The best line for Mitch Marner is no line at all: Good Idea or Bad Idea?

Jon Steitzer
16 days ago
The final few games of the regular season are the hardest. Thankfully there is Matthews’ 70-goal watch and Nylander’s 100-point watch to hold some level of interest but other than that when you look at the schedule it is just four games of hoping the Leafs can avoid injuries while nestling into the 3rd in the Atlantic position.
With this amount of free time on our hands, I’m going to throw a hot take your way and you can tell me how terrible this idea is on Twitter, Facebook, the comment section, the guestbook for a close relative’s funeral, all the places sports fans feel overly comfortable sharing their wisdom.
Anyways, the premise is simple, Bertuzzi-Matthews-Domi seems to be working. Tavares and McMann seem to be working. William Nylander can either work there or with the Knies-Holmberg connection and whatever one he isn’t on, Calle Jarnkrok will fit in fine with the other. The Leafs have a solid top nine without Marner at the moment, so why not embrace Mitch as a bit of a lineup card Little Hobo and let him wander around to where he’s needed?
Already this idea sounds terrible to you, right? Let me build it out a little. The first idea here is that the Leafs aren’t a great team defensively, but Mitch Marner is one of those bring spots. It might be asking the Leafs a little much line match everyone, but Marner could potentially be someone the Leafs put out to against Sam Reinhart or David Pastrnak, or pick a goal-scoring winger of your choice and at the same time he himself forces a normally offensive situation to be played more conservatively because of what he can do when the play goes the other way. This isn’t a new concept and the Red Wings often used Sergei Fedorov this way in the postseason and while Marner isn’t quite Fedorov, he’s about as close as the Leafs can get.
The idea also allows for the Leafs to pick and choose when they want to overload their offence on a line. Being able to swap out Knies for Marner to give Nylander an outlet is fantastic. Upgrading Domi or Jarnkrok to Marner certainly can benefit Matthews or Tavares, and the Leafs can lean on Mitch at the times when the opposition is overtired or when the Leafs’ forwards are well-rested with an offensive zone start.
Marner becomes an option to slot into the best possible spot later in the game depending on the situation it calls for. When Sheldon Keefe shortens his bench, he’s either putting Marner in the best place to generate offence or the best place to protect the lead.
The thing that also needs to be made clear is that Marner should still be on the ice over 20 minutes a night in the playoffs, so selective usage of Marner rather than a set line involves a lot more hands-on coaching and when the Leafs already have a lousy track record with bench minors for too many men on the ice, that’s an issue. There is also something to be said for consistent lines and committing to chaos is a difficult way to go.
While I think there is a benefit to using an elite player outside of set lines, I think there is probably a less than zero chance we see it, and Marner is likely on Tavares’ wing to start the playoffs before finding his way back to the Matthews line after the first Leafs loss of the playoffs. I won’t die on this hill but think it is an interesting way of tapping into the Leafs’ forward depth to get favourable matchups against what will be a tough path to the Stanley Cup.

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