Decisions facing Carlyle in the Leafs bottom six

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What a much more enjoyable month of hockey that was from the Maple Leafs, the latter half in particular. Toronto has seven regulation wins in their last 10 games, and are 9-1-1 in their last 11, after just seven regulation wins total between October 29 and January 14. The Leafs seem to be playing closer to the potential their talent level would suggest after a couple of bleak months culminating in a brief stint spent on the outside looking in at a playoff spot.

Saturday’s win was the first game of the season in which the Leafs out shot an opponent by 10 or more. It also represented a rare occasion in which the Leafs won with a save percentage below .900, as Jonathan Bernier stopped 88.5% of 26 shots (lol Senators).

They’re still far from the finish line, however, and the goal has to be improvement down the stretch and into the playoffs. There’s also merit to the adage (which I’m making up a variation to right now), “you’re not as good as you think when you’re winning a lot, and you’re not as bad as you think when you’re losing a lot.” We know why the Leafs are winning games right now, and it’s the scorching hot play of their top six, set for the foreseeable future as JvR – Bozak – Kessel/Lupul – Kadri – Kulemin. So, let’s take a look at the bottom six.

Looking just at the short term – the very immediate future – it would be helpful if Peter Holland’s lace bite injury healed up quickly. Bolland, Smith, and Holland all being out limits the options for the bottom six, and Ashton being out doesn’t help, either. Jerred Smithson was recalled this morning, with Greg McKegg returned to the Marlies. A two-line team works when the two lines are blazing hot, which they are and it’s been awesome, but the Leafs will need some depth contributions at some point.

Time On Ice Among Forwards

Let’s take a step back from the minutiae of the current injury situation among the lower roster for a minute.

While looking into the time on ice numbers for the Leafs forwards relative to the League, it’s notable that the Leafs have three forwards with 20 or more minutes of ice time – their top line of James van Riemsdyk, Phil Kessel, and Tyler Bozak. There is only one other team in the League with three forwards with 20 or more minutes of ice time, which is the Vancouver Canucks with Ryan Kesler and the Sedins. These six players comprise six of the top 25 in the League in time on ice per game among forwards.

My concern is less to do with Kessel’s line playing a few seconds extra every night. The more apprehensive among us might express concern about the extra few shifts a night possibly wearing this line out down the stretch, given two-thirds of it will be at the Olympics and it plays about 2 minutes more per game than, say, the Senators top line from Saturday night. But this Leafs top line is in the class of Getzlaf and Perry’s line and Crosby and Kunitz’s, all four of whom play pretty much the same kind of minutes (within a few seconds, anyway) as the members of the Leafs’ top line.

Moving down the roster, we see the likes of Lupul, Kadri and Raymond in the 17 and a half to 18 minute range, and the Leafs with more regular forwards north of the 16 minute mark than usual. What about Kadri, for instance, playing his first full 82-game season in the NHL and starting to push toward the 18 minute mark of late?

As far as game situations, could this tie into why the Leafs struggle to close out periods and games? It’s been better lately, but it’s unquestionably been a serious issue over the course of the season. The Leafs have conceded more third period goals than any other team in the League (64). There has been much talk about the Leafs’ passivity to their systems, and yet an insistence from the coaching staff in their interviews that nothing changes in terms of the directions from behind the bench. Could the team be tiring late in periods and late in games?

Putting aside the fatigue question for a second, there needs to be some flexibility in the minutes depending on the temperature of the game. Every team will have periods, if not full games, where their skilled group is just not getting it done. We saw this happen over some extended stretches in November and December. Hopefully we won’t see dips in production to the same extent from all of JvR, Kessel, Kadri and Lupul (they seemed to arrive at the same time when the Leafs were really struggling), but there will be games where this is going to be the case down the stretch. Carlyle needs effective energy lines that can grab some momentum, spend some time in the right end of the rink, and occasionally grind out a goal when highlight reel goals from the top 6 aren’t in the offing. Bolland returning to line three could be a boon for the depth of this team, especially if Clarkson plays better next to him, and even Holland next to Bodie and Raymond looked to be a decent interim solution on line three.

This has been a long winded way of arriving at a seemingly obvious point. The fourth line can also be a part of this. We all know why the Leafs’ time on ice is allocated the way it is: Randy Carlyle barely uses his fourth line. This is made all the more obvious when we look at time-on-ice data across the league.

Fourth Line Usage

Here’s a chart on the quantity of players, with a minimum of 10 games played, averaging less than 7 minutes on each team.

