In a completely in character move Mike Babcock expressed his appreciation for what Zach Hyman brings to the Leafs…
Babcock’s full answer to the get heavier question, including the nice use of keister: pic.twitter.com/VBhMTyUvVk
— James Mirtle (@mirtle) February 26, 2019
While I might not be the biggest fan of Mike Babcock, I can certainly agree with him that Zach Hyman has been great, and that Trevor Moore shows a lot of promise on being able to follow in the footsteps of Hyman and be that guy. If Hyman is Holmstrom it seems possible that Moore is Franzen. (And if we want to continue this Wings analogy that probably makes Connor Brown Dan Cleary.)
Mike Babcock has always built his lines like the line chemistry engine from the late 90s EA games. You have to have a grinder, a playmaker, and a sniper or power forward. And in a bizarre turn of events the type of player the Leafs seem to run out of the most are the grinders, a problem I never remember having in NHL 98.
So how do we find that balance, well, the prime example comes with the Tavares line. You’ve got Mitch Marner as one of the premier playmakers, you got Tavares as the elite goal scorer, and Zach Hyman, who does Zach Hyman things very well and I should note has the speed and the sense to keep up with the line which prevents him from being an offensive hindrance.
There is the Babcock template. He’s certainly tried to implement with the idea that Kapanen might be a grinder, before learning his too offensively gifted to used in that manner. He’s tried to implement it with Connor Brown, but Brown requires playing him on his off wing to maintain the offensive ability and that hasn’t worked out overly well, but now there is an opportunity to try Trevor Moore up higher in the lineup, which I’ll admit, I’m not entirely sold on doing, so I’ll propose the following suggestions for lines that both Mike Babcock and I can enjoy.
First, I’m going to suggest these with Kadri returning because, hey, it seems to make sense to consider this long term instead of stop gap and Kadri is an important piece to this because I want to argue that Kadri needs to be Matthews’ left winger.
A line of Kadri-Matthews-Kapanen, is incredibly skilled, as three players capable of scoring between 20-40 goals, and has more than enough “sandpaper” between Kapanen and Kadri and over powering size in Matthews to embody the principles of what Babcock looks for on all of his lines.
As much as lobbying for Johnsson continuing to be the LW for Matthews, you’ll see that his skillset might be optimized given his new linemates instead. With the Kadri-Matthews-Kapanen line we’ll assign Kadri the grinder/playmaker role, Matthews the sniper/playmaker role, and Kapanen the sniper/grinder role. So much chemistry I can practically see my xBox overheating with joy as I sim my way to championship after championship.
The third line is about taking a leap of faith on William Nylander as a center, a role he’s going to need to spend the next month and half adjusting to as his full time gig. He’ll need Andreas Johnsson as his full time winger, and sniper to his playmaker, but after that, I’m not sure who is the best option for the line’s grinder
Connor Brown fits the bill as a natural right wing. He’s been the grinder up and down through the lineup for a number of years, and arguably has been the guy patiently waiting for an opportunity to do more. It’s also entirely possible that if he does well in this role this season, he could have some serious value attached to him if the Leafs are looking to trade him this summer. We also risk falling in love with him here, and not wanting to trade him, but reality is some of these guys aren’t going to be here next October.
Trevor Moore is the exciting new option, but the one that is also here on an emergency recall right now, and might simply inherit the role next year when Connor Brown vacates. He’s going to be the spot duty guy throughout the lineup and attaching him to one role when we really don’t know what he is at the NHL level is likely premature. In Kadri’s absence maybe you try Brown with Matthews and let Moore have this spot for now. Or you simply give Moore his chance with the big dogs and let Brown settle into his new line.
The option that personally intrigues me the most is the idea of adding Freddie Gauthier to the third line as Nylander’s faceoff specialist/defensive zone coverage enhancer. Gauthier is capable of filling the puck retrieval and net presence role in the offensive zone as well, while not having terrible hands. The knock on him would be that he lacks the speed to keep up with Johnsson and Nylander. Going with Gauthier also means that the Leafs would be making a tough call on who centers the 4th line for the Leafs, and between Petan, Marleau, and to lesser extent Ennis and Moore, there are options that exist there as well.
Going with Gauthier on the 3rd line only seems to enhance the idea of 4th line being a strong sheltered option as well. Not that the same wouldn’t be true with Brown or Moore on the third line, but given the progress that Gauthier has made this season, and the way his abilities would provide a safety net for William Nylander, this is the idea I’m presently most attached to.
That brings us to the “what’s left?” fourth line and if anything it is still a celebration of the depth that the Leafs enjoy. I feel like with this line we are definitely seeing two good players still being left out in the cold and capable of parachuting into holes in the lineup based on their skillsets.
I’m going to suggest that Marleau-Petan-Brown is the 4th line that warrants the most consideration. The development of Petan as a center is the best outcome for the Leafs, as well as it allows Marleau and Brown to play in their most natural roles. The cliched roles are all there as they would be Sniper (Marleau)- Playmaker (Petan)- Grinder (Brown) and achieve that balance that Babcock and EA love. Additionally, you have Tyler Ennis is who is capable of coming into the lineup to backfill and Trevor Moore still as the emergency recall, future 3rd line star in waiting on the Marlies (but actually the Leafs as soon as playoffs roll around.)
To summarize, this is what I’m suggesting and what I think works within the ideal Mike Babcock world (except for his likely preference that Kadri and Gauthier are full time centers)…
Extras: Ennis and Moore
By all means, I full expect everyone who reads this to tell me I’m wrong, but I thought it was at least going through the effort of hot take-ing up some lines as trade speculation is on hiatus for a while. I just wish that playing around with the defensive pairings were as fun.