By Anthony M.
With the dust settling around free agency, it’s clear adding depth was the top priority for the Toronto Maple Leafs management. For several years, the Leafs have lacked the kind of depth (and many other things) that could make them an eastern conference contender. On July 1st, the club took significant steps to address this issue. While other teams made statements towards their future gobbling up the larger names available, the Leafs made a statement of their own. Leaving the top two lines intact sent a message to all of Leafland and teams elsewhere of just how much faith they have in their core, including number one centre Tyler Bozak and forward David Clarkson.
Say what you will about these two players but I believe them to be important pieces to this team’s future success.
Firstly, Bozak has significantly improved his game over the last four years with the organization. In just 58 games last year, he had 48pts (19G, 30A), a career high in the NHL. In the lockout shortened season, he put up 28pts (12G, 16A). If you extrapolate that over a full 82 game season, he could have done even better finishing with 56pts (24G, 32A). Centremen David Backes and Derek Stepan finished with 57pts this past year. Obviously, this example leaves room for error, but it speaks to Bozak’s potential as a number one centre.
As for Clarkson, sorry to break the news but during his NHL career he’s hit the 30 goal mark once. His next best season was in 2009 when he finished with 17. To expect that kind of production alongside an albeit talented but young Nazem Kadri is unreasonable. Let’s not forget how Clarkson started his time in Toronto: with a big fat suspension. In all, he played 60 games and was never able to get his legs under him and adapt to his new role. Despite that, I have high hopes for his sophomore season with Toronto. Maybe he can take a page out of the Toronto Blue Jays’ book: after faltering last year in a season full of expectations to this season where, up until a recent slump, they held first place in the AL East, their turnaround has been impressive, to say the least. As we know, slumps in hockey come and go, expect Clarkson to have a bounce back season.
While the top two lines have remained intact, the bottom six is completely revamped, with the exception of Peter Holland and Troy Bodie.
Managements attempt to improve the team from the back up will have to be tested, but from what I can see this team will be a much faster, grittier and ultimately harder to play against. Basically, more like the team that took the Boston Bruins to game seven in 2013. It wasn’t a tough decision to bring back forwards Matt Frattin and Leo Komarov. Komarov alone has a lot to offer. He didn’t contribute much offensively in Toronto (9pts, 4G, 5A), but the pesky forward led Moscow Dynamo (KHL) in points with 34 in 52 games this year. His offensive upside has yet to be tapped in the NHL, but if placed on the third line alongside Peter Holland and Frattin, the group as a whole could be extremely productive.
Another addition, Petri Kontiola, was originally drafted by the Chicago Blackhawks 196th overall in 2004. The Finnish centremen who can also play wing will likely do so with Mike Santorelli in the middle and Troy Bodie on the left. Kontiola, who’s found his offence recently in the KHL has quickly asserted himself as a big game scorer. In 25 playoff games with Chelyabinsk Traktor, Kontiola had 19 points (10G, 9A). His ten goals made him the top scorer in the playoffs that year. If he can hone his skills in the NHL, he will make for a solid fourth liner.
Worst case scenario he can handle the interviews for Phil Kessel.
Jokes aside, Kontiola has exceptional vision and passing abilities.
There’s still a lot that needs to happen with between now and October 8th but just for fun here’s how I see the lineup combinations shaking down.
van Riemsdyk – Bozak – Kessel
Lupul – Kadri – Clarkson
Komarov – Holland – Frattin
Bodie – Santorelli – Kontiola
On defence, things are a little trickier. Dion Phaneuf will likely have to play on the left side with Stephane Robidas on the right. That will take some adjusting for Phaneuf who’s much stronger where he is. Assuming he does make the switch, here’s how it’ll look.
Phaneuf – Robidas
Rielly – Polak
Gardiner – Franson
What do you think, do the new additions of Komarov, Frattin, Santorelli, Kontiola, Robidas and Roman Polak make this team better? Or should the top six be shaken up?