Quantity of Players with >10GP who average less than 7 minutes per game

Teamsless than 7 TOI/g
ANA0
BOS0
BUF1
CGY3
CAR1
CHI0
COL2
CLB0
DAL0
DET1
EDM1
FLA1
LA0
MIN1
MTL1
NAS0
NJ1
NYI1
NYR0
OTT1
PHI1
PHX1
PIT0
SJ0
STL0
TBL1
TOR3
VAN2
WSH0
WPG2

Let’s pare that down to 6 minutes, again with a minimum of ten games played.

Quantity of Players with >10GP who average less than 6 minutes per game

Teamsless than 6
ANA0
BOS0
BUF0
CGY1
CAR0
CHI0
COL1
CLB0
DAL0
DET0
EDM0
FLA0
LA0
MIN0
MTL1
NAS0
NJ1
NYI0
NYR0
OTT1
PHI1
PHX1
PIT0
SJ0
STL0
TBL0
TOR2
VAN0
WSH0
WPG1

Now, let’s look at a minimum of 20 games played for players under 7 minutes.

Quantity of Players with >20GP who average less than 7 minutes per game

TeamLess than 7
ANA0
BOS0
BUF1
CGY1
CAR0
CHI0
COL1
CLB0
DAL0
DET0
EDM1
FLA1
LA0
MIN0
MTL1
NAS0
NJ1
NYI0
NYR0
OTT1
PHI1
PHX1
PIT0
SJ0
STL0
TBL0
TOR3
VAN1
WSH0
WPG1

17 out of 30 teams do not have a player who has appeared in more than 20 games and averaged less than 7 minutes of ice. 12 teams have one player who has appeared in more than 20 games and averaged less than 7 minutes of ice. There are zero teams with exactly two players that match this description. The Leafs have three.

Let’s contrast the records of the teams who roll their lines more with those who do it less:

Records of teams with no players below 7 minutes per game (min 10GP)

TeamWLOTL/SOL
Pts Percentage0.663
ANA40125
BOS35163
CHI331014
CLB28234
DAL25219
LA30216
NAS25239
NYR30233
PIT38152
SJ35156
STL37125
WSH25229
Total38121375

Records of teams with one or more players below 7 minutes per game (min. 10GP)

TeamWLOTL/SOL
Pts Percentage0.561
BUF15318
CGY21277
CAR25209
COL35145
DET241912
EDM18336
FLA21277
MIN29217
MTL29216
NJ232112
NYI21288
OTT242110
PHI27236
PHX261910
TBL32185
TOR30216
VAN27209
WPG27255
Total454409138

Interesting note: The Penguins, even with Crosby playing 21+ minutes, Kunitz close to 20 and Malkin on the second line, do not have a single player below 10 minutes in average TOI.

This isn’t all that revelatory. The suggestion here is not that the magic solution in Calgary is to simply roll their lines more. Obviously, the coaches who do roll four lines do it because they have to depth to pull it off. And that’s the thing – the Leafs have the depth to pull it off.

When a few bodies return to the lineup, this team has the pieces in Trevor Smith, Carter Ashton, Jay McClement, Troy Bodie and Jerry D’Amigo to piece together a solid fourth line that can play a healthy amount of minutes, provide energy on the forecheck, keep the pace up (as Carlyle puts it, “the feet moving”), and chip in the odd goal. Having Colton Orr around, but not always in the lineup, could have its benefits in certain situations. I didn’t view the Orr situation in high dudgeon as some did dating back to early last season, but the issue is that so few players seem to engage Orr this year; that, or he is content serving an energy role for the team with the encouragement of the coaching staff. In terms of energy over enforcement, though, there are far better options.

The coaching staff obviously feels differently about Orr’s game, and a big part of that could be the view that Orr’s presence provides a deterrent. That could be true; we’re not privy to the chirping between the benches and on the ice, or how the Leaf players themselves might feel about Orr’s presence, I don’t know, fortifying the backbone to their group.

Of course, this isn’t a new argument whatsoever about the 4th line usage, and the Leaf coaching staff seem entrenched in their policy of “one enforcer always, and sometimes two.” But this discussion will resurface yet again when it’s decision time in regards to the bottom six, with Clarkson, Smith and Bolland all set to return soon. Some tough decisions will be need to made in terms of who to demote and, potentially, who to waive.

It may be a pipe dream at this point, but a four-line approach with the newfound depth of options could give the Leafs an additional edge as they look to play their best hockey down the stretch and into the playoffs.

  • MaxwellHowe

    Great read as always, but fails to inform of the number of ROWs in the last 10.  The number is left out so it reads “Toronto has regulation wins in their last 10 games, and are 9-1-1 in their last 11, after just seven regulation wins total between October 29 and January 14.”  I could look it up, but then why would I visit this site?

