AP’s Mailbag: Deadline targets, bottom 6, “impact” prospects, PK and shots against

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(Frank Gunn / THE CANADIAN PRESS)

Thanks again for all the questions. My apologies if I didn’t get to yours.

Part 1 can be found here.

wendelsfist: “What one personnel upgrade or change would you make (trade for a role, call up to replace etc)?”

I assume you mean for the playoff race/run and not next season. At least, that’s how I’m going to answer the question.

I don’t think there are any defensemen worth the Leafs going after at this point, so that kind of upgrade can wait until the offseason. I’d be most interested in acquiring a really good 10th forward. If someone in the Leafs top 9 goes down hurt in the playoffs, it would be nice if a player better than McClement or Bodie was the first option to move up the line-up.

One guy I’d look into is Brian Boyle on the Rangers. He’s a pending UFA on a good Ranger team that appears to be tinkering with the idea of moving everyone they could potentially lose for free this summer. Last season I wanted the Leafs to get Handzus (and I think he would have been a better use of a fourth rounder than Ryan O’Byrne), but I’m only lukewarm on Boyle because I fear what the price might be. It makes sense to me if they can get him for a fourth round pick; he’s a player they can look at for not only this season but years to come as well. He’s massive at 6’7″, can play center and the wing, he’s good on the penalty kill, can be trusted defensively, and he would help the Leafs on the cycle in the offensive zone. He’s the type of a player who is a part of those long, grinding shifts in the offensive zone that wear the opponent down. He won’t bring the Leafs much in terms of offense, but offense is not their problem.

Burtonboy: “Do you think Leafs management including Carlyle are building a top 9 bottom 3 team or a top 6 bottom 6?”

Here are some quotes from Leafs management and staff over the past year that will help us answer this question.

Assistant coach Scott Gordon:

[quote_box_center]“Last year we had what would probably be considered three lines of scoring, maybe not as much depth on each line as far as scoring numbers. Whereas this year our top six is all guys who have had pretty good track records of scoring goals so hopefully that has the same effect as it did last year.”[/quote_box_center]

In the summer of 2012, Michael Stephens interviewed Dave Poulin for the Maple Leafs Annual and I wrote about the forward group, about which Dave Poulin flat out said, “I call it more of a top nine, bottom three.”

And from James Mirtle this season:

[quote_box_center]“In fact, if you look around the league, Carlyle is more reluctant to use his bottom 10 to 12 forwards than almost any other coach. Only the Vancouver Canucks’ John Tortorella has had a shorter bench leaguewide, playing his fourth liners less than seven minutes a game – or about a minute less than the Leafs generally offer theirs.
That’s had a ripple effect through the Toronto lineup, as every other unit is expected to play a lot. The top line of Kessel, Bozak and James van Riemsdyk, for example, averages nearly 21 minutes a game – the second highest in the NHL behind only Vancouver’s top three forwards.
The Leafs second line, meanwhile, is the third-most used second unit in the NHL. And their third line – usually made up of Nikolai Kulemin, Jay McClement and David Clarkson, a trio that has combined for nine goals all year – is the most played third line in the league with an average of 16.5 minutes a night.”[/quote_box_center]

To sum up, I think they still construct their lines in a manner people associate with “top six-bottom six” because the top two lines are more skilled while the bottom two lines are supposed to grind, but really it’s a top nine-bottom three because they play the heck out of their top three lines and basically neglect their fourth unit.

HeatherRickAkin: “If we accept that Morgan Rielly is going to be an impact NHLer, is there one more Leaf prospect who has a chance to eventually become an impact player in the NHL? Let’s look beyond Kadri and Gardiner, who may not have Rielly’s ceiling , but do have real upside. Do we have even one prospect that may plateau at the Kadri/Gardiner level?”

Yes, there are a few kids in the pipeline who have a chance at becoming impact players (i.e., a top six forward or top four defenseman).

On forward, there are two obvious candidates in Peter Holland and Josh Leivo.

