Acquiring a versatile left-shot forward needs to be crucial part of Maple Leafs’ deadline plan
Photo credit:Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports
By Nick Barden2 months ago
Ever since Auston Matthews has gone down with an injury, one thing is abundantly clear: the Maple Leafs need to acquire another versatile left-shot forward before the NHL trade deadline.
When the 25-year-old went out with the knee sprain, Maple Leafs head coach Sheldon Keefe chose Pontus Holmberg to be the next player to fill Matthews’ role at centre.
That lasted, well, for only one game.
Holmberg played 14:44 of ice time in that against the Ottawa Senators on Friday. A big reason why he didn’t play more than that was because of the six penalty minutes he had.
But what did Keefe think of his performance?
“Six minutes in penalties is too much.” The coach said bluntly on Friday night.
This was supposed to be a game where Holmberg gained more trust from the Maple Leafs’ coaching staff. Instead, he catapulted himself back to Toronto’s fourth line, where he’s been for most of this season.
On Sunday against the Washington Capitals, it was Alex Kerfoot’s turn to showcase how reliable he could be in the second line centre role.
The 28-year-old played a total of 15:21 of ice time with nearly two minutes of it logged on the penalty kill. Kerfoot played a pretty good game — at both ends of the rink — with Calle Jarnkrok and William Nylander on his wings.
What’s important to note about Kerfoot is that Keefe really trusts him. And when the 28-year-old generates more chances for than against at five-on-five, especially in a larger role, how could you not?
Kerfoot, against the Capitals on Sunday at five-on-five had a 60.00 CF%, a 74.52 xGF%, and a 76.47 SCF%, according to NaturalStatTrick. All in all making for a solid game from the 28-year-old.
But the question is, does Toronto want to enter the playoffs one Matthews or John Tavares injury away from seeing Kerfoot or Holmberg at second line centre? I don’t think so.
Although he is incredibly versatile, which I believe the Maple Leafs really like, there should never be a reason that Kerfoot is that high in the lineup come April unless he’s a winger. There’d need to be more goals from him to be a top-six player in the playoffs.
In Holmberg’s case, I think he could be better suited in that role, if the worst case scenario happens. But after Friday’s game, it’s evidently clear that he’s got a long way to go when it comes to getting Toronto’s coaching staff to trust him higher in the lineup.
With all of that being said, that’s why the Maple Leafs’ biggest need is someone who can play on the wing and at centre. Acquiring a player who can play both positions essentially kills two birds with one stone.
You need a scoring winger? You got it. You need someone who can log big minutes at centre because one of your top-two guys is injured? You got that, too.
David Kampf and Holmberg are both very effective centremen in the bottom six, so I don’t believe either one of them should be moved up or down. Again, unless it’s crucial.
But I do think it’s essential that Toronto acquires a player who can fill both roles, unless they want to ship out more salary to acquire both a left-winger and a centre. Though I’m not too sure the Maple Leafs want to go that big at the deadline.
A few players I think Toronto should target: Ryan O’Reilly or Timo Meier (either one will be tough to get), Max Domi, and Ivan Barbashev. But I’m sure Maple Leafs GM Kyle Dubas has something else up his sleeve that we’re not even thinking of, per usual.
Also, remember that they’re interested in acquiring a defenceman as well. There’s only so much you can do with the salary cap as it is at the moment, and adding both might be difficult.
But the most difficult path awaits them after the trade deadline. It’s up to the Maple Leafs to be strong enough when they step foot onto the trail come April.
Recent articles from Nick Barden