TLN Roundtable: The Leafs Top Six Forwards

The Leafs are now 7 games into the 2014-15 and since Phil Kessel has been producing above a point per game pace, that means we need to shift the discussion to if the Leafs are getting enough secondary scoring. 

The Question posed to the roundtable this week was…

“Should the Leafs shake up their top six? How will the lines look?”

Justin Fisher

Whether people like to admit it or not, the Leafs’ top line is pretty effective at producing offence. Tyler Bozak isn’t an impact first line centre, but Phil Kessel and James van Riemsdyk are still going to put up 65+ goals combined. The first line could be better, but such an improvement would require a substantial trade. It just won’t get significantly better by shuffling players up and down the lineup, and not without hurting the strength of the second or third lines.
The second line has been pretty good, despite the lack of goals and assists. Joffrey Lupul and Nazem Kadri are fine second line guys, but Daniel Winnik, despite helping push the puck in the right direction, doesn’t belong there long term.
The issue now becomes, who pushes Winnik back down to the third or fourth line? As much as I love the makeup of the Leo Komarov/Mike Santorelli/David Clarkson line right now, I think moving Clarkson up on Lupul’s and Kadri’s right wing makes the most sense in the short term.
Hate his contract all you want but Clarkson has looked quite alright so far this season. This would be a reward, and also an experiment to find out if Clarkson can co-exist with Lupul and Kadri. Yes, we’ve seen this line before, but not recently. According to Left Wing Lock, the Lupul-Kadri-Clarkson unit is the least frequent line we’ve seen so far this season at only 1.76%. Considering how much Clarkson is paid, I think the Leafs owe it to themselves to try him out as a top six winger one more time.
If it doesn’t work out with Clarkson, David Booth should be returning to the lineup within the next two weeks. That gives the coaching staff a more offensively-minded winger to try alongside Lupul and Kadri. Then, Clarkson gets bumped to the third line and Winnik to the fourth. Depth!
So, for the next few weeks, I’m going with…
van Riemsdyk – Bozak – Kessel
Lupul – Kadri – Clarkson
Komarov – Santorelli – Winnik
If all else fails and both Clarkson and Booth don’t cut it on the second line, trade someone and/or something to the Oilers for Jordan Eberle. I’m sure Oilers Nation won’t mind.

BOBBY CAPPUCCINO

The Leafs forward group is really interesting this year. The first line, while obviously the leading offensive unit, is still not very good at puck possession and defense. I’d suspect that what hinders their possession numbers is the line’s ability to score off the rush, instead of cycling and zone time. Still, long-term success will come from improving zone-time. 

The second line has been fantastic at possession. I’d love to keep this line together, but they are almost the polar opposite of the first line – great process, very little to show for it (so far). 

The third line? A pleasant revelation. No, it’s not a $10 million dollar line, but they have made positive contributions – especially Clarkson, who can no longer be seen as a negative impact player. These guys dominate the cycle, but don’t have a ton of offensive prowess between them.

With all of this in mind, I’d try something like this in the top 9 to help all the lines out where they are weak right now:

JVR-Kadri-Kessel

Lupul-Santorelli-Clarkson

Komarov-Bozak-Winnik

I debated a lot between Santo Claus and Kadri on the first line, and while Santorelli is a great compliment to Kessel and JVR, I think loading this line up offensively could be awesome. Kadri’s possession would help Kessel and JVR a lot, and keep them in the offensive zone more. Yes, this line would be an issue defensively, but the more they keep the puck in the offensive zone, the less their defense is an issue.

The new second line is probably my favourite new line idea. Clarkson gets in on the forecheck without regard for anyone, Santo Claus is a speed demon and is strong along the boards, while Lupul has been great this year at possession (although we’d find out if it is driven more by him or Kadri in this case) and can finish. I think this line can do a little bit of everything.

The third line can work similarly to how the third line does now – Komarov is a forechecking machine, Winnik is good at owning the puck, and (I can’t believe I am saying this) Bozak can help bring a little offense to the line. To be honest, I am not crazy about this line, but I don’t think it’s awful…it’s just not as sexy as the top two. 

And the fourth line? Not worth talking about until Carlyle actually uses it.