I’ve mentioned this piece Alec put together a few times, but Holland has ripped up the AHL and is in good company statistically. Steve Spott raved about him a few days ago. He has size, skill, a really good shot, can skate, and produced when he got ice time with the Leafs. He has a chance.

Leivo is a strong two-way winger with skill and size (he’s 6’2). He was good in the OHL, notching back-to-back 73-point seasons after the Leafs drafted him, and now has 25 points in 38 games this season in the AHL. Plus, he already scored his first NHL goal. His potential isn’t through the roof, but he has the tools to be an effective scorer and top-six guy because he plays both ends of the ice well.

On defense, the Leafs have two players who really stand out above all else: Stuart Percy and Matt Finn.

Percy is a kid whose stock grew at the end of his draft year in order to sneak into the first round, while Finn was expected to be a first rounder all season and slipped out altogether, which was just fine with the Leafs who snagged him early in the second round. Percy’s 15 points in 46 games aren’t going to leap out to anybody and he still has trouble with the speed of the game at times, but he’s so smart and cerebral out on the ice that it would be more surprising if he didn’t put it all together and become a solid NHL defenseman. Finn, who has produced every year in the OHL, plays a ton for the best team in the entire league.

There are some other good players in the system who have a shot at becoming productive NHLers –- guys like Granberg, MacWilliam, Brown, and Johnson —- but those are the four I’d look at it to be impact players.

It is worth noting here that the Leafs don’t necessarily draft to hit homeruns. They draft to collect assets, and this is something Dave Morrison has told us before.



Daniel Marois: “As the Leafs approach the trade deadline…assuming Bolland slides right back into the lineup without any setbacks – it would seem adding anyone upfront is not the priority. However, what roster piece would the Leafs be willing to give up to add a No.2 defenceman to play with Phaneuf?”

Looking around at who might be available, I don’t see much in the way of defensemen I’d be interested in. I think it makes more sense for the Leafs to wait until the summer to make that kind of move as Ranger will be a UFA while Franson and Gardiner will both be RFAs. There’s room for flexibility. If Jay Bouwmeester, for example, was available this year, it would make a lot of sense for the Leafs to be all over that, whereas Dan Girardi really just doesn’t do it for me.

Maybe some names are going under the radar that have been rumoured to be available since the summer (Coburn and Edler, to be specific). If that’s the case, I think the Leafs would be looking to package a bunch of their kids in the AHL or junior ranks along with picks at the moment. Trading a young piece like a Kadri or Gardiner would be an unnecessary blockbuster to make right this second with the team rolling and in a playoff spot. It would be a weird time to make that type of shake-up move.

Perhaps in the summer they try to pry Coburn out of Philadelphia for Reimer or something, but I don’t think that kind of move is close to happening any time soon.

rustynail: “What changes to our PK would you recommend going down the stretch, both players and system?”

Gus Katsaros wrote a great piece on the PK troubles that I suggest everyone read.

As Gus explains, most teams currently deploy a 1-3-1 PP formation. I think the only way to combat that is to have a “diamond” penalty kill or 1-2-1. Without going into a crazy amount of detail, the key to the diamond penalty kill is the far-side guy on the kill. The defenseman in front has to clear in the net, the player closest to the man on the half wall with the puck has to pressure him and the forward up top has to cover the defenseman in the middle, but the far side killer has to worry about the player in the slot and the guy behind him cutting backdoor. It’s a really difficult role for the backside guy, but that’s the key to a diamond kill against a 1-3-1 PP.

In terms of personnel, I’d like to see them call D’Amigo back up more than anything and run McClement-Kulemin as the primary killers, Bolland-D’Amigo as the next pair up, and Bozak-JVR to close out the final 20-30 seconds of a kill. The latter pair can kill penalties and have been doing it some, so hopefully they can finish off kills and get the puck up ice into the offensive zone.

Waiting4LSC: “What would be your ideal third and fourth lines? How does the team address the inability to clear the D zone?”

I think I answered most of W4L’s questions at one point or another in this Q&A, so I picked out these two specifically.

