Plugging a short-term hole at centre

The timeline for David Bolland’s injury could range anywhere from a few weeks to a few months. Erik Karlsson missed 31 games when his left achilles was lacerated last season on a similar play to the one that felled Bolland in Vancouver. Other recent examples are Vancouver’s Kevin Bieksa missing 27 games to a leg laceration in 2009-2010, and Carolina’s Cam Ward missing 13 games in the same season.

We haven’t been updated yet on the severity of the injury, but it’s probably a foregone conclusion that Bolland will be put on the long-term injured reserve shortly. That would keep him out until at least November 29th against Buffalo, but that’s an optimistic date to circle on the calendar given how serious the injury looked at the time and the immediacy of the surgery. Bolland couldn’t put any weight on his leg being taken off the ice.

So what to do at centre? Tyler Bozak is out for at least six more contests so the team is down to just Jay McClement, Nazem Kadri, and Trevor Smith.

James van Riemsdyk used to play centre in college and was drafted as one. The idea to have van Riemsdyk at centre actually has roots back to last summer. At the time, we didn’t think that the move was feasible, but in absence of other options, why not?

Carolina waived Brett Sutter on Sunday and that’s another option. I don’t think that Sutter has much of an NHL future as his career high in points in junior was 57 in 67 games. So far this season, he has pretty gaudy possession numbers facing the worst forward competition among all Hurricanes skaters, and about the only thing going for him is that he’s drawn six penalties. Still, he’s taken 47 draws as well as has at least some experience at the position and he’d be a real short-term solution. I think he’s worth placing a claim on, although I wouldn’t let the existence of Brett Sutter stop me from pursuing other options.

Jerred Smithson was recently signed by the Toronto Marlies to a PTO and he’s the most experienced NHL centreman on that team, but I think Smithson’s career as an NHLer has waned. He has been arguably one of the league’s worst players over the last several seasons. Among 301 forwards from 2010 to 2013 with at least 1500 minutes played, Smithson had the third lowest goals rate, lowest points rate and lowest shots rate. Strictly speaking, his offence isn’t close to being good enough to make him an NHL regular no matter how good at defence he is.

Otherwise on the Marlies, the centremen are Greg McKegg, Andrew Crescenzi and Sam Carrick. McKegg is the leading scorer among that group with four points, which is hard to get excited over. Smith is the best C on the Marlies this season, but he’s already been called up and he’ll probably take over spot third line duties while we wait for Bozak’s return.

Is there anybody out there worth pursuing, do we figure? The Leafs are currently carrying around John-Michael Liles and his $3.75-million salary cap hit. I don’t think Liles has any trade value, but can he be used as insurance if the Leafs wanted to trade a defenceman for a centreman of value? We may have to reset the Cody Franson and Nik Kulemin trade rumours, since they’re probably the two moveable players on the Leafs that could net a reasonable return. If there’s the possibility of Patrik Berglund or Mikael Backlund (Backlund was scratched in Calgary when they played the Leafs and the coaching staff has never seemed to take a liking to him) coming available, with either acting as a decent long-term option is it worth giving up a solid player like Franson or Kulemin?

I don’t really know for sure. The team will have a week or so to dwell on it. The schedule doesn’t really work in the team’s favour if they want to give JvR a game’s worth of a look at centre, since the Leafs play in a back-to-back after their five day break and probably won’t have the time to acquire reinforcements between the games against New Jersey and Boston in time for anybody to suit up. A call-up from the minors could work in that quick of a turnaround, but probably not a trade.

I think the worst moves teams can make is when they feel like they have to make a move. Trading partners that are a little hesitant about giving up a centre could be a little more hesitant to give up a dangled piece if they know that perhaps Nonis needs to make his move quickly. It’s really the next six games, until Bozak is back, that the team really needs to act. That’s where a waiver claim makes sense.

As for Bolland, I don’t think anybody can replace what he’s brought to the lineup so far this season. He’s led Leafs centremen in possession so far this season (and only David Clarkson and Carter Ashton are ahead of him, and neither have played close to the minutes Bolland has). He’s taken 22% of his faceoffs in the offensive zone and 37% in the defensive, and faces above average forward competition. His only weakness so far this season is that he’d taken nine penalties and drawn just one, but he was everything he was advertised as, otherwise.

You never know when injuries will happen, or pile up, but it ultimately needs to be something you can prepare for. There’s a lack of offensive talent in the system down the middle, or really very much NHL experience at the position in general. We’ll see what the Leafs do. I think I might be surprised if they make a trade for a centreman over the next few days. The fourth line plays such limited minutes it probably wouldn’t hurt Smith or McClement too much to take turns hopping over the boards and playing shifts with them. I think I’d experiment with that before moving JvR over to the middle, and I’d probably snap at any C that’s exposed on the waiver wire this week.

The injuries are becoming silly at this point.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

  • STAN

    With the departure of Joe Colborne they are a bit thin at nearly NHL ready centers in the AHL.

    Perhaps they should trade a winger prospect and/or draft pick to get a center that can come up to the NHL and strenghthen the AHL team after that.

    Smithson? I heard he has trouble at an AHL level now.

