The Maple Leafs have a problem at left wing and it needs to be fixed
Photo credit:Orlando Ramirez-USA TODAY Sports
By Nick Barden1 year ago
As the Maple Leafs’ season progressed last year, the more it felt like Toronto needed a much better left side.
This isn’t a new problem either. Toronto has always had a more favourable right side with Mitch Marner and William Nylander in the top-six. On the left — it was Zach Hyman last year and Michael Bunting this year.
You might be reading this and asking yourself about Alex Kerfoot and why he isn’t a important left-winger (maybe you’re not). We can all be honest with ourselves and say he had a great regular season on all counts, but the playoffs were a different story.
The 27-year-old only had one goal and one assist throughout the seven games played in the first round. And that just can’t happen in a first round as big as this one was.
One of the main reasons why I believe the Maple Leafs went out against Tampa was because of their lack of depth scoring. Toronto had 24 goals in their series vs. the Lightning and only six goals came from their depth players. The rest came from the big four, a healing Michael Bunting, Morgan Rielly, and Jake Muzzin.
To me, it was also about the timing of those goals as well. Nick Paul only had four points for the Lightning, but his two goals squeaked them just passed the Maple Leafs and into the next round. Toronto needs a player that can go out and score big goals when your stars cannot.
That’s where the lack of depth on the left side comes in.
Ilya Mikheyev likely won’t be back next season and the Maple Leafs left-wing support will take a hit. While he didn’t always bury his chances, the 27-year-old was their second-best left-winger. Beyond that, you have Pierre Engvall who is a RFA that Toronto needs to re-sign.
To mention Kerfoot again — because he played on the left too — my mind wanders to whether he’ll be back or sent out via trade around the draft. He begins year four of his contract next year, but I believe Toronto could get a few good assets while also gaining some cap space if they were to move him.
That’s where this off-season becomes really important for the Maple Leafs. Looking at their left side, they’re going to need three wingers unless they keep Kerfoot. If they were to keep him, I’d say he fits on the third line in a role with David Kampf because of his defensive capabilities.
He doesn’t score enough to stay in the top-six consistently and it wouldn’t make sense to move him to the fourth line either. The 27-year-old is still a great player, but I just don’t understand him playing in the top-six at this point.
And while that seems to fix a problem, another one ensues with Nick Robertson. Does he play second line left-wing? I’m not too sure he’s ready for that yet and if he’s not, Robertson isn’t the type of player you throw on the fourth line.
The 20-year-old needs to be placed with better players and the third line would be the best option for him right now. At some point he needs to have a consistent role in the NHL and with the way he played with the Marlies, I believe it’ll begin next season.
Engvall then would fit on the fourth line. He’s always been a fascinating player to watch but his ability to play left-wing and centre makes him perfect in the bottom six. And no, I wasn’t debating a move up in the lineup.
Now the biggest dilemma — who plays left wing on the second line?
I’d like to see how much it would take Mason Marchment to return to Toronto. He had an outstanding 47 points in 54 games this season with the Florida Panthers. The 26-year-old doesn’t have a big enough resume to demand a lot of money, but could be someone the Maple Leafs have interest in.
At six-foot-four, he’d be an interesting player to have within your top-six. Plus, he’s from Uxbridge and has a memorable past with the Maple Leafs’ organization.
If you were to add him to the mix, along with Robertson on the third line and Engvall on the fourth line, would you be comfortable? I believe I would be. Adding another depth winger would help that situation, but the Maple Leafs also have Alex Steeves and a few others in the pipeline who’d like to be up in the NHL at some point.
It’s clear though that the Maple Leafs need a left-wing option on the second line. It’s been a problem for a few seasons now and at some point it needs to be fixed for the Maple Leafs to have success.
(Statistics via Hockey-Reference.com and NHL.com)
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