Ideally, I’d like to see Raymond-Bolland-Kulemin followed by D’Amigo-McClement-Bodie. I think Clarkson would be great on that third line, but he started rolling a little bit before the break. In the interest of getting his season something closer to on track, let’s see if he can build on it alongside Kadri and Lupul.

In terms of the fourth line, I would put D’Amigo there because I just named as a penalty killer above and I think he’s better on the PK than Ashton. On the other hand, Ashton could easily play there and is arguably better for that spot at 5v5. Ashton is definitely better on the cycle and brings an element down low in the offensive zone, but the PK is more of a priority to me. Otherwise, I like what Bodie has brought this season and McClement is fine in this kind of fourth line/PK role.

In terms of clearing the zone –- and shots against is always a popular subject with the Leafs —- I’ll note that they’ll never be great at limiting shots against with how they play. This team is designed to score off the rush and produce instant offense. That’s just the reality. Without consistent zone time, they’re not going to keep their shots against down. The one area I think they can improve on is better puck movement by the defencemen coming out of their own zone, including regroups when the options up ice aren’t open. It’s really just little things. For example: Instead of gaining center ice and dumping it down to make a line change, more often the defenceman could hold puck behind the net while the rest of their teammates change before switching himself. The St. Louis Blues are the kings of this. The ice can really start tilting with something as simple as that adjustment because you’re always chasing the puck instead of dictating play. Of course, I could write a lot more on this subject –- and have before —- but in the interest of stopping before losing your attention I’ll quit here.

  • Leafbites

    Great segment, AP. The PK, like Rusty, concerns me most as an area of their game they need shoring up down the stretch. I’m not sure RC will give D’Amigo a look, but I’d like to see two pairings with chemistry in that role and this may be their best optio, while adding an element of speed.

  • BrianHuddle

    APetrielli was just thinking about that 6-6/9-3 and how he rolls Top 9 HARD — I think that’s product of a matchup line. Doesn’t bother me.

  • Jon5200

    CanuckUKinToronto imho most of those ‘home run’ deals happen in the off season…..if i remember correctly we got Kessel in the off season…..

  • BBirde

    If you don’t mind me asking, what is it about Dan Girardi that you doesn’t do it for you?

  • Anthony Petrielli

    CanuckUKinToronto  Those deals are all about timing and necessity. The big guys on the market right now are players like Moulson, Cammy, and Vanek… It makes no sense for the Leafs to go after those type of players.

  • Jon5200

    I really like your stuff AP…..u always make points, and then back it up!  Dont agree with all your ‘things u would do’….but most of them:)  The Leafs, for the 1st time in a LONG time, have some VERY hard decisions to make…..it seemed in the past they were always dealing from a position of weakness….not any more !!

  • Anthony Petrielli

    BBirde  Well first off he’s a top pairing RD and the Leafs already have theirs in Dion. I don’t like when people say “well Dion’s a lefty so just switch him over” because he’s so much better on the right side and is really a RD. So right away they’re trading for a guy that would play on their second pairing and he’s going to cost a lot. 

    Beyond that I just think he’s overrated on the whole, he’s going to want a lot of money that the Leafs shouldn’t/wouldn’t give him this summer. He’d just be a pricey acquisition that would cause the Leafs to shake up the whole D to accommodate and I just don’t see why they should bother. 

    If we’re going to give up high picks and prospects for a top tier player, let’s get an actual stud.

  • Anthony Petrielli

    Jon5200  Thanks. Definitely dealing from a position of strength which is awesome.

  • BBirde

    Anthony Petrielli BBirde  Would you prefer to have someone a la Mark Stuart who is a left hand D?

  • Anthony Petrielli

    BBirde Anthony Petrielli  I’d rather just wait out the season, see how Franson, Gardiner et. al do to close out the year/playoffs, then reassess from there. Let’s get the kids some experience then look to add some veterans. Ranger’s a fine 7D too so I like their depth.

  • APetrielli

    BrianHuddle Yeah I’m fine with that. But with prospects chomping at the bit and looking ready, L4 will eventually have to be a real thing.

