TLN Roundtable: Wherefore Art Thou, Offence?

The Toronto Maple Leafs lost their best offensive weapon, and what remains isn’t exactly the most talented group of goalscorers. Where will the offence come from this year? We asked our Roundtable to give us their predictions…

Cat Silverman

My answer to how the Leafs best replace Kessel’s offense is easy – score by committee. No one on the roster (outside of prospects we can only consider in this role down the road) has shown to have the scoring prowess of Kessel on their own, so each line needs to have a good balance of players who are capable of boosting point totals from one of them as much as possible. It’s what you saw in the good Boston years recently, it’s what you see in Anaheim, and it’s what you saw in the post-season from the Kings and Blackhawks in their cup runs that made them absolutely dominant. You could even argue that Tampa scores by committee, and it works in their favor.

Guys like James van Riemsdyk and Tyler Bozak provide offense with no ‘digging’ or ‘dirty goals’, and DEFINITELY no defense, so don’t add the next best offensive player to that line – give them someone like Spaling. Arcobello should be on a line with PA Parenteau and then a guy like Winnik; Lupul should be traded and Grabner should slot in with someone like Grabner and Matthias.

I’m coming up with quick dumb combinations so don’t nitpick those; they’re just a placeholder. The concept is what you should take away from this; it’s really the only way the team will be able to get some scoring in. Four third lines is better than two second lines and two replacement-level fourth lines, after all.

Jon Steitzer

I don’t think it’s a matter of replacing Kessel’s goals, as much as it’s getting the defensive house in order and requiring fewer goals. Obviously, 206 goals in a season is embarrassingly low, and removing a 25 goal scorer doesn’t help, but it makes much more sense for the Leafs to focus their efforts on reducing the 257 goals against total they put up last season, and is an issue that has been more of trend in the previous seasons under both Carlyle and Wilson.

Consider that the players on the Leafs roster that will actually probably be Leafs still when the rebuild is complete are mainly on the blueline (Rielly, Gardiner, Marincin and possibly Percy or Harrington depending on their camps), that’s best investment. Bringing back Winnik, and bringing in other defensively capable forwards like Spaling, Matthias, and Grabner should improve the back checking abilities, and of course Mike Babcock’s systems being an improvement over pretty much anything we’ve seen in the past decade will help.

So assuming the Leafs take an approach similar to what Cat suggested, and the Leafs are successful in reducing goals against, the Leafs should have an improved record this season.

Ryan Fancey

The Leafs have some major work to do on the defensive side of the puck this season, which should be their main priority, and as far as that goes, they’re actually better off without Kessel. But yes, someone has to score. They’re unlikely to have anyone step up with a 30-plus goal season this year, and from last year’s group, they only have three players returning who put up 15 or more in a Leafs sweater – Kadri, Bozak, and van Riemsdyk. They need some of these guys on short term deals to step in and chip in 15 goals or so, and they need Lupul to be healthy.  Players like Matthias and Winnik have questionable offensive upside, but they can pour in a few points, and the former has paced for 15 goals or more a couple times in his career, most recently scoring 18 this past season in Vancouver.  And of course we have the newly acquired Grabner who falls into this group as well.

Where they can really make up ground is on potential good years from their PTOs, particularly Boyes and Glencross. Both have seen their games decline in their early thirties, but Glencross had 13 goals in just 71 games last season, and Boyes had 14, so they still have a bit of scoring touch.  They’ve both actually scored at a pace of 22 goals per season over their careers, so they could have a decent season or two left in them.  

Basically the Leafs’ lineup is loaded with a bunch of guys who CAN give you 15 goals, now we need to see how many can deliver.

Justin Fisher

It’s definitely going to be a ‘score by committee’ set-up this coming season, but it’s going to be equally important to put players in positions to succeed and carefully craft the lines.

