Q&A Responses: Marlies and Leafs

Q&A Responses: Marlies and Leafs

Photo: Darren Calabrese/National Post

I wanted to start this question and answer blog by addressing some debate that came about in my previous post.

I’m sure many of you remember the top-six bottom-six article detailing the Leafs roster and where players currently fit in (read it here). A lot of people messaged me on Twitter or wrote on the board here in response to Grabovski being the shutdown center and I want to respond to that with a really simple answer.

Simply put, I didn’t build this team.

This isn’t my roster and we all know that. I simply took the information at hand and applied it as best I could. How Carlyle and Burke have combined to formulate their roster is pretty specific. I tried to root that in evidence and express that to all of you. After that, I used my own opinion to slot players into specific roles. The only debate to be had was whether Grabovski, Bozak or Steckel (or Connolly/Lombardi) were best suited for that role. If either Bozak or Steckel become the Leafs shutdown center, well, it’s going to be one interesting season. Does that mean Grabovski will be the shutdown center once training camp begins? No. It just means he’s currently the best option on the roster.

Don’t blame me for that.

For all we know the Leafs sign Jarret Stoll and all of sudden that changes Grabovski’s role. But when I see things like “I stopped reading once I read Grabovski as the shutdown center,” I wonder “what do you want me to say?” I didn’t sign Grabovski for $5.5 million a season. All I can tell you is that he is better equipped to play that role than the other current options.

This isn’t meant to be whiny or arrogant, so please don’t take it that way. Just don’t shoot the messenger. I’m not the one making these front office decisions, I’m simply trying to make sense them as they currently stand.

Anyways, on to some questions.

BrianHuddle
@APetrielli what’s your take on Greg McKegg joining the Marlies? Any thoughts to Brad Ross not joining their run?

Brad Ross not joining the Marlies is beyond puzzling. I have been searching to find out if he is injured but have yet to find anything. McKegg, who is now with the Marlies, was actually hurt for London during the playoffs, so I don’t even know how much of a factor an injury to Ross would be. Regardless, it’s not like Ross is going into surgery, so you can cross off health problems.

Secondly, it’s not as if Ross is a terrible player who isn’t under contract. He’s good and he is signed. David Broll is with the Marlies and even got to play a game. No offense to Broll, but he’s nowhere near the player Ross is.

The only logical explanation I could think of is travel related. The other kids mainly play in the OHL so the Marlies are right in their backyard. Is this a good answer? Probably not. But it’s the only thing I could think of that sounds somewhat reasonable. I’d like to think there’s a logical explanation as to why he isn’t with the team right now.

As for him missing out, I think it’s unfortunate. He’s a player who would thrive in this current series. He’s physical, has a mean streak and for those of you have watched the first two games, this series is getting ugly. This is Brad Ross hockey. He wouldn’t have been the difference between and losing, but he could have been an asset.

When it comes to McKegg, he has a few things going for him. Most notably that he played a few games with the Marlies last year, so at least Eakins has some sort of familiarity with him at the pro level. The second thing, of course, is all the injuries. McKegg is one of the few players eligible to be a Marlie at this moment who possesses a high degree of talent. At the very least, that makes him a power play option.

McKegg has become a bit of a perimeter player in the OHL and wasn’t always willing to engage in the corners physically and win puck battles. But if he’s dressing with the Marlies solely to inject some talent on the power play (which has gone 1/14 so far against Norfolk), then it’s not necessarily an ill-advised gamble.

But you have to ask yourself this. So far this has been a pretty nasty series physically with some huge hits. Would you rather keep in a big body like Rosehill who can crash and bang, and who is effective in the AHL, or do you take a chance with McKegg that he can inject some offense onto the roster?

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ahurst11 @APetrielli is D’amigo an NHL ready skater? Also, is Fraser next in line on the defence depth chart after Holzer?

D’Amigo’s had a really good season for the Marlies. He’s been a primary penalty killer on the top unit in the league, chipped in some offense, and settled into his role of being a very good third liner. That is what he is at the end of the day — a grinder.

Could he stand to stay in the AHL a little longer and continue to work on his offensive game? Absolutely. But could he play hockey in the NHL? I think he’s going to get a serious look in camp next year. D’Amigo can skate, he’s learned how to contribute at the pro level, we all understand his role and how he helps (which is important, because you want to put players in the best situation for them to succeed as individuals, and help the team as a whole). Even though he’s smallish, he’s listed at 213 pounds, so he’s not going to get pushed around. Physically he’s there.

