Photo Credit: Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sports

OH S#!+, We Forgot to Worry About Josh Leivo’s Icetime

With all that has been going on in Leaf land over the past month it’s easy to forget about Josh Leivo, and the fact that at one point he wanted to be traded from the Leafs, and that his trade request came only 3 months after he signed an extension with the Leafs through this season. Admittedly, I hate to stray into typical Leafs blogger territory of worrying about how the Leafs 13th forward isn’t getting a chance to play in on the fourth line, but if you look at how the Leafs sit right now, we are once again facing a decision on how Josh Leivo will be used.

With Josh Leivo’s usage have a huge impact on how the Leafs do this year?
– No.

Are there a lot more pressing things for this team to deal with before worrying about Josh Leivo?
– Yes.

Is it the middle of July and is it nice to read about something that isn’t a Leafs press release about where training camp will be?
– Depends on if you agree with me on Leivo.

We’ll explore the three options with Leivo: Trade him, Play him, Maintain the status quo.

Might as well start with the fun one first…

Trade Him

Trades are fun, even if they are just little piddly moves like flipping Leivo for a pick, or a younger but higher risk prospect, or including him in a grand opus of a trade that reshapes the organization for years to come. Moving Leivo seems like the most humane thing to do at this point given that if Mike Babcock wanted to play Josh Leivo he’s had two years to do so. He’s already leapfrogged Kasperi Kapanen, and Andreas Johnsson past him, he even made sure that Frederik Gauthier was getting a cup of coffee ahead of playing Leivo, and with the addition of Tyler Ennis, Par Lindholm, and with Johnsson and Grundstrom knocking on the door, it’s again a tall order for Leivo to establish trust that he hasn’t yet built with Babcock, even if it seems that Dubas might put some stock in the kid.

Looking at Leivo’s numbers, he’s clearly showing the potential to be an offensive gifted winger. Maybe moreso than Connor Brown or Zach Hyman, but it doesn’t seem so much so that Babcock is willing to look past the rounded out game those players bring to the table, and it certainly doesn’t seem that Babcock is looking for an offensive player to sit on his fourth line.

I thought taking a look at Leivo’s Corsica player ratings and rankings would be interesting, and perhaps give us some insight into what Leivo is and could be (you can find the full detail of how those rankings work here.)

Rating Ranking
Tyler Bertuzzi 72.60 Derick Brassard 52
Michal Neuvirth 72.60 Kyle Okposo 52
Calle Jarnkrok 72.58 Josh Leivo 52
David Perron 72.57 Connor Carrick 52
Josh Leivo 72.57 Mark Barberio 52
Ryan Dzingel 72.56 Laurent Brossoit 52
Andrew Ladd 72.55
Martin Necas 72.54
Nikita Zaitsev 72.51

The quality of the players lumped into this group is noteworthy. None of these players are elite standouts, but by the ratings you have serviceable mid-line forwards, a backup goaltender, and Zaitsev, who last year we’ll consider an under-performing 4th defenseman. On the ranking side you see some solid depth defensemen in Carrick and Barberio, more middle six forwards in Brassard and Okposo, and Laurent Brossoit, a goaltender who is also looking for a regular NHL gig.

I find these ratings and rankings to be interesting, especially combined with Leivo’s scoring prevalence because the Leafs will not see a return remotely close to what Leivo could prove himself to be. Josh Leivo is going to be dealt as a 25 year old forward who can’t get regular icetime in the NHL, and that’s going to be a minimal return.

Dzingel might be the best example of a late blooming forward who got his chance and is now a reliable secondary scorer. He’s most like what people believe Leivo can become. On one hand, a cheap secondary scorer is an asset you want to hold onto, if you have space for them, but on the other hand, there aren’t going to be riots in the street over letting the next Ryan Dzingel get traded for pennies on the dollar. It will get chalked up to unfortunate, and people will move on.

The return on Leivo is a challenge to predict.

  • Does he get dealt to a team looking to save money on the cap and the Leafs take back an expiring salary for the upcoming season?
  • Does he get dealt for younger late round pick who shows some potential?
  • Does he get dealt for a draft pick to entice the Leafs not to just dump him on waivers in September?

The situations that seem to most resemble the Leafs situation over the past year are when

  • Nashville dealt Pontus Aberg for Mark Letestu (who was then flipped into a 4th round pick)
  • Vegas trading Brandon Leipsic for Philip Holm
  • Boston trading Frank Vatrano for 3rd round pick (Frank is younger, with more of NHL experience)
  • Toronto trading Nikita Soshnikov for a 4th round pick (hey, this looks familiar)

Most of these players have a bit of an experience and youth advantage on Leivo, so it seems like his predestined value remains a 4th/5th round pick in the absence of a more creative deal.

Play Him

The thing that we’ve already started to establish above is that Josh Leivo isn’t a bad player. He’s done well when he’s been given his chance. His AHL totals speak to his ability to constantly achieve, while his NHL speak to making the most of his limited opportunity…

via eliteprospects

There would be few teams in the league that could match the balanced scoring of the Leafs…

The problem probably comes from the fact that while the other seven wingers on those lines can pretty much count on a regular NHL shift, Leivo is likely facing competition from Tyler Ennis.