Jon Steitzer

Playing around with lines seems to be the theme of The Leafs Nation this week, as the What Would You Do Wednesday post has apparently solved the shutdown line issues and now we’re ready to start focusing on generating offense. With the Leafs top line having two players (including young Bozak) on a point per game pace it’s more of a second line issue that needs to be dealt with.
Unfortunately, the second line likely isn’t going to receive much of an upgrade in offense if you look further down the lineup. Sure Komarov has put up five assists so far, and Santorelli and Clarkson have delivered as well, but it’s much more likely that James van Riemsdyk can provide a boost to Kadri and Lupul. Arguably that line gives the Leafs much more of a 1B option than they’ve had recently.
Of course, that comes at the price of creating a significant JvR sized hole on the top line, and filling that becomes a challenge. The same way I wouldn’t consider Komarov for the second line, it should be obvious I don’t view him as a first line option either. I think a lot of his success comes from the where he’s been placed in the lineup and wouldn’t want to separate him from Santorelli, so rule him out too.
Holland would be an interesting option to me, but he’s not a first choice. If he’s not traded soon he’ll likely see some top six time once injuries start occurring. Frattin, Ashton, and Panik are all behind Holland skillwise so we’ll rule them out too.
To me, that leaves Daniel Winnik, and David Clarkson as your top six forward options. Winnik hasn’t been generating points in that role so far this season, but is the better option on the left side. Clarkson built his reputation on picking up garbage goals knocking in Kovalchuk rebounds on the powerplay, maybe he can do the same with Kessel at even strength. Clarkson also played a lot with Travis Zajac and Tyler Bozak is pretty darn reasonable facsimile of that. There’s no Patrick Elias possession hero to really justify trying this, but I’d give it a go. If Phil can survive Joey Crabb he can survive this.
The line-up I’m suggesting is:
Clarkson – Bozak – Kessel
van Riemsdyk – Kadri – Lupul
Komarov – Santorelli – Winnik
Ashton – Holland 

  • CMpuck

    Love the Yakupov rumors, like the Leafs need a second line skill player prone to disappearing for 10+ stretches. What would look great on that Lupul Kadri line is someone that Clarkson was supposed to be a true power forward.

    If not a legit top six power forward then no trade for a winger, plug the flavor of the week into the six spot until then.

  • I would rather leave the lines until Booth gets healthy and we try him on the second line pushing Winnik to the 4th. I also think josh Leivo deserves a chance. If leivo sticks there we’re looking at Booth and Winnik with holland on the fourth line and thats pretty great if you ask me. And if Leivo isn’t quite ready we could get a great second line winger for Panik + any of our defencemen… and while you suggest Eberle, he has a crazy cap hit (6 million +). I would rather try for Tyler Toffolli. LA will have cap issues and thus trouble signing him come seasons end. Now that is a playoff team!

  • CMpuck

    I would rather leave the lines until Booth gets healthy and we try him on the second line pushing Winnik to the 4th. I also think josh Leivo deserves a chance. If leivo sticks there we’re looking at Booth and Winnik with holland on the fourth line and thats pretty great if you ask me. And if Leivo isn’t quite ready we could get a great second line winger for Panik + any of our defencemen… and while you suggest Eberle, he has a crazy cap hit (6 million +). I would rather try for Tyler Toffolli. LA will have cap issues and thus trouble signing him come seasons end. Now that is a playoff team!

  • CMpuck

    Keep the lines the way they are. I would trade for yakupov – because he is not getting the chance to develop there and I think he can have the JVR effect here. Where he wasn’t great on the old team but will have a huge effect here.

  • JPJPJP

    Nice to see you’re not all of the same mind again! I like the idea of keeping things as they are and adding Yakupov, then playing him for 10 plus minutes/night with guys like Panik, Ashton, Holland, Frattin, Kozun, Leivo etc. (whoever wasn’t traded for him) until something works out.

  • JPJPJP

    You need to leave the Bozak and clarkson lines alone as if it aint broke dont fix it.

    The answer is to move Holland to the #2 center position beside Lupul who he had chemistry with before
    Kadri on the wing frees him up a bit as he then wont have so many responsibilities including taking faceoffs-because it is not one of his strengths.

    Holland is mis cast as a 4th line center and he is young and should be getting lots of ice time.

    He is a former 1st round pick -chosen 15th overall
    in 2009.