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Thursday, July 24, 2014

Does David Booth Still Have Top-6 Potential?


Once again it looks like the Vancouver Canucks' trash is the Toronto Maple Leafs' treasure. Last year the Leafs snagged Mason Raymond on a bargain deal and this year Dave Nonis went to his old team to pluck the freshly bought-out David Booth on a one-year deal worth $1.1 million.

Raymond was highly motivated in his stint in Toronto after being tossed aside by the Canucks, producing 45 points for a measly $1 million. Raymond's 19 goals as a Leaf was his best output since scoring 25 in 2009-10. The hope with Booth is that he can reclaim some of the form that saw him net 31 goals with the Panthers way back in 2008-09.

Since his breakout seven seasons ago, Booth's point totals have declined from 60 to a paltry 19. Peppered in that decline are two seasons of less than 30 games played. Reading Booth's injury list is like studying for a medical exam. He's suffered injuries to his ankle, groin, knee, ribs, shoulder, neck, and head—the latter being the most concerning as Booth has missed major time with concussions.

Injuries can largely explain why the explosive offensive element has been sapped from his game. Vancouver initially viewed Booth as a nice complementary piece to round out their top-6 behind the Sedins, but as it became apparent the Canucks bought damaged goods, Booth settled into a bottom-6 role over the past two seasons and was removed almost entirely from the power play.

Although Booth has lost his offense, he might still be a viable option in the top-6 in Toronto, at least on a trial basis. Over the last three seasons, the Canucks controlled 55% of all even strength shot attempts when Booth was on the ice. The only time the Canucks did better was when the Sedins were playing. That's pretty good, even though the Canucks had trouble translating that shot advantage into a goal advantage, as they only scored about 47% of the even strength goals with Booth.

Some of that discrepancy between shots and goals can be explained by Booth's teammates. His most frequent linemates last year were Zach Kassian and Brad Richardson, both decent players, but by no means offensive dynamos. Although it should be noted Booth wasn't exactly going up against world-beaters, most frequently matching up against the opponent's third or fourth lines.

But maybe with some better finishers and creative types, Booth could have a bounce back season like Raymond before him. Just his luck, the Leafs have a line that could use his skill set. For such a poor puck possession team like the Leafs, adding Booth to a scoring line to try to gain a possession edge is a good plan. Over the past two years Nazem Kadri and Joffrey Lupul have shown some nice chemistry together and have had little trouble scoring. Their main problem has been defensively, as neither has been able to stem the tide the other way. Maybe adding Booth to that duo helps shore up the line defensively and gives them more offensive zone time, putting Booth in a better position to succeed offensively as he's now riding shotgun with a true finisher and a nifty playmaker.

If that doesn't work—or if the Leafs insist on getting their money's worth from David Clarkson and try again to force chemistry between him and Kadri—Booth can capably play in a bottom-6 role. His days as a 30-goal scorer are long gone, but that doesn't mean he can't provide some value. And really, for his cap hit, Booth doesn't need to provide much valuable to be worth his contract. Almost nothing can go wrong on a cheap, one-year deal, and if Booth proves unable to beat out the countless other cheap, depth forwards the Leafs have, burying him in the minors costs a few hundred thousand dollars.

Nonis may have let Raymond walk for more money elsewhere, but he might have just signed this year's version of Raymond at a fraction of the cost.

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