I didn’t see you over there. It’s just your ol’ pal Yakov, sitting around TLN thinking about how much depth the Leafs seem to have with their forward group, especially on the wing.
Let’s rap for a minute. There are a lot of people out there who will tell that great teams have the kind of depth the Leafs currently possess. There’s also a lot of people out there who will tell you that trading some of that depth can help improve the team both in the short and long term.
Well, ol’ Yakky is here to tell you that in a way, they are both right, and we can all enjoy this depth together as one big happy Leafs family.
A quick look at said depth (note likely Marlies in red and bubble players in italics)
I’m not saying this is the bible truth of where to place each player, but there’s our starting point.
Also, let’s acknowledge that no matter what your feelings may be about Matt Martin he will probably be in the lineup. A lot. I’m not asking you to agree with it, but accept it. You’ll be happy once you let go of this issue.
Now then, on to my points about Leafs depth…
- Depth is good. Contending teams have it. Let’s have it too.
Rather than worry about where players like Leivo, Kapanen, Soshnikov, etc. will slot into the Leafs lineup, let’s enjoy the fact that they will have to play their asses off in order to make it into the Leafs lineup. What’s even more amazing is that there are guys like Johnsson, Aaltonen, Fehr, etc. that could potentially backfill beyond the first wave of potential call-ups.I am a Kapanen truther, which pretty much means that I want to slot him ahead of guys like Brown and Komarov on the depth chart, but in reality, he’s going to have a hard time making the team with his waiver exempt status.That’s a good thing if it means that the team is preserving its depth and will allow for an optimal NHL roster to be produced even when injuries become a reality.Personally, I think last season’s unmatched fortune when it comes to health may have convinced some Leafs fans that having 8 or 9 wingers is good enough or maybe there’s now such faith in the prospect pool that people believe anyone from the pipeline will yield the optimal results achieved by Brown, Hyman, and to a lesser extent Soshnikov and Leivo.
At the top of the lineup the Leafs are equally #blessed. Marner, Nylander, van Riemsdyk, and Marleau are bona fide top line wingers, and Hyman, Komarov, and Brown have shown the ability to compliment the abilities of offensively gifted forwards well. Recognizing that Leivo and Kapanen could challenge for similar roles to that group it seems like a pleasant problem worth adjusting for over the course of the season, rather than to force their own hand by requiring yet another young player to step up into a significant role immediately.
- It allows to try Nylander at center. This is also good. Enjoy it.
Mike Babcock has stated that the intention is for William Nylander to start the year on wing. That’s a good and smart decision. More than anything else the point of the Leafs now is to win, and development of players is now secondary. If this means that Nylander spends a long and fruitful career never taking another faceoff I think I can live with that.On the off chance that the Leafs are looking to try something different with their roster, have to deal with an injury, or have clinched a playoff spot by mid-December, that opens the door to moving Alberta’s own Nylander into the middle for a few games to see what he can do there.The depth means there’s probably going to be two strong wingers beside him to help him out in that new endeavor as well. That’s encouraging.Besides Nylander the Leafs also have Marleau, Hyman, and Komarov who they can potentially tap on the shoulder to serve up the middle, though Hyman and Komarov are stretches. This is a nice luxury as a Bozak injury or Kadri suspension won’t automatically mean Dominic Moore is the 3rd line center. It means Patrick Marleau is now your 3rd line center, Connor Brown is now your 2nd line winger, and Josh Leivo gets to play (albeit on the 4th line).
- If the Leafs were to consider making a trade, these are the assets that would be most helpful
I’m going to start off by saying that no one is advocating trades for the sake of trades. If the Leafs want to make a trade to acquire draft picks they’ll be either doing that after this season is over or if through a series of unfortunate events they manage to find themselves out of the playoff picture (I don’t think anyone believes this anymore.)It’s also worth noting that Bozak, van Riemsdyk, and Komarov are all more valuable to the Leafs as “rentals” this season than they would be as trade chips to blindly throw away just out of fear of letting them walk for nothing next summer. A competitive team changes our reality.All of that being said, whether the trade is tomorrow or a year from now, the Leafs being so deep on wing it gives them the opportunity to move forwards, their position of strength, for their bigger needs which seem to be right handed defense, cap space, and prospects in that order (those last two they obviously shouldn’t prioritize in season.)There’s also the Hall for Larsson aspect of any deal involving even a very good winger being traded, and honestly I think that is something that needs to be considered when talking trades. Given how few trades are one for one deals, there is still plenty of opportunity for the Leafs to improve their team through this depth.
- Long term roster decisions mean not all of these guys are going to stay, but that doesn’t mean we can’t enjoy them now.
Eventually a lot of the guys coming off of entry level contracts are going to be insanely expensive. Komarov, Bozak, and van Riemsdyk are unrestricted free agents next summer, and at least one of them won’t be back.It’s amazing how quickly depth dries up, even if that depth still has guys like Bracco and Grundstrom to backfill it.Rather than consider wing depth as something that the Leafs need to deal with or exploit before the season starts, consider it what could be the team’s greatest strength this season and part of what is necessary for nine month endurance contest. Depth is good. Competition is good. Sports is good.