Friday, November 8, 2013
Who the hell is going to play centre for this team?
1. The Maple Leafs are going to experience the season's first bout of prolonged adversity now that both Tyler Bozak and Dave Bolland are injured. At first when the news broke that Bozak was sidelined with a mysterious injury, the consensus was, "meh, he sucks, who cares," which is always a great reaction when your No. 1 centre goes down. Plus, it didn't seem all that serious, so Bozak wouldn't miss too much time, but hopefully still enough to see his first line spot taken by Nazem Kadri and find himself demoted. Win-win! But watching Bolland, the Leafs' most reliable defensive centre, go down in agony kind of felt like a harbinger of bad things to come.
2. Bolland's injury is making even a staunch Bozak hater like myself pine for the overpaid one's return. At least he's an NHL centre. When your top two centres are Kadri and Jay McClement, you're in big trouble.
3. The Leafs are in enough trouble that Randy Carlyle is going to try James van Riemsdyk at centre, a position JVR hasn't played since college. Hey it's only six years later, he should totally be able to pick up where he left off, right? That said, it's a worthwhile gamble, because, seriously, what else are the Leafs going to do? Finding outside help isn't a realistic option...
4. When news broke on Twitter that the Leafs were sending Trevor Smith to the Marlies, meaning some sort of move for a centre was happening (because why else would the Leafs demote a centre when they are so centre starved), the overly emotional part of my brain took over and shouted, "OMG WHAT IF THE LEAFS HAVE TRADED FOR CLAUDE GIROUX!?" Because that's how the emotional part of your brain works. The rational part of my brain had to come in and explain that no matter how crazy Paul Holmgren is, he probably isn't going to trade Claude Giroux, especially not to a team with zero cap space. The emotional part of my brain then calmed down, until shouting, "OMG WHAT ABOUT SEAN COUTURIER!?" Sorry brain, you'll have to settle for Jarred Smithson.
5. Jarred Smithson: 34-years old; 96 career points in 588 games; has only played over 70 games three times in his NHL career. Is this guy really a better option than Trevor Smith?
6. The Leafs' current predicament was always a real possibility after Dave Nonis stupidly bought out Mikhail Grabovski and traded Joe Colborne for nothing. After that the Leafs' centre depth became nada, and the plan was to basically pray for an injury-free season down the middle. Considering the best teams in the league are built down the middle, this is a major concern heading forward. As Ray Ferraro said on TSN 1050, "You can finesse a lot of things, but you can't finesse the middle of the ice."
7. One possibility to improve down the middle would be to trade one of the goaltenders for help, an idea being floated by The Hockey News. The problem, however, is twofold. First, goalies don't historically tend to net that much of a return in trades. The Canucks did very well to get a top-10 pick for Corey Schneider last summer, but even with Schneider's pedigree couldn't acquire a young, NHL-ready top-6 forward. That's what the Leafs would be looking for. Secondly, the goalie market is flooded. Ryan Miller is playing great and is the next to be shipped out of Buffalo; there is word that Jonas Hiller could be had from Anaheim; even Martin Brodeur is popping up in trade rumours. I think the Leafs eventually trade one of Bernier or Reimer, but it won't be this year and might not even be next summer.
8. At the very least Mark Fraser is back, which should help improve a penalty killing unit that, although third in the league, is relying way too much on goaltending. Fraser was one of the best Leafs at suppressing shots short-handed last season, and he should be able to take some penalty kill minutes from Dion Phaneuf, letting the Leafs get more from their captain at even strength.
9. Fraser's return means someone (in addition to John-Michael Liles) has to sit, and it looks like Morgan Rielly is the lucky one, at least against the Devils. Rielly has been okay, definitely not worthy of a healthy scratch, but at the same time it's not the worst idea to give him a one-game breather to watch the game from above and see if he can learn something from afar. It's not an uncommon tactic with teenage players. So long as Carlyle doesn't make it a consistent thing, I'm fine with it. The guy that should sit, at least based on a Twitter search of his name during any game, is Paul Ranger. I see he's taken over the role as most despised player after Mike Kostka left for Chicago. People really don't like him.
10. It is mercifully Friday. Can we never go almost an entire week without a Leaf game again, please.