5 lineup changes the Maple Leafs need to consider ASAP

Photo credit:Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports
Shane Seney
7 months ago
The Toronto Maple Leafs managed to secure a point against the Boston Bruins thanks to some nifty work from Mitch Marner and Auston Matthews as well as a strong performance in net from Ilya Samsonov. The Leafs sit 5-3-2 through the first 10 games of the season and while there’s been lots to like and a lot of positives to consider, head coach Sheldon Keefe needs to make a few tweaks to his lineup if he wants to get the most out of this group.
Unfortunately there’s several Maple Leafs who are off to terrible starts and moving things around a little could be beneficial for a number of players. Here’s five lineup changes Keefe should be pondering about:

Morgan Rielly Back to PP 1 Full Time

The John Klingberg experiment was something I was truly looking forward to this season. A new #3 in blue and white and hopes of forgetting about the last player who wore the number. Instead, he hasn’t necessarily been better than Justin Holl and he’s certainly not been a better option than Morgan Rielly on the Leafs top power-play unit.
Keefe has sprinkled Rielly on PP1 a couple of times this season but it needs to be a permanent basis. While it’s nice having a right-handed defenceman snap the puck around at the point and there’s some times where being a righty has actually been an advantage to his space on the ice, there’s been far too many times where Klingberg hasn’t been able to connect on a pass, get a shot through, or make the proper read. Rielly is more familiar with the strengths, weaknesses and more importantly the tendencies of the Maple Leafs top unit, so Keefe should make the change. He uses his speed more to create space and while there was lots of times he should have shot the puck more last season, he’s starting to know better when to become a threat and when to look to pass. Rielly does a better job of taking what the defense gives him, where Klingberg likes to force things a bit more a try the riskier play.
Toronto sits fourth in the league with the man advantage, which is a great spot, however there’s absolutely no reason why they can’t be top dog in the NHL. Consider this, Rielly has played an average of almost two minutes less a game on the power play compared to what Klingberg’s been getting, meanwhile Rielly has more points on the PP this season. There’s one change that needs to stick.

Matthew Knies to the Top Line

Another move that needs to stick is having Matthew Knies move to the top line alongside Marner and Matthews. While Calle Jarnkrok is a player both of the big guns like to play with because he’s got Zach Hyman vibes with his ability to retrieve pucks and use his speed to his advantage, Knies has all of these tools and more. The ceiling on the Leafs rookie forward is sky high and eventually, he could be the best all-around player on the team. I’d say he’s a long ways away from that, but he shouldn’t be a long ways away from playing top minutes with #34 and #16.
Knies hasn’t been able to find the scoresheet as much as he’d like, with only two goals and four points in 10 games, however he’s been so impressive with his ability to track down pucks, hound defenders and use his size and underrated soft hands to create himself space and to dangle in some high-traffic areas of the ice. Knies has been impressive since joining the Leafs late last season and it’s time for Keefe to take the leash off and let the youngster get some run on the top line.

Goodbye Holmberg, Hello Robertson

Pontus Holmberg has done nothing to show me he’s warranted to stick around this season. He’s kind of just been out there. In six games he has yet to record a point and while that’s not his job as fourth-line centre, it’s felt like he’s created absolutely nothing offensively and anything his line has been producing, Noah Gregor has been the reason why. So much so, Gregor got moved up against the Bruins because of how fast he was playing and how effective he was last night.
Holmberg is winning only 38% of his faceoffs, he’s only registered two hits in six games and he’s hardly seen a sniff on the penalty kill. So, why is he on the team?
It’s time the Maple Leafs shuffled their lines and made room for Nick Robertson on the wing. Yes, it’s going to take a serious overhaul to balance things out properly if Holmberg is no longer an option down the middle, but the Leafs have the tools to do so.
Robertson is a weapon, he’s an effective offensive player and there’s been a couple of two or three games stretches throughout his NHL career where he’s been one of the most dangerous players on the Leafs. He has a world class shot and a work ethic that’s unmatched. He’s hungry and it’s time to let the dog eat. He has seven points in seven games with the Marlies, and if he gets one in the first game of his callup, the confidence could come back in a major way and the Leafs could have another winger who could provide some offense.

Bertuzzi and Domi Need to Be Shuffled Around

There’s no denying the fact Toronto has ZERO secondary scoring right now. And where’s all that piss and vinegar everyone was talking about before the season? Yes, the big guns are on fire up front, but there’s been no support. Tyler Bertuzzi was brought in, given top line minutes and has since been demoted to the fourth line during games. Three points in 10 games will do that and boy he’s looked out of place.
Max Domi hasn’t scored a goal yet and has recorded only four assists. He’s been yelled at multiple times from his own bench about moving his feet and there’s been too many times where he’s standing around and watching. He’s shown some flashes of brilliance as a facilitator with Knies on his line, and this is something the Leafs can get more out of Domi if they move him to centre. The pesky forward was his best of late when he played in Chicago and was seeing big minutes down the middle. In 60 games as a Blackhawk, Domi put up 49 points and was winning his faceoffs at a 54% clip. Much better than the 38% we’re seeing from Holmberg at the moment.
Yes, lots of changes to make for a team who sits with a winning record, but if Keefe wants to maximize the output of the group, he needs to make some adjustments. For arguments sake, here’s how the lineup would be better situated:
Knies – Matthews – Marner
Robertson – Tavares – Nylander
Bertuzzi – Domi – Jarnkrok
Gregor – Kampf – Reaves
Robertson needs offensive minutes, meanwhile Gregor has been skating like a mad man and creating lots of chances off the rush. He’s someone to watch moving forward as an option for a look in the top six but when Robertson gets called up, he should be given some time with the second line. Toronto’s defense is in shambles as Timothy Liljegren is out long term and Jake McCabe isn’t quite ready yet. Neither is Conor Timmins. The Leafs need two of these guys back before things get out of hand on the blue line.
For now, Keefe needs to make some serious adjustments up front and a big one is getting Knies on the top line and shuffling Domi to centering the third line. Holmberg down, Robertson up and Gregor as someone to watch who could be ready for a bigger role. 10 games in and there’s a ton more questions than answers.

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