As Christmas quickly approaches, so does the trade deadline. With some key UFAs on the Leafs roster, they need to decide sooner or later what’s going to happen to them. While this may not affect the Leafs at all this season, it’s a good idea to see who should stay, who should go, and who should come in their place, and know what to expect next season.
After Bozak yesterday, we look at Leo Komarov today. Known as Uncle Leo to most fans, the Estonian-born, Finnish-Russian hockey player has been a part of the Leafs organization for most of his career, even if half of it was played in the KHL. He’s had a bunch of weird seasons, in that he excels in one thing for a season, and it’s completely different each time. Whether it be assists in 14-15 (before injuries set him back), goals for the first half of 15-16, or being an elite defensive forward in 16-17, Komarov has usually found a way to not be disappointing to the fan base.
Except this season. Not only has his defense been subpar, he’s generated little to no offense, and is at the past-his-prime age of 30 (31 at the end of the season). As good as he’s been over his time as a Leaf, it doesn’t look like that will continue, so it’s time to look for a new replacement on the shutdown line.
Unlike Bozak, we’ll probably mostly be looking internally for Leo’s replacement, as the Leafs have a ton of depth on the wing, so it’ll be easier to replace him. Also, I’m looking for someone who will be the next shutdown winger for the Leafs.
Let’s start off with the guy who is probably the closest to what Komarov was in his prime, while also not someone who could be an offensive threat on a non-shutdown line, that being Hyman. Hyman has been a solid player for the Leafs, but not someone who should be on Matthews wing for his entire career. Also, Hyman’s defensive ability comes from his ability to keep the puck in the offensive zone, much like Kadri, so their styles mesh well. Not only that, but this would also give the Leafs an opportunity to put a guy like Kasperi Kapanen or Josh Leivo on Matthews wing instead, who could probably create more offense.
Makes sense, right?
Josh Leivo/Kasperi Kapanen
I’m just gonna bundle 2 and 3 together because I don’t feel like typing out the same thing for two players. Both players have been on the verge of making the Leafs lineup, but their depth has made it nearly impossible to completely crack the lineup (that, and Babcock’s refusal to give Matt Martin a night off). Both probably deserve a chance on the team, and both have experience on the shutdown line from time to time, and have been fine in that role. This would be more of a “throw them in and see if it works” method, but it could certainly work.
I figured I’d look into the free agent options for this kind of role, and looking through the few realistic options, Matt Read seemed like the best candidate. He’s been one of the best shot suppressors on the Flyers over the last few years, although he’s mostly been in the minors this season. That could be a good thing, allowing the Leafs to sign him to a cheap, one year deal, and have a solid defensive forward on your shutdown line if you feel like there aren’t any better options internally. This probably won’t happen, but I certainly wouldn’t be mad if the Leafs picked him up for this either.
Remember when I said Hyman was better for the role because he didn’t have much offensive upside? While Mitch Marner has had better defensive numbers this season than Hyman, putting Marner on the shutdown could potentially be a waste for his offensive output (although Kadri’s been great in that spot, so who knows). Marner’s shown to be really good when not dragged down by the defensive anchors (not the good ones) in van Riemsdyk and Bozak, so he could certainly excel in this role. This would also give Babcock the opportunity to develop Nylander as centre on the sheltered line with a couple other wingers who make the team as well. Marner would be great on this line, but I feel like it be better for the Leafs overall if Hyman were put here, and Marner either continued on the sheltered line with different players, or on the top line with Matthews.