Mike Babcock was absolutely right to ask us what we were expected when the Maple Leafs dropped a 1-0 OT decision to the Carolina Hurricanes just last night. This is a weak team, and we were promised as much. But, even with this anemic lineup, could anything be done to promote more scoring? We turn to our ever handsome and intelligent Roundtable…
On one hand, I think there are some minor lineup changes that could promote more goalscoring. On the other, I think no matter what the Leafs try to do, they still don’t have enough natural firepower to score a lot of goals. At its best, this is an average offensive team, so we’re just going to have to live with that.
If we’re going to try and fix things, though, it starts with a couple minor roster moves. And there’s no better place to start than removing Rich Clune from the lineup. With all due respect to the gritty veteran, he’s the last thing Toronto needs right now. Instead, Josh Leivo needs to be inserted in the line-up, maybe alongside someone like Nazem Kadri, and given the opportunity to score goals. If you need more, there are a number of Marlies that could be recalled in hopes of sparking some offence, and you wouldn’t even have to disrupt the development of the younger prospects.
Mark Arcobello is certainly an option, having scored 33 points in 28 AHL games this season. He might be able to produce if he’s given more than fourth-line minutes to work with. There’s also the recently-acquired Jeremy Morin, who has five points in his first six games with the Marlies. Morin, 24, needs an opportunity to play with and stick on an NHL roster, and if he can’t make the most of his opportunity then it wouldn’t be a huge loss if another team snapped him up on waivers on the way back down.
The most important thing in any of these situations though is being granted enough ice time to actually make a difference, because if guys like Tyler Bozak and Leo Komarov and Shawn Matthias aren’t cutting it, there’s zero harm in giving their ice-time to others looking to make a strong impression.
Wait, is there anything else to be done? With James van Riemsdyk out for another month or so, this team is going to have to try and create offense without their best offensive player. “What did you expect?” are the words used last night by the head coach and, if we’re being honest with ourselves, is there a viable answer other than “this”?
When you look at the Maple Leafs lineup and see names like Matthias, Grabner, and Boyes all getting top-six minutes during games these days it’s hard to picture the team scoring much. Paying for tickets to see the Leafs get shutout 1-0 by Carolina on a cold Thursday in January is exactly the kind of pain Mike Babcock promised during his introductory press conference.
So, we play the waiting game. We wait for JVR to return, but he will help only so much. The real wait is for February 29th. By the trade deadline, it is very likely that at three, four, or maybe as many as five players will be moved off of this roster as the teams sells whatever they can. At that point, the optimal solution to the stagnant roster is calling up the kids. Nylander should be back playing by then, Kapanen will still be riding high from his gold medal winning goal and Brendan Leipsic looks ready to fill a high-energy support role in the NHL. Last year the holes were filled with guys like Zach Sill and Eric Brewer, this year seems like the right time to give the kids a look at the NHL. The addition of a few of the Leafs’ future core will likely give the team a bit of a shot in the arm and fill the roster with significantly more offensive talent. Heck even adding career AHL killer TJ Brennan will help once Polak is inevitable moved.
Grabner, Boyes, Parenteau and Polak out, and Nylander, Kapanen, Leipsic and Brennan in. The team still may not win very often, but the roster will be significantly more entertaining.
Babcock is spot on with his “what did you expect?” take on the Leafs offense. Outside of van Riemsdyk there was very little expected of the team offensively, and up until JVR’s injury, the whole team seemed to be overachieving.
While I can’t say I have a huge appetite to fix the problem, I do want to make sure that players like Parenteau, Boyes, etc. are shown in the best possible light to increase their trade value for the upcoming deadline, and that probably means some optimization of the roster for offense needs to occur.
Froese and Clune need to be sent down in favour of players who could potentially add some scoring. I’d still keep Leivo up, but I’d add Morin and Arcobello to the mix. I would also start scratching Polak in favour of Corrado, in hopes of improved movement out of the Leafs zone. Scratching Polak doesn’t do much to help his trade value, so I’m on the fence about this idea.
Put together offensive pairings, Parenteau and Bozak have worked well together, as has Komarov and Kadri. Holland and Boyes make sense, and I’d saddle Arcobello with Lupul. From there I’d probably put Winnik with Kadri, Leivo or Morin with Bozak, Matthias with Holland, and Grabner with Arcobello. It’s not ideal, but Froese and Clune dead zone has been removed and you can hope for something from each line.
Finally, I revisit the idea of pursuing Jonathan Drouin. I am not the biggest fan of his, but he’s a young offensive talent that is readily available on the market today. I’m not comfortable with the approach that it will all be fixed once Marner and Nylander are Leafs, and it wouldn’t be the end of the world to overloaded with talent in the future.
Since that’s probably not going to happen, I’m content to settle in for a bunch of low scoring losses while praising the improvement in the Leafs systems.