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.
Next on Santa’s list is Dominic Moore. The fourth line center is in his second stint with the Leafs, and it is, well, quite forgettable. He hasn’t been Ben Smith level’s bad, but he hasn’t been all that good either, with Babcock sometimes opting to move a winger to center to bring him out of the lineup, although that hasn’t happened for several weeks now.
Moore is just a like a lot of other fourth line centers, and is easily replaceable. Much like Komarov yesterday, I’ll mostly be looking internally for replacements, although the Leafs iffy center depth will make it very hard to do.
Let’s start with the guy who was almost the fourth line center this season. Despite not too many people hearing about him until he signed with the Leafs from the KHL, Aaltonen impressed many during the preseason, and had many thinking he was going to snag the fourth line center role. That didn’t exactly happen, and Aaltonen has since been producing in the AHL, with 16 points in 28 games. I’d imagine that his game could transition to the NHL level next year, and would be a solid addition to the fourth line. If Babcock is worried about penalty killing, I’m sure Kadri and Matthews could step in as the penalty killing centers if Aaltonen isn’t up for the task.
Next up is the guy who probably would’ve been the fourth line center if not for an injury during the Marlies playoff run delaying his start to the season. The Goat has played in a fourth line role in the last couple seasons when injuries have proven necessary, and while he probably didn’t do the best job, many looked at it as “better than Ben Smith”, which is a really low bar to beat. Depending on his development, he could end up being a solid candidate come next season, and as he hits 23, it might be the point in his career where we have to fully accept that the former first round pick isn’t making the big leagues (although most people expected that when he was drafted).
Of the guys so far, Greening might be the most “Babcock-approved” of the bunch, in terms of having a veteran on the fourth line. With six seasons of NHL experience, he probably meets the threshold, and during his 30 games with the Leafs, he was actually pretty good with 15 points, albeit in a much larger role than a fourth line center, and also playing a lot with William Nylander. While it would be better to have Aaltonen or even the Goat in terms of long term development, Greening would be a solid option if neither of them are ready, although he is also a UFA himself.
When I wrote an article in the summer about addressing the Leafs fourth line center hole for this season, one option I originally had for the fourth option, that being “Sign a Low Key Good Center”, was Derek Ryan. Why did I not include him? Because several hours before the article was scheduled to come out, Ryan re-signed with the Hurricanes, so I had to make changes.
Like Greening, he’s a guy I’d sign if the team didn’t have faith in Aaltonen or Freddy the Goat, but he’d probably be a better option than Greening, although a bit more costly. Ryan can also produce, with 20 points in 35 games this season, so he could add some offense for the Leafs if they decide to have some more offensively-inclined wingers on the fourth line next season (they won’t though).
I mean, he’s an option. He’s still in the organization.
But, please, for the love of God,