Okay, so it really doesn’t look like it should be competition until you consider that Ennis has played more games, has established upside, “tie goes to the veteran”, etc… Leivo does have points for having size, and somehow his recent history shows him to be more durable than Ennis, though the lack of durability might speak to both players being able to share this role quite well.

Player Traits and Performance Comparison Tool

The gap between the two players certainly narrows when you look at what they are doing on the ice. Leivo, for any concerns that may exist about his two way game, has been strong in the NHL, likely due to his regular play with Nazem Kadri. In comparison to Ennis, Leivo leaves a lot to be desired when it comes to playmaking as well, which may or may not be an issue for his likely sheltered usage, but Tyler Ennis appears to be more capable of having the puck move forward.

That being said, there’s also a case for “why not both.” Ennis has played center in the past and should be capable of handling the very limited center duties associated with a guy who is playing behind Matthews, Tavares, and Kadri. It’s also entirely possible that Andreas Johnsson might start the season in the AHL, as wacky as that may seem based on his initial debut and impressive Calder Cup run. It’s entirely possible that there is a spot for Leivo and he may get a chance to play. The numbers say he’ll play pretty well, but history tells us that he’s not going to play the way Babcock wants him to, and that’s the problem.

A large part of the play him philosophy can be rolled into the trade him philosophy later. Right now other teams will probably give up very little for Leivo, as the expectation is that they find out what he is on their own. If the Leafs play Leivo a bit at the beginning of the season it will identify if Leivo is a player worth giving up an asset for. It also could identify Leivo as a player worth keeping and playing or it could identify Leivo as someone to cut ties with and waive him, but perhaps the best way to manage the asset is to play him and only risk not acquiring a late pick if he doesn’t pan out.

With Position TOI With TOI Away CF% With Leivo CF% Without CF% Without Leivo
Dominic Moore C 75.88 15.52 52.14 55.00 49.06
Matt Martin L 62.78 21.32 48.67 44.74 62.79
Jake Gardiner D 46.60 89.17 47.14 47.93 45.47
Andreas Borgman D 38.10 63.77 50.68 46.36 45.83
Roman Polak D 36.13 56.68 63.16 45.54 47.56
Nikita Zaitsev D 32.97 70.38 43.55 48.85 42.73
Morgan Rielly D 32.30 103.47 46.67 48.17 50.00
Ron Hainsey D 29.00 106.77 40.63 50.29 46.36
Kasperi Kapanen R 27.40 15.97 54.35 42.31 56.52
Connor Carrick D 26.45 33.47 37.21 45.31 46.28
via naturalstattrick.com

Looking at Leivo’s linemates last year it’s clear he wasn’t being given opportunities up the roster like he had in previous seasons, he was being tested to see if he could improve the 4th line. Of his most common linemates, he did exhibit positive results with both Dominic Moore and Kasperi Kapanen, which isn’t too bad of a 4th line. He didn’t respond well to playing with Matt Martin, which is no longer an issue, but also struggled with his next three most common linemates, Komarov, Plekanec, and Kadri.

Maintain the Status Quo

At this point it’s pretty clear that Leivo is good enough that we were probably right to question playing Matt Martin and Leo Komarov ahead of him, although if Babcock was looking for what they bring to roster, it’s very clear that’s not what Leivo brings at all. The fourth line for the Leafs seems to have existed as a penalty killing center accompanied by physicality, and whichever winger was presently in the doghouse for Mike Babcock. In all likelihood that has changed now that Komarov and Martin are no longer options, but there’s still nothing pointing to Mike Babcock having changed his mind on Josh Leivo.

Josh Leivo for his part has moved away from the trade request talk of last season and has spoken about his offseason development and the benefits of adding John Tavares to the Leafs roster. That doesn’t necessarily mean he’s excited for the same old routine, but the fact that he’s speaking about the Leafs at all shows the some potential for the relationship to continue.

At this point it seems like maintaining the status quo is the best option for the Leafs and possibly for Leivo as well. For the Leafs they get a safety net for if Ennis doesn’t pan out, they have a skilled winger they can use if Johnsson needs a bit more time, they have someone who will push players like Trevor Moore and Carl Grundstrom a little harder if they want to make it. Additionally they shouldn’t be in any rush to take scraps for Leivo.

For Leivo, he’s being presented with arguably his best chance to earn a lineup spot on the Leafs, he’s got the chance to cash in on his next contract if things go well, and he’ll get to play (hopefully) on a pretty darn good team.

So really everything is the same as it ever was. What do you expect? It’s July.

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  • Jroc

    Status quo. They don’t have as many wingers waiting in the wings this year, he’s as good a 13th forward as you could probably hope for. I would probably prefer the 12th forward be a penalty killer.

    • leafdreamer

      And so would Babs and there’s your answer: Leivo will play only in a scoring winger position and only in case of injury. The opening lineup will include Ennis and Johnson as scoring wingers and Kapanen and a centre that can win faceoffs (Lindholm, Jooris or Gauthier) as penalty killers. If Kappy goes down Cracknell or one of the three above-mentioned centres will play before Leivo. If Ennis or any one of the top 9 wingers goes down or fails to produce, however, Leivo will finally get his chance. It really was only fue to the the lack of injuries in the top of the lineup that Leivo never got a good look – Dubas’s damn sports science department is what’s keeping the kid down.