I guess the question has to be, “where would he fit?” Obviously he would get time on the penalty kill, but from there we can take a peak at the top six and bottom six model. Playing on the top line is obviously not a possibility. Some will suggest he can play on the scoring line, but guys like Kadri, Frattin and Colborne all make more sense in that role since they all have higher ceilings. Who they draft this year fifth overall could also be a possibility and MacArthur would also make more sense there; we know he’s good for 20 goals.

That leaves the energy line and the shutdown line. D’Amigo could eventually pair up with Nikolai Kulemin on a defensive line that plays against the other teams best players, works tirelessly on the forecheck and backcheck as well as chips in some offense. But that seems like an awful lot of responsibility to heap onto a rookie in a year that Brian Burke probably needs to make the playoffs to keep his job. Is it possible he makes the team in this role? I guess so. Is it likely? Not really.

Then we go to the energy role. I’ve said this personally many times, and I still believe it, I think Burke is going to look to add size and toughness to complement Dave Steckel and Mike Brown. That said, it is entirely possible that, if the team feels D’Amigo needs NHL time, they start him on the fourth energy line. It’s a role he can definitely fill considering his hustle, and he would be poised to work his way up the roster to the shutdown line over a relatively short amount of time. The Bruins did this with Brad Marchand, for example.

But, he’ll be competing with guys like Komarov, Ashton, maybe Crabb, Orr, Hamilton and possibly a UFA signing for this role.

To summarize this extremely wordy answer: Yes, he could adequately hold down an NHL roster spot, he’s going to be in really tough to crack the team next season out of camp unless he has a really good showing or management thinks so highly of him that they actually clear out roster space to accommodate his spot and then avoid signing any UFA’s for that role.

I fully believe we’ll see D’Amigo in the NHL at some point next season, even if it’s only for a few games, but I think he’ll be hard pressed to make the team out of camp.

In regards to Mark Fraser, he’s in a bit of an interesting spot. Fraser is an RFA who will most likely be retained. But there’s a UFA who could potentially get in the way and that’s Matt Lashoff. Judging by Eakins’ comments earlier in the season when Lashoff suffered his season long injury, it did sound as if the Leafs were expecting Lashoff to be with the Leafs at some point last season. If he’s retained, Lashoff is also ahead of Fraser on the depth chart, along with Holzer of course.

Then there’s Jesse Blacker. This is a kid that Dave Nonis described as close to the NHL midway through last season. The Leafs already have a logjam at defence not including Holzer and (potentially) Lashoff. Then, if you get through all of that, the debate becomes whether to call-up a kid you’re high on and think has potential in Blacker, or a “plugger” in Fraser. Mark Fraser is big, burly, has a mean streak and can clear the net well, but he has mobility issues and struggles with outlet passes. A few fans are high on him because of the role he’s playing but you have to remember he’s paired with the Marlies top defenceman playing in front of the league’s best goalie and also with the Marlies top two-way line. Obviously he’s there for a reason, but some people are getting way too high on him. In the middle of the season would I rather have a veteran plug into the roster in Fraser or a young kid get his feet wet in Blacker? Give me Blacker.

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ahurst11 @APetrielli assuming Scrivens is with the big club, what’s the goalie tandem for the baby buds next season? Owuya and?

I think it’s necessary to start by saying this: Assuming Scrivens is with the Leafs next season is a huge assumption. Huge. That said, I do think it’s more safe to say that he simply won’t be a Marlie. As an RFA he has a little bit of bargaining power and after dominating the AHL last season I’m sure he wants a legitimate chance at playing in the NHL next year. We all know Burke is thinking of adding a veteran. Having Scrivens and Reimer battle it out is healthy but do we really think they’d actually send down the younger goalie whose shown more in the NHL already, one who was given a three year contract last summer (Reimer)? It’s doubtful.

Plus, Scrivens is waiver eligible this year. So there’s a very real chance he’s moved this summer, should he not tandem with Reimer on the Leafs.

Moving on though, Mark Owuya is under contract next season and had a good year. He’ll definitely be a Marlie. The other goalie is Jussi Rynnas.

Rynnas actually improved statistically this year, but the Marlies were a better team so that should be expected. Simply put, he’s an RFA this summer, but why would they give up on a 6’5 goalie whose 25 years old? Is Owuya and Rynnas an unproven tandem? Obviously. But this is still a developmental league and it makes a ton of sense for the organization to throw those two in the AHL deep end and see if they sink or swim.

I also fully expect them to sign a goalie for depth purposes. Whether that’s an undrafted free agent or an AHL veteran, Burke likes five pro goalies at all times. Something will probably happen here from a depth standpoint, even if Scrivens and Reimer are the tandem with the Leafs.

