Earlier this summer my co-worker Thomas Williams provided you all with the straight poop on how lousy Ben Harpur is as an NHL defensemen.
The results left little room for optimism and left me frightened that the Leafs would use up one of their slots in a questionable defensive group on the reanimated corpse of Hal Gill. There were however two things that I couldn’t shake, and at least one of them applies to Cody Ceci as well, and that’s “well, they played on an incredibly shitty Senators team”. While it’s true the Senators do magnificently suck, I’m cautious about how many sins I will forgive of players for that.
The second thing I couldn’t shake from that post was the title “If Ben Harpur plays a single game for the Leafs next season, they might as well stop trying.” This is pretty much true, but my contrarian nature makes me want to find the loophole to that, and I think I’ve found it.
Make Ben Harpur play forward.
I’m glad you theoretically asked. There are a number of reasons for this, and we’ll go at them one by one.
1. He can’t be any worse at it as he has been on defense
Harsh but true. There is no reason to believe that Ben Harpur has a future playing in the NHL as a defenseman. He was a throw-in contract in a deal centered around swapping Nikita Zaitsev for Cody Ceci. That’s a sign that you are on the way out. If someone presents you with an opportunity that can change your situation, you should probably take it.
2. It might address a need for the Leafs
Outside of Korshkov, there isn’t a whole lot of size in the Leafs wing pipeline. And even players like Korshkov or Gauthier don’t intend to use their size in an intimidating manner. Ben Harpur could be a big physical presence in the offensive zone, something that has been lacking for years. You could make the case that they’ve lacked that on defense too, but we already know Harpur isn’t good enough to fill that role.
3. It worked for Dustin Byfuglien
Once upon a time Dustin Byfuglien was an 8th round pick (yes, 8th) in the Blackhawks organization as a defenseman. Then one day the GM decided they needed to park a big boy in front of the other teams goaltender to make him crazy and to score goals. Byfuglien had the size and filled the role. The rest is history.
The odds of this ever coming true for Harpur are minimal, but doesn’t the slightest chance that it could make you feel like this is more worthwhile than having Harpur steal icetime from one of the Marlies promising prospects?
4. He has a ton of experience screening goaltenders
Wouldn’t it be nice if it wasn’t his own goaltender for once?
5. It’s easier to shelter forwards
That extra line serves to keep Harpur off the ice when you don’t want him to be. You aren’t forced to play him because of too much time between whistles.
6. Don’t you want the satisfaction of somehow getting something out of this deal with Ottawa?
Oh the smug satisfaction we’d all have up until Harpur got paid over $3M a season in arbitration.
7. Okay, it’s really hard to make a case for this, but we owe it to all the “Make Kaberle a forward” & “Make Gardiner a center” ancestors before us.
I’m just acknowledging that I fully know how bad this idea is, I just think it’s all we’ve got to go on with this guy.
8. He can probably clear waivers and figure a lot of this stuff out on the Marlies at first.
And if he doesn’t clear waivers, we can only hope he’s taken by an Atlantic division team that wants us him on defense after spending the entire training camp at forward.
The competition for forward positions on the Marlies is probably just as intense as the defensive competition, but at forward the Leafs can still be chasing upside with Harpur, where on defense it seems like we’re just running out the clock on his contract.
It ain’t going to happen. No one in the Leafs organization has suggested it will happen. I don’t think anyone is too worried about making it happen. The point remains that Ben Harpur struggled to hold a job on a bad Senators team, and there’s no chance in hell he earns a spot on the Leafs unless there is something significantly different about his game. Maybe he’ll find that on the blueline with the Marlies, and I’ll eat my words.
Until we know for certain, I’ll be the jackass looking at training camp line rushes hoping to see Harpur draw in on the wing at least once.