  • STAN

    Jerred Smithson is worth looking at for a few games. He has excellent faceoff numbers for his career and could be a fourth line centre who helps some and doesn’t hurt the team when he’s out there. This injury really exposes the Leafs’ current lack of depth at centre and at some point they may need to move a solid asset to fill the void – hope it’s not one of the goalies. they are carrying the group so far.

  • There’s no point wasting time with Smithson. They might as well start getting an idea of what they have in McKegg et al rather than make a panic move.

    Shame that such an important position was left so thinly covered but it’s not like anyone could have seen the possibility of needing depth.

    • Thanks tips. This might blow your mind, but if you take away 2 out of top 3 Centre’s from any team, all of these teams would also be lacking for depth. Also, if you think it is tough to acquire a Joe Colborne type centre then you need to take another look at the Players market in the NHL. Lots of guys like him out there.

  • STAN

    Backlund’s an interesting idea – he’s being completely wasted in Calgary right now. Do the Leafs trade a valuable asset like Franson or Kulemin for Backlund, give him second line minutes until Bozak & Bolland return, and then try and trade him again for something the Leafs really need (say, a right side shutdown defenceman?). Is that feasible?

  • How about offering Liles for Desharnais? D. is struggling this season big time
    (maybe just needs a change of scenery), but L. is playing in the minors. Both have about the same salary, except D. has 3 more years instead of 2. Of course, this would be to trade with a rival, but this has worked before (Gravobsky), and it’s not like the Leafs haven’t done it in the past (Kessell trade, Kaberle trade).

    Worse comes to worse, D. doesn’t work out for the Leafs, in which case they can bury him in the minors when Bozack returns, which gives one more center to the Marlies, which they seem to be short on this season.

    On the other hand, D. is a tiny player, so I’m not sure management would even consider this option.

    What do people think?

  • What about keeping the first line intact, let Raymond center the 2nd, McClement on the third and Smith on the 4th?

    1 JVR Kadri Kessel
    2 Lupul Raymond Clarkson
    3 Kulemin McClement Bodie/Ashton
    4 McLaren Smith Orr

    Bring up Lievo for softer teams

    This from an old Canucks article:

    If you’ll recall, Mason Raymond played about 19 games at centre at the tail end of the 2010-11 season after Manny Malhotra’s freak accident in the 72nd game of the season. As a centreman, Raymond played the final nine games of the regular season, the entirety of the team’s first round series against the Blackhawks and the first two games in the team’s second round series against the Predators. Generally speaking he was pretty effective, though he played relatively soft minutes with Ryan Kesler forced to soak up the toughest matchups in Malhotra’s absence (including Kesler’s epic head-to-head blanking of Jonathan Toews in the first round series between the ‘Hawks and the Canucks).

    In the final nine regular season games, Mason Raymond was well above water as the lines he centered controlled 63.2% of Corsi events, outshot the opposition six-to-one and outscored the opposition seven-to-three (with the benefit of some favourable bounces). In his nine postseason games playing pivot, Mason Raymond posted an even scoring chance differential (according to our pals at Copper and Blue) but wasn’t too productive offensively against two capable defensively clubs. In sum, I’d say he acquitted himself well, though he was somewhat sheltered in that role.”

    • Raymond played centre last year for Vancouver as well, with Kesler injured and Malhotra shut down for the year. He was… okay. He’ll do in a pinch. If you’re going to move any player on the Leafs to centre, JvR’s probably the best bet but yeah, Raymond is worth considering for a couple games at least.

  • This is exactly how statistical regression to the mean behaves. Chance, be it injury or other luck events over enough time will always have teams regress to the mean.

    When the leafs collapse during this season, I’m certain the MSM will latch onto to the loss of Bolland and Bozak as being the reason the leafs struggled. But those folks are in a perma-denial that the rationale for the leafs struggles is simply the result of being massively outshot has caught up with them. Then advanced stats will be vindicated and finally everyone will come to realize that last season was entire fluke.

    • Another geek trying to justify his reliance on advance stats.

      I’ll be laughing at you this spring when the leafs are in the playoffs and you’re sitting behind your computer wondering how in the world corsi and all the other numbers could have led you astray. My suggestion for you is Baseball.

    • Are you serious or joking?

      If you are serious, I want to ask a question.

      In quantitative analysis in other areas like finance, the social sciences etc., we look at historical data and we think about mean regression but we still try to identify and isolate emerging trends from that data.

      Sometimes the mean doesn’t regress because it’s part of an emerging trend. To do this we might use tools like a moving average or a sliding temporal average.

      With a stock price, we might compare a 15 day moving average and look for the crossover point of the midpoint 50 day moving average to confirm the emergence of a new trend.

      How are the advocates of advanced stats, like yourself, isolating emerging new trends and not making the mistake of arguing mean regression when a new trend is on the clearly on the rise?

      Because when I look at the Leaf under Carlyle, I think a see a trend. Over three seasons the points percentage under Carlyle is rising .417, .594, .667.

      Carlyle has a career average of .585 coaching 597 NHL games and .613 in the AHL, so maybe he knows something and maybe we have to account for some new factors?