Exploring whether or not the Leafs truly need more secondary scoring

Photo credit:Matt Blewett-USA TODAY Sports
Jon Steitzer
1 year ago
Let’s start with the obvious answer to the title of this post: secondary scoring couldn’t hurt the Leafs. And let’s start with an obvious caveat that it couldn’t hurt the Leafs as long as their team defense doesn’t suffer due to bringing in more secondary scoring. If the Leafs could drop someone into their lineup tomorrow that would outperform Zach Aston-Reese offensively without having to give up his defensive zone play or his willingness to hit absolutely everything, the Leafs would probably make that upgrade.
Of course, it is more complicated than that, but it’s also worth taking a look at how the Leafs measure up when it comes to their secondary scoring and the challenges that come with that.
First let me establish what I’m using as my definition of primary, secondary, tertiary, and non-scorers.
Primary scorers are the top quarter of forwards in total points per sixty with a minimum of 25 games played. Secondary scorers will be that next quarter of forwards, Tertiary next, and finally your non-scorers make up the bottom group. It’s not the most in depth approach, but it’s simple. It considers all situations as well, and is largely meant to explore the simple idea that the Leafs need secondary scoring.
When it comes to primary scoring, the Leafs are certainly well covered. William Nylander, John Tavares, Auston Matthews, and Mitch Marner are all in the top 32 of the league in P/60 and considering this group extends down to the top 96 players, that’s a lot of high end scoring. The 96 player range should give enough for each team to have a top line of primary scorers, the Leafs have enough that they are carrying over onto their second line. That’s a win.
When it comes to secondary scoring it also looks like the Leafs are okay, with Michael Bunting, Calle Jarnkrok, and Pontus Holmberg all being classified as secondary scorers. Bunting and Jarnkrok have proven to be quite capable in rounding out the top six, and Pontus Holmberg, despite what he has been given to work with has done well, but the evidence certainly suggests that he could be the Leafs gateway to sheltered scoring option in the bottom six.
Next come the Leafs tertiary scorers and those are Alex Kerfoot and Pierre Engvall. If you look at the seven players preceding them, they kinda round out the Leafs top nine adequately and leaves the mess of Kampf, Aston-Reese, and Dryden Hunt as the non-scoring options. That’s not saying they are bad players, Kampf has certainly proven to add defensive value and Aston-Reese’s physical play has also been appreciated, but they very much round out the Leafs as having a conventional division of their forwards, albeit with an elite collection of primary scorers. On the surface the Leafs don’t look too bad, but comparisons show where the Leafs have room to grow.
The Bruins have five players that fall in the primary scoring group. Pastrnak (4th in the league), Marchand, Krejci, DeBrusk, and Zacha. It’s not until secondary scoring that you see Patrice Bergeron and Taylor Hall, and they are joined by Charlie Coyle and Trent Frederic. The Bruins entire top nine can be made up of primary and secondary scorers while having Nick Foligno, Craig Smith, and AJ Greer as their tertiary scoring. Considering the skillsets those tertiary players also bring to the mix, the success of the Bruins is pretty understandable.
Interestingly enough the Lightning more closely model the Leafs. They do have a slight edge when it comes to secondary scorers with 4, but they match the Leafs with 4 primary scorers. Part of their benefit is their one tertiary scorer is Anthony Cirelli, who could go on a tear as well and offers Selke level defensive play to offset his production challenges.
The Leafs lack an offensive driver within their bottom six forward group and that is a big part of the problem. With the exceptions of Bobby McMann, and Nick Robertson, there haven’t been players chucking pucks at the net. And while Kerfoot and Engvall don’t necessarily kill offense, they aren’t players that initiate it on their own, nor can that fully be expected of Pontus Holmberg either. There is also the fact that no matter what happens, there will always be a place for David Kampf and more of a suppression driven line in the bottom six for the Leafs, so presumably that consists of Kampf, Engvall, and one other player that won’t be looked at for offense, and focus needs to shift to giving Holmberg some offensive outlets, even if it starts with Kerfoot in the short term.
It’s probably no surprise that when looking at top flight offensive additions at the trade deadline, the options are limited. Timo Meier is a clear cut above the field, with Vladimir Tarasenko and Brock Boeser being the other primary scoring options. You can include Dylan Larkin in that group if Detroit doesn’t think they can get him signed. And if you want to go the former Leaf route, James van Riemsdyk also represents one of the better scoring options but comes with the same defensive concerns we know (and loved?) from his time in Toronto.
After that you see the field open up with several secondary scoring options, such as Kane, Toews, Roslovic, Henrique, Garland, and Monahan. Max Domi is in that group as well, but with most of his points coming on the powerplay and his truly horrific defensive play, he is someone worth skipping over completely. Former Leaf Alexander Barabanov rounds out this group, but it might be a bit too painful to reacquire him at an inflated price.
The biggest challenge for the Leafs while addressing secondary scoring is not sacrificing their strengths like shot suppression or taking what little physical presence they currently have in the lineup out in order to make room for offense and that is usually the challenge when it comes to looking at players like Engvall and Kerfoot, whom seem to be the fan favourites for removal from the lineup. As far as tertiary players go, they do offer value to the Leafs similar to what Foligno and Smith provide for the Bruins, and moving on from them unnecessarily isn’t ideal for the Leafs.
To some extent the Leafs have a lot of things working for them already. The top six, when healthy is ready to go. A Kerfoot, Kampf, and Engvall trio is very usable but clearly not the answer offensively. Knies and Holmberg potentially make up two thirds of a capable sheltered scoring line and really the Leafs just need to find that one last significant offensive piece to mirror what is working for their division rivals up front.

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