The Toronto Maple Leafs lost their best offensive weapon, and what remains isn’t exactly the most talented group of goalscorers. Where will the offence come from this year? We asked our Roundtable to give us their predictions…
My answer to how the Leafs best replace Kessel’s offense is easy – score by committee. No one on the roster (outside of prospects we can only consider in this role down the road) has shown to have the scoring prowess of Kessel on their own, so each line needs to have a good balance of players who are capable of boosting point totals from one of them as much as possible. It’s what you saw in the good Boston years recently, it’s what you see in Anaheim, and it’s what you saw in the post-season from the Kings and Blackhawks in their cup runs that made them absolutely dominant. You could even argue that Tampa scores by committee, and it works in their favor.
Guys like James van Riemsdyk and Tyler Bozak provide offense with no ‘digging’ or ‘dirty goals’, and DEFINITELY no defense, so don’t add the next best offensive player to that line – give them someone like Spaling. Arcobello should be on a line with PA Parenteau and then a guy like Winnik; Lupul should be traded and Grabner should slot in with someone like Grabner and Matthias.
I’m coming up with quick dumb combinations so don’t nitpick those; they’re just a placeholder. The concept is what you should take away from this; it’s really the only way the team will be able to get some scoring in. Four third lines is better than two second lines and two replacement-level fourth lines, after all.
I don’t think it’s a matter of replacing Kessel’s goals, as much as it’s getting the defensive house in order and requiring fewer goals. Obviously, 206 goals in a season is embarrassingly low, and removing a 25 goal scorer doesn’t help, but it makes much more sense for the Leafs to focus their efforts on reducing the 257 goals against total they put up last season, and is an issue that has been more of trend in the previous seasons under both Carlyle and Wilson.
Consider that the players on the Leafs roster that will actually probably be Leafs still when the rebuild is complete are mainly on the blueline (Rielly, Gardiner, Marincin and possibly Percy or Harrington depending on their camps), that’s best investment. Bringing back Winnik, and bringing in other defensively capable forwards like Spaling, Matthias, and Grabner should improve the back checking abilities, and of course Mike Babcock’s systems being an improvement over pretty much anything we’ve seen in the past decade will help.
So assuming the Leafs take an approach similar to what Cat suggested, and the Leafs are successful in reducing goals against, the Leafs should have an improved record this season.
The Leafs have some major work to do on the defensive side of the puck this season, which should be their main priority, and as far as that goes, they’re actually better off without Kessel. But yes, someone has to score. They’re unlikely to have anyone step up with a 30-plus goal season this year, and from last year’s group, they only have three players returning who put up 15 or more in a Leafs sweater – Kadri, Bozak, and van Riemsdyk. They need some of these guys on short term deals to step in and chip in 15 goals or so, and they need Lupul to be healthy. Players like Matthias and Winnik have questionable offensive upside, but they can pour in a few points, and the former has paced for 15 goals or more a couple times in his career, most recently scoring 18 this past season in Vancouver. And of course we have the newly acquired Grabner who falls into this group as well.
Where they can really make up ground is on potential good years from their PTOs, particularly Boyes and Glencross. Both have seen their games decline in their early thirties, but Glencross had 13 goals in just 71 games last season, and Boyes had 14, so they still have a bit of scoring touch. They’ve both actually scored at a pace of 22 goals per season over their careers, so they could have a decent season or two left in them.
Basically the Leafs’ lineup is loaded with a bunch of guys who CAN give you 15 goals, now we need to see how many can deliver.
It’s definitely going to be a ‘score by committee’ set-up this coming season, but it’s going to be equally important to put players in positions to succeed and carefully craft the lines.
Specifically, I’m speaking of James van Riemsdyk and Nazem Kadri – Toronto’s most offensively gifted forwards now that Phil Kessel is in Pittsburgh. The only reason Tyler Bozak ever played centre on the top line was because Kessel and van Riemsdyk could mask his offensive inefficiencies while Bozak (apparently) made up for the defensive inefficiencies. Without Kessel, there’s no reason to leave Bozak on the top line. Instead, offence will come from whatever van Riemsdyk and Kadri can manage together. If Toronto loads up the top line with their best offensive talent, both of them could be 60 point players this season if everything goes well.
Another area where Toronto will hopefully get their offence is from the back end. It’s been widely expected that Morgan Rielly will receive a bigger role on the team this year, and it’s not out of the question that with first line minutes and top power play duties, Rielly could break out for 40-50 points (his career high being 29 points in 81 games).