Tyler Bozak. Mikhail Grabovski. Tim Connolly. David Steckel. Jay McClement. Quick, which of these is not like the others?
Four of those players will be Toronto Maple Leafs next season. One will indubitably not. If any hockey mathematics are to be trusted, it’s that a team can’t have five guys playing centre with only four spots available.
The big thing I look at when analyzing this trade is “well, is it a good signing?” There is no doubt in my mind that Jay McClement is a very competent hockey player who can play excellent in the defensive end. Soaking up contracts of good hockey players isn’t an issue. Then next question you run into is “where are you going to play?”
And, well, that’s the issue isn’t it? As far as I saw it, the Leafs had four centremen locked up for the next season and it wasn’t much of a positional issue. Tyler Bozak isn’t terrifically strong offensively or defensively, but stick him between Phil Kessel and Joffrey Lupul and he wouldn’t hamper their offensive totals. David Steckel was the tough minutes guy, Tim Connolly was a third liner, as disappointing as he was, and Mikhail Grabovski is Mikhail Grabovski—that second line centre position is qucikly becoming one of the most important ones in hockey.
Other than an upgrade for Bozak, perhaps the Leafs didn’t need a centreman. McClement isn’t offensively capable enough to provide an upgrade for Bozak, but from a depth perspective, he’s very very good. Good enough to compete with Connolly for depth minutes.
Then you see this:
Burke on Carlyle’s input into signing McClement: “Randy was pretty excited about this.”
— James Mirtle (@mirtle) July 1, 2012
The coaching staff wanted an extra body in the middle position in a depth role. Unfortunately, that means the exit of either Connolly or Bozak, unless the team is intent on McClement replacing Steckel, who has a year, and $1.1M, left on a pretty good deal.
So this leaves the Leafs with the option of moving a centreman to the winger spot or getting rid of one. Considering a backlog on depth wingers that includes Matt Lombardi, Mike Brown, Leo Komarov, Matt Frattin, Nazem Kadri and even Carter Ashton perhaps, there just isn’t enough room for all the forwards listed above. Is there another deal in the works? The Leafs still need to a] get rid of forwards and b] improve at the #1 centre position. The McClement signing doesn’t help that, but it does get a good player to the Leafs on a good deal.