  • BrianHuddle

    APetrielli definitely. Can see them upping their icetime, but it means 2-3 have to give up a min or so each of icetime, which will PO ppl

  • Anthony Petrielli

    CanuckUKinToronto Anthony Petrielli  I imagine Nonis will be in on that if there’s a fit on D in particular. But of the guys we know can be had, there isn’t much I’d be interested, if anything. But that’s just me and I don’t run the team.

  • Jon5200

    I think i’ll always remember Carlyle’s 1st comment about Holland when they traded for him…..”the puck just seems to follow this kid around”….i really hope this guy gets a good shot with the big club…..i really dont see him as a 4th line centre but with Bolland back i understand his move to the Marlies……play the heck out of him there and look toward next year!!

  • GiuseppeM

    Never thought about Brian Boyle, but I like it. What would you think we would have to give up and where would we play him and……who loses that spot?>

  • BingoDabber

    Thoroughly enjoyed the Q&A and appreciate you answering my Q in part 1!

  • Anthony Petrielli

    GiuseppeM  Hopefully just a pick and a depth Marlie but I have my doubts that would work… I wouldn’t break the bank for the guy. 

    I’d play him on L4 with McClement and Bodie/Orr. Sounds like they plan on possibly using FML on L4 at the moment and Ashton is banged up so it would be a huge upgrade.

  • Anthony Petrielli

    @BingoDabber  Thanks for the Q. Cheers.

  • Shift_Disturber1

    What does the future hold here for Cody Franson? He’s been on a couple of 1 year show me deals and this year, as we have found out, he has been playing injured. On yet another show me deal Franson hasn’t been able to demonstrate what he can/can’t do other than appear to be a PP specialist. 

    Do they try and low ball him on yet another 1 year deal, raise him and give him term, one or both sides elect for arbitration or do they move him. I think he has to be one of the biggest question marks going forward

  • Anthony Petrielli

    Shift_Disturber1  Arguably the biggest Q on the team. It’s not like he’s a young kid anymore, either.

  • Mind Bomb

    @BrianHuddle APetrielli   Hi Brian, The personal and the Cap may have something to do with that. Its hard to justify playing This

    Bodie-MCL-Orr  

    when bolland is back you are taking minutes away from

    Lups-Kadri-Clarkson
    raymond-Bolland-Kulie

    Its hard to justify uping L4 minutes, now that we are in a Playoff Race. 

    ,

  • Burtonboy

    Thanks for the answer Anthony . My gut tells me Carlyle will adjust that 4th line the closer we get to the playoffs. Fingers crossed on that one though because there certainly is still some doubt in my mind that he will actually take Orr and McLaren out of the lineup unless forced to .

  • Mind Bomb

    Burtonboy   I am with you there BB, He will play one Face puncher at least a night

  • Burtonboy

    Mind Bomb Burtonboy  We need facepunchers who can actually play the dam game .

  • Anthony Petrielli

    Burtonboy  Would think if they add a depth forward at the deadline that would be an indication of them planning to play an at least reasonable L4.

  • Shift_Disturber1

    Anthony Petrielli Shift_Disturber1 Yes. He’ll be 27 in August. That only adds to the questions. I certainly thought he stepped up in the playoffs but without  much follow up to date this year it makes for a tough call. I think he’s going to be looking for a raise and term on this go around.

  • Burtonboy

    Anthony Petrielli Burtonboy  So hard to even do that this yr. Any deal has to have the same dollar value going the other way

  • Mind Bomb

    Burtonboy Mind Bomb  They are few and far between my Friend, How many actually exist, that can Handle a Heavyweight. Maybe we should have kept Brownie :)

  • Loric76

    CanuckUKinToronto  Also consider that their strategy currently is to play it safe and pick surefire NHL’ers (rather than to swing for the fences), but the strategy may change.  I think it’s a temporary strategy to help shore up their prospect pool, and after a few years once the cupboards are overflowing we see them shift towards more homerun swings in the early draft rounds.

