Looking back on the season it’s safe to say it’s been a mixed year for Leafs role players. There was some good, it may not
leap out at you looking at the roster right now, but when you figure that
Daniel Winnik and Mike Santorelli brought in a return of Brendan Leipsic, a 2nd
and 4th, the Leafs clearly knew what they were doing late last
summer. This make a strong case for sitting out the early days of free agency.
Unfortunately after those two names there is a substantial
drop in the quality. There have been players who have had nice stretches over
parts of the season, but generally there should be a lack of excitement over
the current depth of this roster.
Of course, the good news is many of these
players are young and could potentially improve. Some of them of cheap and can be easily buried on the Marlies, and then there’s Leo Komarov and Stephane Robidas. Here’s how the current group has scored. Given the blue collar group we’re talking about we’ll be rating them on a scale of 1-5 lunch pails.
It’s hard to separate Komarov from his terrible contract, but I’ll try
here. It doesn’t really matter since it’s short enough that it won’t impact a
good Toronto team. The season has been a tale of two Komarovs. The first one
had the edgy game we’ve all come to know, but he was also putting up points.
The Komarov that put up 17 points in 24 games to start the year was very
Of course, it’s hockey and concussions happen, but Komarov
is either still suffering from symptoms or has lost his willingness to play
with any kind of edge. His scoring evaporated and a much tamer version of Uncle
Leo has been patrolling the ice.
Komarov has provided some additional value by being able to
fill in at center when needed, and has enough skill that he doesn’t look out of
place on any of the bottom three lines. Going into what will likely be a
painful rebuild there is a benefit to keeping a fan favourite like Leo around,
and multilingualism should be a locker room asset as the Leafs continue to
bring in young players from overseas.
Dick Panik is found money. An early season waiver claim, Panik has been a tertiary
scorer who has been a decent fit in the bottom six, but a sign of depth
problems whenever he’s made a second line appearance.
Panik’s numbers haven’t been great this year, and likely
never will be, but outside of his drought in January he’s been consistent. If
you shelter the hell out of Panik he’s certainly shown he can be worth keeping
around. Another year on a cheap contract will give us a better understanding of
what Panik is or alternatively give the Leafs a chance to pick up a mid to late
round pick for him at the deadline if he performs close to what he’s done this
It looks like the Peter Holland breakout campaign isn’t going to happen, of
course it would still be nice if he received a bit more ice time and chance to
show what he can do with top six linemates. Holland could’ve benefitted nicely
from a Bozak trade at the deadline (as we all could have) or at the very least
it would have been nice if he was healthy during one of Kadri’s suspensions.
Health looks like it will be an ongoing issue for Holland,
and as such I’m not expecting him to be a part of any long term plans, but like
Panik, he’s a cheap bottom six guy who contributes offensively and is a nice
asset to exploit late next season.
First came the injuries, then came the extended stint on the fourth line
where most of us forgot he existed, then came the trade deadline, then Booth
Perhaps I’m one of those folks who is a little ticked about
Booth not producing when he could have been moved for any kind of return, but
his six goals in March certainly prevented him from being graded a D this season.
Lately there has been arguments made that Booth is a solid
veteran presence in the locker room, and that could be beneficial to a young
Leafs team next season. To counter that, I’d first ask how many veteran leaders
do the Leafs require. They’ll have Komarov returning and likely Lupul’s
contract is unmovable so he’ll be back in that capacity too (at least when he’s
Secondly, it seems like a myth that Booth is a good leader
or good in the locker room. In the past month he’s called out his teammates and
fought with the organizations star player. It seems that David Booth generates
good stories for newspapers more than he leads his team. That seems like a
distraction to me.
I don’t want to bash Trevor Smith too much because it’s not his fault he
keeps on getting thrown in well over his head. Smith simply doesn’t have the
skill set to move beyond being a solid AHL player and can’t really provide
anything of value at the NHL level.
It’s not Smith’s fault that he has been recalled ahead of
players like Sam Carrick or Greg McKegg, but that doesn’t change the fact it
would be disappointing to see him in the Leafs organization next year.
Zack Sill is one of the four negative value acquisitions the Leafs required
while starting to dismantle the roster
and Sill is probably the player that has done the least. While punching Steve
Ott in the face doesn’t make him appear completely bad, it’s apparent his skill
level is around that of Trevor Smith’s and somehow he’s even less offensively
While there was much made of how hard Zack Sill was working
each night, that’s probably because Zack Sill needs to work harder just to keep
up, and I can also assure you that the AHL and junior leagues are filled with
players who want to come in and work their asses off. Maybe one of them will
even pan out, so in the meantime, why hang on to one who clearly hasn’t panned
out just because you notice his effort?
Kozun was the feel good story coming out of Leafs camp. He was the long
shot who made the NHL roster and his junior numbers and World Juniors
appearance gave the impression that he really might turn into something
special. Immediately it was clear that he wouldn’t play a significant role on
the Leafs, but he was pesky and complimented his linemates well.
