHL experience at the position in general. We’ll see what the Leafs do. I think I might be surprised if they make a trade for a centreman over the next few days. The fourth line plays such limited minutes it probably wouldn’t hurt Smith or McClement too much to take turns hopping over the boards and playing shifts with them. I think I’d experiment with that before moving JvR over to the middle, and I’d probably snap at any C that’s exposed on the waiver wire this week.
The injuries are becoming silly at this point.