  • oak_leafs

    LeafsNews Enjoyed the read – cheers.

  • Great Dane

    Alec, very well put. As BB said some days ago – the days of the enforcer are gone.

    I also believe that NHL would go softer on the Leafs if they didn’t have Orr and McL in the lineup.

  • Dink

    I don’t know what all that was about except it loaded slow.

    I still think Gardiners’ in play and I believe Luke Schenn will be dealt to Edmonton…

  • Dink

    I should say Gardiner or Franson

  • Mitch92

    @Dink  There is no way we are trading JVR!!!

  • Burtonboy

    Phil Kessel’s ascent a lesson for David Clarkson’s doubters: 

    http://www.thestar.com/sports/leafs/2014/02/03/phil_kessels_ascent_a_lesson_for_david_clarksons_doubters_cox.html?utm_source=twitterfeed&utm_medium=twitter

  • LeafHead2154

    LeafsNews MapleLeafs I can maybe understand Orr holding down a spot. But, what about Mclaren? Why is he still up?

  • Great Dane

    @LeafHead2154 LeafsNewsMapleLeafs  Only the good Lord, Nonis and Carlyle know

  • Alec Brownscombe

    Burtonboy  I don’t know what planet we can compare Kessel and Clarkson on. Kessel arrived at age 22 and broke 30 goals with bums on his line in his first 70 games as a Leaf. I do hope Clarkson uses the Olympic break for a reset and plays closer to what he is capable of though. He has to be better than what he’s shown.

  • MaxwellHowe

    I maintain, despite the general ridicule, that if decent offers are received, the Leafs should trade Kulimen and MayRay. 
    If that were to happen, Clarkson becomes the 2nd line right wing:    Lupul  – Kadri  – Clarkson
    For the bottom six:
    Holland    –  Bolland  –   Leivo  (I saw Holland and Leivo play together with the Marlies. Some chemistry there)
    Ashton  –  McClement  – Bodie
    I saw Holland and Leivo play together with the Marlies.  Some chemistry there.

  • Great Dane

    Alec Brownscombe BurtonboyIf that doesn’t happen I am sure that Clarkson would like to move on as well.

  • dtrav84

    MapleLeafsHS at what point does Nonis step in and say “hey, let’s have a non face punching 4th line tonight”, is that even a possibility?

  • Loric76

    Alec Brownscombe Burtonboy  I don’t think the break is long enough to be honest.  It will take the summer.

  • leafsince93

    Alec Brownscombe Burtonboy  not sure there is a comparison in talent not even close but sure do hope that Clarkson get his game together after the olympic break. Return of Bolland and Clarkson hopefully will an add to Orr and Mclaren. I hv been fan of Orr but i think players of his specific skill set r not for today’s NHL

  • Loric76

    Great Dane LeafsNews MapleLeafs  RC likes FML’s mullet, keeps pointing it out to the other players and saying “See, what a beaut.  Everybody had haircuts like that in my day, you kids should get them too”

  • MaxwellHowe

    Great Dane One way or another, I think the Leafs are stuck with Mr. Clarkson.  Though I also believe he will turn it around this year

  • Loric76

    MaxwellHowe  I think they’ll keep one or the other, and I’ve got my fingers crossed that MayRay is the one to go

  • MaxwellHowe

    Loric76 MaxwellHowe I agree, Kulimen is the more valuable of the two.  Kuli’s future as a Leaf may rest with talks between Nonis and his agent.  Unless the Leafs really beleive he is 2nd line quality, he is not getting $3.5 million or more.  Clarkson on the 3rd line making over $5 million is bad enough

  • Loric76

    CanuckUKinToronto Loric76 MaxwellHowe  actually come to think of it, move both and bring Komarov back.

    JVR – Bozak – Kessel
    Lupul – Kadri – Leivo
    Holland – Bolland – Clarkson
    Komarov – McClement – Ashton

  • Dink

    MaxwellHowe  Take a lot for me to trade Kulemin, he is practically the only plus player on the team.

  • Loric76

    MaxwellHowe Loric76  Clarkson on the 3rd line isn’t that bad if you have a kid like Leivo on the second only making 1.2ish

  • Dink

    MaxwellHowe  forward that is

  • Burtonboy

    Alec Brownscombe Burtonboy  I don’t think he was comparing them from that perspective . Just from the point that its far too early to declare Clarkson as bust. Mant said the same tings about Phil did they not ? Many in Leafs nation are clamoring to get rid or Clarkson and declaring his contract the worse ever . That assessment IMO is incredibly premature.