  • Shift_Disturber1

    Loric76 CanuckUKinToronto  People tend to forget that we have had to build up the entire org from essentially nothing.

  • Mind Bomb

    Anthony Petrielli Burtonboy  

    Cant see it Anthony, especially with Bolland Healthy he will ride that Line a lot. Also I think the amount of penalties we take, may effect this as well 

    5 of our top 6 are not regular Penalty killers, ( Maybe JVR) when the Penalty train is done he will role a rested L1 and L2

  • dlb eh

    BBirde
    i’d save some money and see if MacWilliam or another Marlie can’t fill out the bottom pair next year.  i like the idea of more tough defenders, though.

  • Loric76

    Shift_Disturber1 Anthony Petrielli  I honestly think he’s as good as gone, whether that happens in the next few days (unlikely) or between today and July (more likely) is the question.  I think AP hit the nail on the head with Cody – he’s a bottom pairing PP specialist.  He should be paid as such, but he’ll want more.

  • Greg Fenton

    CanuckUKinToronto  Yes, but what “home run” players are available on the trade market, and the problem is what team sig oing to give up a “home run” player for assets? 

    Remember part of the reason for that way of doing things is draft postion and whats available. When you are drafting 3rd its easier to go for the home run pick then 25th.

  • Loric76

    So my question didn’t get answered…thanks a lot AP!

  • Loric76

    lol, j/k…to get my question answered I’d need to actually submit one

  • Pent_House

    Mind Bomb Burtonboy  Devane is developing into that guy

  • Greg Fenton

    Loric76 CanuckUKinToronto  No, they draft “safe” because they are drafting later. 

    And the ucpboards will never be “overflowing” because prospects are constantly moving up to the NHL, moving down to the ECHL or europe and becoming busts.

  • Shift_Disturber1

    Mind Bomb Anthony PetrielliBurtonboy  He did drop FML last year in the playoffs. (all but game 1)

  • Loric76

    Greg Fenton CanuckUKinToronto  there’s been plenty of “home run” players that hit the trade market because the teams that drafted them couldn’t agree to terms.  Kessel is a great example.

  • Greg Fenton

    Shift_Disturber1 Loric76 CanuckUKinToronto  True, but thats because Burke lacked the patience to rebuild it more slowly with draft picks.

  • Mind Bomb

    Pent_House Mind Bomb Burtonboy  I am pulling for him :)

  • Burtonboy

    Pent_House Mind Bomb Burtonboy  Hopefully Penthouse

  • Loric76

    Greg Fenton Loric76 CanuckUKinToronto  Biggs, Percy, and even Gauthier were all safe picks when there were still many “big risk, big reward” options available.

  • Mind Bomb

    Shift_Disturber1 Mind Bomb Anthony Petrielli Burtonboy  And Played Orr a lot. we will see

  • goodonerandy

    Jon5200 CanuckUKinToronto  we got him during training camp I’m pretty sure.  Phaneuf was a deadline acquisition though.  It happens.  I think it is just a case of there not be that many home run deals out there at the moment.  Nonis can’t force another GM to trade him a star for a package of futures, got to wait for the perfect storm of circumstances to arise and then pounce.  

    Also in general the trading market in the NHL is not what it used to be.  Hopefully as we see the cap rise over the next several years, and now with the ability to take on salary in a deal, we see a lot more flexibility from teams in trade.

  • Shift_Disturber1

    Loric76      Well it was a dumb question ;P

  • Pent_House

    Shift_Disturber1  I think he’s probably going to be traded.

  • Mind Bomb

    Greg Fenton Shift_Disturber1 Loric76 CanuckUKinToronto  Or had the Foresight to get us there sooner, We are going to our 2nd playoffs, and are still young

  • Greg Fenton

    Loric76 Greg Fenton CanuckUKinToronto  So one 1 years ago……

    And yes I know Kessel isn’t the only one, but I would also argue they need ap layer better then Kessel to become a true cup contender. Those guys become available….very rarely.