Maple Leafs Plan Bs, Woll’s expectations, and Toronto’s speed: Leaflets

Photo credit:Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports
Jon Steitzer
10 months ago
As July comes to a close, there is time for one last Leaflets post this month. I am enjoying the challenge of finding things remotely interesting to talk about in the dog days of summer and as much as possible try to hold myself to not making this entirely about signing free agents that the Leafs don’t have the money for or suggesting trades that seem unlikely to occur. Instead I’ll stick to premature takes on a roster that hasn’t played together yet and I think that dovetails nicely into the first topic I wanted to get at.

Hoping for the best, planning for the worst

Hoping for the best and planning for the worst seems to be a core philosophy for Brad Treliving as he has reshaped the Leafs roster this summer. There is potentially a lot to be excited about when it comes to what the best of Tyler Bertuzzi, Max Domi, and John Klingberg could look like.
Bertuzzi could be that feisty puck retriever who doesn’t tolerate any nonsense towards his linemates, Domi could be an improvement on center depth that allows the Leafs to go three lines deep thanks to his strong playmaking abilities, and John Klingberg could find the right fit for allowing him to focus on his strengths rather than having his weaknesses exposed like they’ve been the past couple of seasons. If everything goes right this group moves the bar significantly for the Leafs and if you are hoping for the best or if you have “The Passion” you are understandably excited about what you’ve seen this month.
Leafs fans should also be accustomed to things not going as planned, and to some extent Brad Treliving seems to have mitigated a lot of that risk as well. Max Domi’s career to date doesn’t point to him being a surefire addition. He has put up points well, but not at an elite level and if the trade off to get those points isn’t worth it, Toronto will have to move on. We’ve already touched on John Klingberg’s decline, but if he can’t be that powerplay quarterback and sheltered puck mover, or he gets passed on the depth chart by Timothy Liljegren, he too might not be a fit. Even Tyler Bertuzzi isn’t guaranteed to mesh with the Leafs top six and might be too expensive for the third line. Not all of these things will necessarily happen, but not everything will necessarily go right either and Treliving seems to have planned for that.
The biggest piece of this risk mitigation comes from the use of one year contracts. No matter what the Leafs have an out at the end of the year and that same out should also make all three of the players listed above movable at the trade deadline if the Leafs need to clear cap space as well for their replacements, the movability factor is the second most important factor in the risk mitigation.
The Leafs also have some depth to push the veterans. Matthew Knies is going to want the spot that Tyler Bertuzzi will likely be starting in, Nick Robertson if he gets going could pressure Max Domi, and if Timothy Liljegren isn’t already viewed as being ahead of John Klingberg on the depth chart, he’ll be ready to grab that spot at the first sign of weakness. There’s even Conor Timmins to worry about.
Finally, through the combination of players on the roster and 82 games to figure things out, Brad Treliving has given Sheldon Keefe a fair number of line juggling options including some players with skill sets that previously have been lacking. And while the new look Leafs haven’t hit the ice yet and we don’t know how things will go to start, there is good reason for excitement, but also appreciation that the Plan B and C options don’t look bad either.

What can reasonably be expected of Joseph Woll

Continuing on with the hoping for the best but planning for the worst in a very premature to the season fashion it is time to briefly discuss Joseph Woll.
Woll’s NHL resume to date is exciting. 11 regular season games and 4 post season games pointing to the kid being good. A .924 regular season and .915 post season save percentage is something the Leafs would welcome in their backup and on paper makes him look capable of pushing for a starter job. That’s where we’ll pump the brakes and go back to not only does Woll only have 15 NHL games to his name, but over the past three seasons Woll only has 52 AHL games to his name as well. Through 4 pro seasons Woll has a combined 99 regular and post season games in the NHL and AHL, so averaging just under 25 games a season. This makes Woll about as reliable as Matt Murray for being available and while that can change and last season points to things being better, there is going to be health and availability concerns. That concern is heightened when Samsonov also hasn’t seen much more than a 50/50 tandem workload in his time in the NHL.
The thing with Woll is that in every situation he’s been in, USNTDP, NCAA, AHL, NHL, his numbers have always trended upward, and he’s been able to evolve his game, so this hopefully reduces the potential for him being a flash in the pan so far or that his weaknesses will be too difficult to overcome after NHL shooters and video coaches have seen enough of him. Woll might not be a .924 goaltender forever, but it seems reasonable to believe he can stick in the NHL.
So where does that leave the Leafs? What is reasonable to ask for Woll? And does it involve overworking Samsonov?
It seems premature to view this as a tandem, so I’d say the Leafs need to go into this with the net belonging to Samsonov. It also seems reasonable that the Leafs want to see Woll taking steps to play more than he has so far in his career, so I wouldn’t doubt that a 30 game target is something the Leafs can reasonably have coming into the season given that it also would represent Samsonov having a moderate increase to around 52 games as well. That should result in neither netminder being overworked.
For Woll, in a backup role it seems that .905 is a healthy target and one that if things are going well he can easily achieve. If Woll is pushing beyond .910+ it would be interesting to see if the Leafs lean on him more or if Woll begins to out-achieve Samsonov what happens. Those are things that need to play out in season, but for now, a 30 game/.905 save percentage goaltender who is available when needed seems like a reasonable ask.

Need for speed?

With the departures of Ilya Mikheyev, Pierre Engvall, and even players like Alex Kerfoot, the Leafs have begun to take a step back in the speed department. That’s not the end of the world. The Leafs still have a few burners and skating is just on of the ways the Leafs have been fast, their quick movement of the puck is just as vital to creating opportunity, but the team has a different dynamic, especially in the bottom six, than it did with Kapanen, Engvall, and Mikheyev flying around.
It’s here where I want to highlight two players that this seemingly creates opportunities for.
Nick Robertson is the first one and while I wouldn’t necessarily celebrate the entirety of his skating, he’s been great in straight lines and the Leafs have proven that is something they can use in their bottom six and even on their aggressive penalty kills. Robertson, if he can stay healthy could see his energy bursts as his path to being an everyday NHL player, even if it is in a sheltered bottom six capacity.
The primary player that seems like he can benefit from the Leafs’ need for speed is Sam Lafferty. Lafferty is a player I’ve discussed on this site recently as a potential cap casualty and cited that some of the results the Leafs wanted weren’t there last year. While I think both of those things are fair to say, I think it also ignores that Lafferty’s speed is in demand for Toronto at the moment and with more time to work with Toronto’s coaching staff it’s possible that he can mesh with what the Leafs need him to be on Kampf’s line or elsewhere in the lineup. When things are going right for Lafferty he seems capable enough of playing up in the lineup as well and if speed is something the Leafs need against certain opponents, he is someone the Leafs can rely on. If there is one common message I have on Lafferty it is that he will be one of the most interesting players to watch in training camp this September.

Check out these posts...