Unfortunately injury struck and Brandon was back in the AHL
for a good chunk of the season and didn’t really stand out there either. Post
deadline injuries, and the desire to let prospects develop outside of the NHL
brought Kozun back to the Leafs and fits the bill of a 4 minute a night player
there to fill out the lineup card. Now 25, it seems like parting ways with
Kozun is best for the organization since the wing positions seem to be spoken
for on the Marlies.
I’ve done a fair bit of joking about not knowing who Lindstrom is, but the
truth of the matter is I never saw the point in learning more about him.
Like Sill, Lindstrom was shedded salary that served the dual
purpose of helping fill out the Leafs roster post trade deadline. For a team
like St. Louis gearing up for the playoffs he was the player least likely to be
missed. What more needs to be known?
Lindstrom hasn’t been very good in Toronto, but has been
used throughout the lineup, including seeing time on the power play which
should also tell you everything you need to know about the Leafs roster right
now. He won’t be returning and it’s highly likely he’s signed in Europe before
you’ve even read this, but in compliance with grading the Leafs role players, I
have fulfilled my duties by including a Joakim Lindstrom grade.
While I’m not ready to commit to Sam Carrick as being a full time Leaf next
season, I feel Carrick deserves more credit than most of the role players on
the Leafs forward unit. He’s seen next to no ice time, when given the
opportunity he’s proven he can chip in a point or two, and his Marlies track
record combined with his youth provides hope that he can be an affordable
bottom six guy for the Leafs.
I am however supposed to grade off of what he’s done and not
his potential, and that’s why I’d limit him to a C+. What Carrick has been is a
sufficient fourth line center who I trust to play better than the majority of
the Leafs bottom six forwards.
The acquisition of Brewer had to be a little insulting to the veteran, as
he was moved along with a fifth round pick for a minor league defenseman, but
it’s clear his best hockey playing days are well behind him. His initial games
with the Leafs were absolutely terrible, and when he was moved to the top
pairing with Dion Phaneuf it seemed that the Leafs would be tanking with the
best of them.
Maybe it was the extremely low expectations attached to
Brewer, but he managed to string together a few good games, put up a few
points, and cause some of the most reactionary fans to say he should be brought
back next season.
Eric Brewer should not be brought back next season.
Eric Brewer reminds me when I saw Bad Company. Chris Rock
playing his own twin who works for the CIA under Anthony Hopkins seemed awful,
but because I had such incredibly low expectations for this movie I still
defend it to this day. I will never know if Bad Company is an incredibly awful
movie, but I at least know enough about Brewer to know that he’s just exceeding
my very low expectations.
In September it was clear that I
was not a fan of Roman Polak, and while I’m not ready to say that I’m a fan
of his now, it’s clear that outside of Phaneuf, Rielly, and Gardiner (and after
Franson was traded) he’s been the Leafs fourth best defenceman.
While it’s fashionable to make fun of guys who get by on
throwing hits, and blocking shots it’s still worth acknowledging when someone
does it well, and Polak does it well. Playing 21 minutes a night with a less
experienced defensive partner, and putting up a career high 5 goals in 56 games
isn’t horrible either.
Polak has made himself marketable to teams around the league
either over the summer or next season leading up to the trade deadline if his
performance continues, but with inflating costs of UFA defensemen on the
horizon there might be offers for Roman sooner rather than later.
When a 38 year old player who thinks he may never play again receives a
three year deal for $3,000,000 that’s guaranteed to count against the salary
cap you are off to a rocky start. Essentially what everyone was predicting
would happen wound up happening and Robidas has been a slow liability who only
seems to avoid criticism when he’s hurt.
Why the Leafs traded for someone by most accounts they
seemed intent on using as a defensive coach is beyond me, but it’s left us in
the situation where a buyout might be the best option unless Robidas will ride
out the next two years on the LTIR.
For a guy that is with his fourth team at 24 years old, I was probably too
excited about him. Former first round picks will do that to you. The better way
to look at him is as a guy who was claimed off of waivers.
Erixon definitely has some ability, and with the situation
the Leafs are in, he’s worth committing a bit of time to, but it’s clear that
he doesn’t aggressively pursue the puck, his puck moving abilities haven’t
developed to where they need to be to contribute as a top four defender in the
NHL, essentially he’s Justin Schultz without the price tag.
Given how difficult it must be for a younger defenseman to
learn his third defensive system this year I’m comfortable with giving Tim a
mulligan on the last 15 games and re-signing him on his qualifying offer. He’s
low risk, and still could break out, but without a heavy shot, poor possession
numbers, and no physical game, he’s a long shot to live up to his draft year
potential. It could be worse. The Leafs could have signed Luca Sbisa to a three
For my sins Andrew MacWilliam has played enough hockey for the Leafs that I
need to grade him. Given that his style of play isn’t particularly impactful or
beneficial, it’s hard to get excited about MacWilliam, but what he’s advertised
to do, he seemingly does and with experience that might make him a serviceable
6th or 7th defensemen.
The problem is that the Leafs have no shortage of 6th
or 7th defensemen in their organization and waiting to see if a 25
year old player can develop into that seems a tad pointless.