Photo Credit: Christian Bonin/TSGPhoto.com
The trade that sent Brian Boyle from the Tampa Bay Lightning to the Toronto Maple Leafs took the city by storm. Finally, the Leafs’ fourth line centre debate was as good as done; if we’re typecasting roles, Boyle fits that role better than just about any player in the National Hockey League. There wasn’t too much concern about the cost for the organization at large, and nor should they; the success of the big club means more than that of the development clubs.
With that said, there is a bit of a multi-layered trickle down to the trade.
Byron Froese’s 23rd goal of the season, shorthanded no less, was a beauty. 3-1 Marlies, though the Devils quickly responded again. pic.twitter.com/oJT68Sx94k
— Jeff Veillette (@JeffVeillette) February 12, 2017
First and foremost, in including Byron Froese in the deal, the Marlies lose their top centre. Straight up, no contest, end of discussion. Froese is currently one goal shy of the American Hockey League lead, with 24 in 48 games; the two players ahead of him have taken more shots and played six more games, and one of them (Greg Carey of Lehigh Valley) has scored 17 of their 25 on the powerplay. Froese also added fifteen assists to that total, giving him 39 points on the year; his 0.81 points/game ranks fourth among Marlies regulars behind Seth Griffith, Brendan Leipsic, and Kasperi Kapanen, and his 0.46 a game at even strength trails Griffith, Leipsic, and Trevor Moore.
Needless to say, that’s a big loss, particularly when you consider that Froese was also playing on both the penalty kill and the powerplay, and was the go-to guy as far as taking faceoffs throughout the year. The good news is that the Marlies have been rolling of late (their 4-3 loss to Hershey on Saturday was just their fourth in their last 17 games), and that both Leipsic and Kapanen, who have been absent for the hot streak, practiced with the team again for the first time since suffering significant injuries (leg for Kapanen, concussion for Leipsic) in mid-January. There’s also the possibility that Ben Smith, who Boyle is replacing, could hit waivers at some point and take Froese’s spot in the lineup; while not quite the same player at the AHL level, he’s still noticeably better in that environment than he has been up top.
In that sense, it would have been very nice for the Marlies to keep one of their star forwards, but there seems to be a selection of replacements at the end of the tunnel. But things do get a bit more complicated.
Lightning have sent Byron Froese to the AHL.
— James Mirtle (@mirtle) February 28, 2017
It looks like the Lightning aren’t too fussed about giving him another NHL shot; something that I find peculiar, but then again, I don’t run their team. This means that he’ll head to the Syracuse Crunch, to help them make a push. Normally, this wouldn’t be the end of the world, but the Crunch are in Toronto’s North Division, and currently lead it with 66 points. Simply making the playoffs is priority number one for the Marlies, but the idea of making a division rival that much better is a little rough.
— Toronto Marlies (@TorontoMarlies) February 28, 2017
Shortly after, the Lightning announced a minor transaction to cap the deal off, sending enforcer Pierre-Luc Letourneau-Leblond to the Marlies on loan. The reasoning behind it? Likely a simple matter of dollars; Toronto will pay for his contract, which comes in at about $25,000-30,000 remaining in real dollars for the rest of the year. Making it a loan ensures that the Leafs don’t hit the 50-contract limit.
As for actually seeing him play? I’m not holding my breath too much Leblond has an edge to him, made most obvious in his days of racking up 250-300 penalty minutes a season earlier in the decade, but Toronto already has an enforcer in Rich Clune who is more capable of contributing offensively, and players like Kerby Rychel, Andrew Campbell, and Andrew Nielsen who aren’t quite there to fight, but aren’t scared of sticking up for their teammates. We’ll probably see something similar to what happened with Justin Johnson towards the end of the year; hangs around the room, is a good role model for the kids, maybe dresses for a warmup or two to throw off the opposition (Toronto did this against Leblond and the Albany Devils down the stretch last year), but doesn’t play much unless they’re short of healthy players.
All things considered, this makes the race for the top of the North Division a lot tougher. The Crunch are a good team and get even better in adding Froese, and Toronto loses a top centre. The hope is that they have the bodies now to alleviate that hole in the lineup, barring anything else happening in the next 24 hours. The Marlies play their next game on Thursday morning against the Bridgeport Sound Tigers.