The Maple Leafs shouldn’t want Tom Wilson, they should want the next Tom Wilson

Photo credit:Nick Wosika-USA TODAY Sports
Jon Steitzer
10 months ago
The word on the street is Tom Wilson is available. That’s created a lot of excitement in Leafs land, especially when one of the dominant narratives coming out of the playoffs is that the top six was pushed around. We’ve been down this road before, but I’m not sure we are wrong to go down this road again.
I’m going to start off with an acknowledgement. I get the appeal of Tom Wilson. He’s big, he’s tough, he doesn’t look out of place in the top nine of a forward group and often you can trust him on one of the top two lines, helping make space for your stars. He’s going to fight for them. He’s going to throw a big hit. He’ll be a lightning rod of attention that takes the pressure off them when times aren’t going great. In theory, Tom Wilson looks like a great fit. Just like David Clarkson did.
Yeah, I’m bringing up David Clarkson and for good reason. There is a reason why the Capitals are suddenly willing to part with one of these mythological big men who can play in the top six, it’s because he’s nearing 30 years old and played less than half a season last year. The combination of age and playing hard hockey doesn’t mix so well and a $5M+ contract that needs to be renegotiated after next season isn’t so hot either.
At this point the Leafs would probably be wiser to go the vintage Tom Wilson route and sign Milan Lucic, he’s not going to cost you $5M, he stays in the lineup whether you want him to or not and will still face punch on command. Now you could also make a case that what is even easier than that is bringing back Wayne Simmonds. This is the never-ending spiral of chasing aging toughness.
There is also the small matter of what it would cost to bring in Tom Wilson, which goes beyond his $5.1667M price tag. At the very least it seems like the Leafs would be returning Boston’s first round pick to Washington, is 30 games of Tom Wilson really worth a first round pick when Nick Ritchie is available for free?
Not so subtly I’ve listed Clarkson, Simmonds, Ritchie former Leaf attempts at addressing toughness alongside Milan Lucic and Nick Ritchie, Brad Treliving’s acquisitions in Calgary. Outside of the Flames not having a bad time with Nick Ritchie, it’s hard to view any of these as positive acquisitions, and speak to a couple of things that really need to be considered.
The first thing is that a tough player needs to find their fit in the lineup. This is like how Mason Marchment did well in Florida but had a noticeable drop off in Dallas. Generally heavy hockey players need to find their fit with the linemates. They aren’t the play drivers on a line, they are complementary players and if their style of play doesn’t complement their linemates, they aren’t much use. See the Nick Ritchie top six experiment.
The second thing is going back to what I mentioned early on when discussing Tom Wilson as a good option and that is the combination of age and injury history work against him. Adding a Tom Wilson option might make sense and actually justifies things like the Nick Ritchie signing because it was a move for a younger option with plenty of time left in his career and healthier history.
The next Tom Wilson is needed and as far as I can tell the best three options available are all on the Coyotes roster.
The first option is the name brand option that will still cost you $4.3M if the Coyotes are even willing to part with him and that is Lawson Crouse. Crouse has a couple of 20 goal seasons to his name now and has that first round draft pick pedigree like Wilson that makes him seem more viable as a top six player. Crouse plays a little cleaner than Wilson and that might be seen as a drawback in this scenario because being a sonofabitch is part of what makes players like Wilson, Lucic, and Clarkson desirable. Crouse might be too smart for his own good.
Jack McBain is a 23 year old hitting machine who had 12 goals and 26 points in his first full NHL season. The best might be yet to come for this 6’4 forward and as a restricted free agent there might be an in to making a trade if the Coyotes will see him priced out of their lineup.
There’s also the make Auston happy approach and that is going with a former USNTDP teammate in Christian Fischer. Here’s a player that works out with Matthews and while his 13 goals and 27 points last season was his breakout year, there is something to be said for chemistry and keeping your superstar happy. Fischer should also be the most cost affective approach of the players given.
I can appreciate that no one really wants to bring stats into a Tom Wilson discussion and numbers aren’t really how decisions are made when it comes to a player like Wilson, but I think it is important to highlight that he is a passenger more than a driver.
The same traits can be said about pretty much any player that you’d bring in instead of Tom Wilson as well. They aren’t puck carriers. Checking doesn’t equal defensive results. And when they aren’t scoring and just taking bad penalties there is going to be a desire to push them down the lineup.
Still…Tom Wilson isn’t a bad idea. It’s just one that is becomes worse when you consider injury history, age, cap hit, cost to acquire, his pending free agency status, and the evidence of Nick Ritchie and Wayne Simmonds showing that this type of player hasn’t worked in the Leafs top six.
Going with someone who isn’t Wilson helps mitigate a lot of those risks while still getting the Leafs moving in the direction of a tougher team to play against. Don’t get overly attached to the name brand option. It seems entirely possible to go cheaper with the same results.

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