  • MaxwellHowe

    Loric76 Great Dane LeafsNews MapleLeafs Guys in Carlyle’s day probably wore Jordache jeans and drove Trans Ams.  Sometimes things are left behind for a reason.

  • leafsince93

    i would not mind having a Ashton-McC-Bodie as the 4th line once Bolland and Clarkson are back. 3rd and 4th line would provide some scoring and toughness, PK while your top two line can play wheel.

    Kessel-Bozak-JVR
    Kuli-Kadri-Lupul
    Clarkson-Bolland-Raymond
    Ashton-McC-Bodie

  • Dink

    Mitch92  who said JVR?

  • mcloki

    Morning gents. Hell of a great weekend. Nice to see Cox eat a bit of crow in that article.

  • MaxwellHowe

    @Dink MaxwellHowe Maybe other teams see it that way.  To me its just a matter of the Leafs still being a team in development, and having to restrain from over spending on 3rd line wingers.

  • Dink

    MaxwellHowe  I bet Pittsburgh covets him though

  • Great Dane

    CanuckUKinToronto Yaknowwhat  We have enough alternatives to Orr and McLaren

  • MaxwellHowe

    CanuckUKinToronto Yaknowwhat I was thinking on Saturday night – wouldn’t it be great to have a guy like Chris O’Neil? Or Shawn Thornton?  Tough guys that can fight and fill a hockey role on the team.  Clarkson is not as tough as those guys and hasn’t found his niche in T.O. yet

  • Alec Brownscombe

    Burtonboy Alec Brownscombe  If they did it wasn’t founded in much basis. By the end of his first season in Toronto, Kessel had scored 66 goals in his previous 140 games and was only 22. Problem was the Leafs sucked as a team and the Leafs media was being unsurprisingly, sensationalist and unreasonable, which is what they’ve continued to be on the subject of Kessel only until recently.

    The stat that the Leafs are 13-4-1 without Clarkson is mind boggling.

  • MaxwellHowe

    @Dink MaxwellHowe Be nice if Kukli lights it up with Malkin (not against Canada of course) and Pens make a generous offer

  • Loric76

    MaxwellHowe CanuckUKinToronto Yaknowwhat  that’s exactly what we need in our bottom six.  As much as we collectively hate that fucker Neil, he gets it done, and has been for years.

  • MaxwellHowe

    Loric76   Lets be honest.  Chris Neil would be a god in Toronto if he played for the Leafs.

  • Burtonboy

    Alec Brownscombe Burtonboy  Way way too early to write of Clarkson Alec. I think when you see him paired with Bolland and which ever other winger you want to choose people are going to change their mind in a hurry

  • Loric76

    Alec Brownscombe Burtonboy  don’t worry, the sensationalist and unreasonable media will be back on Kessel as soon as he has a couple quiet games.

  • Alec Brownscombe

    Hopefully just a case of timing. Missed the hot start, missed this latest hot stretch. Would like to see him be a part of a little win streak to assuage some concerns about his possible negative impacts. There were some games there where he was definitely so off he was hurting his line.

  • Mind Bomb

    Good morning Folks

  • Loric76

    https://twitter.com/mirtlehttps://twitter.com/mirtle/status/430327788558483457
    Leafs practising at 9 a.m. then hopping flight to Florida for four days. Three games left until break and in very solid playoff position.

  • Great Dane

    MaxwellHowe Loric76A younger version of Neil would be perfect on the 3rd/4th line

  • Mind Bomb

    Yaknowwhat  Morning Yak Agreed 100 percent, you dont always have to use a deterent, but the fact you have one matters

  • Loric76

    Great Dane MaxwellHowe Loric76  if we have that kind of player in our prospect pool, it’s not any of the guys that are currently NHL ready like Ashton or Bodie.  Carrick, Broll, or Ross maybe, in a couple years.  Rupert too.

  • Burtonboy

    Great Dane MaxwellHowe Loric76  Just curious how far along was Neil in his development when he was the  same age as say a David Broll, Tyler Biggs or a Jamie Devane.

  • Loric76

    Mind Bomb  hey MB

  • Mind Bomb

    CanuckUKinToronto Yaknowwhat  They are not a deterent Nuck, they are light exercise for the heavy weights in the league

  • Mind Bomb

    Great Dane CanuckUKinToronto Yaknowwhat  Not good ones, that can fight and win against anyone in the league, We dont need punching Bags, we need winners

  • Loric76

    Burtonboy Great Dane MaxwellHowe Loric76  I was wondering the same thing.  No idea what Neil or Domi types look like in their early 20’s.

  • Burtonboy

    Loric76 Burtonboy Great Dane MaxwellHowe  Just a guess but probably no better then some of our prospects who could fill that role