Specifically, I’m speaking of James van Riemsdyk and Nazem Kadri – Toronto’s most offensively gifted forwards now that Phil Kessel is in Pittsburgh. The only reason Tyler Bozak ever played centre on the top line was because Kessel and van Riemsdyk could mask his offensive inefficiencies while Bozak (apparently) made up for the defensive inefficiencies. Without Kessel, there’s no reason to leave Bozak on the top line. Instead, offence will come from whatever van Riemsdyk and Kadri can manage together. If Toronto loads up the top line with their best offensive talent, both of them could be 60 point players this season if everything goes well.

Another area where Toronto will hopefully get their offence is from the back end. It’s been widely expected that Morgan Rielly will receive a bigger role on the team this year, and it’s not out of the question that with first line minutes and top power play duties, Rielly could break out for 40-50 points (his career high being 29 points in 81 games).

  • Gary Empey

    Babcock states he likes to have a goal scorer, a playmaker, and a defensive forward on each line. We also know he likes speed and quickness at every position. When he finally puts this jigsaw on ice together I think we will find a few surprises. Looks like we have lots of defensive forwards. We seem to be thin on natural playmakers and pure goal scorers. I think we shall see some reasonably good players let go. I expect some weeping and wailing and nashing of teeth, (squeezing the eyes closed and grinding the teeth together hard in reaction to the pain.) from the Leaf Nation.

    I think fan favourite JVR (minus-33) will have the most difficult time fitting in to Babcocks style of hockey.

  • giproc

    I think both JVR and Bozak have the talent to play the two-way game. Either they will do it under Babcock or become more deadline fodder (JVR at least will net a nice return.) I’m one of the few who believe that Kessel was as much a negative influence to his linemates as he was positive. They seemed to want to match his offensive prowess rather than provide the other necessary functions of a solid line (retrieving lost pucks, forechecking, backchecking, etc.)

    Lupul can score when he’s on the ice at somewhere close to full capacity and should be getting more PP time with Phil gone. Kadri and Holland down the middle have decent upside for producing some points. Not sure who the 4th centre will be, probably someone fast and defensively responsible.

    Even Komorov was creating chances with his feistiness before the Ovie cheapshot. Post concussion he wasn’t even half the player.

    The top 5 offensive players with most of the PP time split between them should approach 100 goals, leaving the other 18 skaters to pocket around 130 more to be in the range of a borderline playoff team. That’s an average of only 7+ per player. Reilly, Gardiner and Phaneuf should surpass that easily with all the PP time, and double digits are not outrageous targets for Grabner, Mathias, Winnik, Panik, Boyes, Spaling and Komo.

    Some of the AHL/NHL tweeners with higher offensive upside than most of the current Leafs like Brown, Soshnikov and Nylander seem more than capable of potting another 20+ goals between them after their January or trade deadline call ups.

  • Jeremy Ian

    The consensus seems to be that the scoring will come, as it were, from back to front. Starting with solid defense and a balanced bottom six. This is a real shift in concept for the team — and overdue. Helpful for the rebuild as the personnel for the top two lines get reinvented.

    I doubt we’ll see a different Bozak, and he’ll likely fade without Kessel on the wing. Lupul? I just don’t see it. So, maybe Mark Gregory is right: showcase them.

    The questions really surround Kadri and JVR. Can they be the anchors for the two top lines going forward as we wait for the prospects to develop? How they step up determines how deep the team has to go to rebuild. If they can’t, they are trade fodder to harvest more picks/prospects and extend the rebuild timeline. If they can, then the shape of the top six starts to emerge.

    So, if I am Babcock, my eyes are lasered on those two guys.

  • Harte of a Lion

    In his years coaching in Detroit, Babcock seemed to like a scorer, a playmaker and a checker on each line with the players interchangeable.
    If the current roster buys in to his program, then I see a lot of low scoring one or two goal games with the Leafs on the losing end unless Bernier and Reimer steal games.
    I don’t mind losses as long as they compete every shift.
    Everyone wants those W’s however they will come. NO MORE giving up or playing with the intensity of five year olds at nap time.

    The Shana-plan is alive and well…