Mike Brown has been traded to Edmonton for a conditional 2014 fourth round pick (could become a 3rd depending on if he shaves or retains his moustache) as the Leafs are anticipating a few injured bodies will soon return to active duty. Matt Frattin may make his return to the lineup tonight vs. the New Jersey Devils – he’s labeled a game time decision – or a little later on this week.
Alas, carrying McLaren, Orr and Brown on the 23-man active roster doesn’t make a whole lot of sense given the Leafs are right at the limit and Nonis’ flexibility in terms of waiver exempt options stops after Nazem Kadri, Leo Komarov and Korbinian Holzer. The oft-injured Mike Brown essentially had his roster spot nabbed by previous waiver pickup Frazer McLaren, who has surprised so far. He’s not a bad skater for a big man, is competent enough to cycle a puck and has fared well in all of his punch ups to date.
Whether Frattin returns tonight or on Wednesday, it’s pretty obvious where he gets reinserted in the lineup; opposite Kadri where he scored seven goals in his first ten games of the season.
The more interesting lineup decisions come when Joffrey Lupul, who has his cast off and is skating, is ready to return. When he’s back, I think there’s no question you put him with his familiar opposite wing partner in Phil Kessel, for a few reasons:
1) As good as JvR has been up top, Kessel is clearly struggling by his usual goal-scoring standards. Lupul has a bit more of a crash-and-bang physical side to his game, in my eyes, and with the history of chemistry between the two, Carlyle has to give the Lupul-Kessel tandem an opportunity to rediscover last season’s form. They’ve only had three games together this season, so it’s still Lupul’s spot to lose. Nonis signed Lupul long term expecting him to be Phil’s running partner, so that’s where he should go.
2) JvR will be not be worse off on Kadri’s wing. MacArthur (or Frattin when he was healthy) and Kadri usually dominate their matchup together and this is despite working with a rotation of Orr and Komarov as their third mate recently. Both followed their directive of forechecking and standing in front, but JvR brings the net presence along with more skill and finishing ability than those two have combined (and multiplied by several). With Kadri’s start, opposition coaches have to start keying in on and respecting him and his line from a matchup standpoint. It’s a pick-your-poison matchup nightmare if that line is going and Kessel and Lupul revivify something resembling last season’s lethal combination.
I’d propose the following forward lines once everybody’s back, assuming no significant injuries between now and then:
Depth is nice and always a good problem to have. That’s a decent looking lineup and it gives Carlyle the chance to roll four lines a little more, with Komarov, McClement and McLaren/Orr able to offer an effective 10 minutes a night.
Who makes way on the active roster for Lupul might be a question that solve itself through injury or poor play in the next two weeks. As for Jake Gardiner, there’s really only one way to get him back on the roster and that’s through the demotion of waiver-exempt Holzer or through trading Mike Komisarek. One is which is much easier to do than the other.