Why the Maple Leafs need to spread their offence around

Photo credit:John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports
Vicken Polatian
6 months ago
Sheldon Keefe has been known to juggle his lines every now and then, with varying results.
Of course we all remember game 5, in the bubble, a must-win game against the Columbus Blue Jackets, when he decided he’d try William Nylander at centre for the first time all season.
We also remember earlier this year in the preseason when once again, Keefe started Nylander up the middle, but this time he had a different thought process:
Three scoring lines. What a concept.
Once again, that experiment failed. If push came to shove and the Leafs had an injury to either Auston Matthews, or John Tavares, who would step up?
On Saturday night, with Matthews sidelined due to an illness, Keefe instead opted to keep his Swedish superstar on the wing, and reunited Mitch Marner with his former London teammate Max Domi.
Instant magic.
Domi has struggled at times this season, but seems to be at his best when thrust in a more meaningful role. He’s shown some chemistry at times with Matthew Knies, and it looked like, at least for one night, he still had the same chemistry with Marner.
This new-look line led Toronto to one of their most dominant wins of the season, combining for three goals, and seven points, all while former GM Kyle Dubas watched from above.
With Matthews returning to the lineup Tuesday against the Rangers, the lines shifted back to normal, but that’s not what is best for this team in the long run.
The Maple Leafs have long been searching for a way to get more offence from bottom of their lineup, and with the experiments they’ve tried in the past why not give that line another look?
Vick’s Experimental Lines
Robertson – Matthews – Jarnkrok
Bertuzzi – Tavares – Nylander
Knies – Domi – Marner
Gregor – Kampf – McMann
Mitch Marner has played around 21-22 minutes a night on average since the Leafs hired Sheldon Keefe.
We’ve seen the struggles he’s had in the postseason, and some of it could be attributed to fatigue and playing too much in the regular season. Pulling Marner’s minutes back SLIGHTLY, could help him have a little extra juice entering what may be a franchise altering post-season in 2024.
He will still get his PP and PK time, and with the way the Leafs roll their lines could still get a few shifts with Matthews in the offensive zone.
Having Marner tear up weaker competition with two highly skilled linemates could also be a lot of fun to watch.
We’ve established the chemistry we’ve seen so far this year with Domi/Knies/Marner, which is why we see Nick Roberston emerge on the top line. For this to work, we’ve added the defensive presence of Calle Jarnkrok to help ease the load on Matthews.
Jarnkrok had a long look on the top line last season, and even earned some high praise from the Leafs 1C.
Putting Robertson in a more offensive role could give him a real chance to shine. The biggest worry with this setup is Keefe’s patience with the 22-year-old is not very high, and his leash seems to be very short.
If we didn’t see instant offence, Noah Gregor could be making an appearance on that left wing pretty quickly which I don’t think anybody wants to see.
While some may question the logic behind these moves, perhaps a slight adjustment in ice time and a fresh look at line chemistry could be the key to unlocking the Leafs’ true potential.
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