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highoncloud09 @APetrielli With the Marlies going 0-10 on the PP do you think they will be able to muster the offence required to win w/out Kadri & Zigo?
Also:
Jordan_Bold @APetrielli Why is the Marlies PP struggling so much in the playoffs and during the season?

When it comes to the struggles of Marlies power play throughout the season, it boils down to their defence. They employed defencemen such as Holzer, Gysbers, Mikus, Blacker, Engel, Finger, Aulie and Drew Paris. None of those guys are particularly mobile or have above average vision. (Blacker has talent, but really worked on his defensive game this year, the offense may come next season though). So right away you can see they lack any sort of quarterback and that’s reflected heavily in their power play. Their zone entries are weak because they don’t have any defencemen who can lug it up the ice and setup their power play in the first place. Then, when it does get setup, they still lack a defenceman who can run the unit and command the power play.

Now, we take it one step further and add that nobody on their team has a big shot. There is no defenceman with a of bomb of a shot that the unit as a whole can build around in order to launch one-timers. Simon Gysbers led the Marlies defence in goals with five this year. Five.

So, as many know, the Marlies tried various forwards on the point. Players like Zigomanis, Deschamps, Kadri and so on. All of them are a talent upgrade over any of the defencemen, but none of them have the sort of point shot you’d like to have on the power play.

Throughout the year the opposition simply sagged off of the points and made sure to take away any down low, cross-ice efforts. Sort of the equivalent of an NBA team not having any three point shooters so the defence plays a zone around the hoop and closes down the paint.

Then you add in Nazem Kadri going up and down all year, Joe Colborne playing hurt for the majority of the season, Matt Frattin and Jake Gardiner actually making the Leafs and playing with them for pretty well the entire season, as well as Joey Crabb only being a Marlie briefly, and it’s a recipe for power play disaster.

Sure, the Marlies had some other good forwards this year who had solid seasons like Zigomanis, Mueller, Scott, Hamilton and D’Amigo. But those players are more of grinders than skilled players and the power play is when you deploy your skilled guys to create puck movement and high end scoring opportunities. That simply did not happen very often.

As for the Marlies current struggles on the power play and offense in general, they are going to be in tough. With all the injuries they have to trap and hope that Ben Scrivens can be the primary guy who carries them to this championship win.

Their forward group is full of grinders right now, with some talent. They lack the skill of Kadri, the shot of Frattin and the proven production of Zigomanis, and those are all huge holes. Not only that, but now players have been moved up the roster into roles that aren’t really their forte.

I don’t think the question should be “can they muster enough offense to win the series?” They definitely can’t. It really has to be “can they shutdown Norfolk defensively and win a bunch of 2-1 or 3-2 games?”

It’s basically a game of “first three to wins.” They really are lacking the big guns and firepower necessary to play their real game. It’s unfortunate and all, but now isn’t the time for excuses. This is the first real adversity the Marlies have seen during these playoffs. The odds are against them, but this is what hockey’s all about. Adversity. It’s going to be interesting to see how guys like Gardiner, D’Amigo, Colborne and Ashton respond.

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Seriously_Ref
@APetrielli @MapleLeafsHS Do you think a great third line player is more valuable than a decent top 6 player?

I guess the best way to answer this question is to qualify it. Who is a great third line player? Dave Bolland, to me, is an example. He has enough skill, the ability to play against the opposition’s best players, he has a mean streak, he isn’t fun to play against and he frees up the Toews’ and Kane’s from defensive responsibilities.

Who is a decent top six player? The Leafs actually have one. Clarke MacArthur. He can run hot and cold, but he definitely chips in offensively and can be counted on for 20 goals a season.

Now this isn’t being done to single out MacArthur or anything, it’s simply to put some faces to those labels.

At the end of the day the Leafs don’t have an elite two-way top line. There’s no Claude Giroux, Sidney Crosby or Pavel Datsyuk — guys who can play against the other teams best lines and put up top end numbers.

Toronto just does not have that luxury.

Plus, as outlined before, the Leafs to-be shutdown line (which technically receives top six minutes but is sort of a third line in a weird paradox) is extremely important to their system. They need players who can play against the other teams best players and free up their offensive players to solely focus on producing offense.

Periphery offense was not Toronto’s problem this year. One of their big problems, though, was that they couldn’t shutdown the other teams best players. A great third line player, by the general definition, does that.

To answer the question directly, give me the great third line player over a decent top six one. Especially when you take into account the Leafs’ current system and roster.