All three have notched career highs in games played and points scored in 2010 – 2011, and all three are pending Unrestricted Free Agents in July.Â Between the ages of 26 and 28 all three have had breakthrough years.Â Yet they arenâ€™t looking to cash in on the open market.Â Theyâ€™re fighting just to make the Leafs 2011 â€“ 2012 roster.
Theyâ€™ve had to earn every NHL pay cheque theyâ€™ve cashed, but who among Darryl Boyce, Tim Brent and Joey Crabb will be back next season in blue and white?
Background and Situational Analysis:
Based on forwards under contract for next season, the Leafs forward corps is mostly established,
Lupul – Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â – Kessel
â€“ Grabovski â€“ Kulemin
Kadri – Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â – Armstrong
Brown – Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â – Orr
Certainly, Burke will attempt to improve that current roster if the opportunity arises, but at present these gentlemen here assembled should figure to be at worst penciled into opening night roster.
2 of the 4 currently vacant spots will be filled Clarke MacArthur and Tyler Bozak â€“ short of outrageous salary demands.Â As an addendum to that point, say what you will but Bozak led the Leafs in face off percentage and while unlikely to fulfill the promise of his 2009 â€“ 2010 campaign, should round out into a useful third line center man.Â Also, I donâ€™t think Burke is willing to part with someone he so earnestly coveted just two short years ago
The top Center spot will hopefully be addressed via free agency, and in any event the guys being discussed arenâ€™t ever going to be slotted in there.Â If â€“ however â€“ Brian Burke is unable to deliver us another top 6 center, Bozak might be forced into reprising his role as Kesselâ€™s â€˜set-upâ€™ man.Â This would free up more space for bottom six forwards such as these three.
However with the roster in its current formation, this trio will be fighting for 4th line minutes, and will further be forced to contend for ice time at both the NHL and AHL level against prospects such as Marcel Mueller, Joe Colborne, Jerry Dâ€™Amigo and potentially Luca Caputi (who is likely to get re-signed).
All of Boyce, Brent and Crabb have spent at least 3 seasons at the AHL level.Â On the wrong side of 25 their career potential seemed set as marginal NHL 4th liners or AHL regulars until trades, demotions and injuries brought them into 2010 â€“ 2011 Leafs roster.Â But have they established themselves enough to be penciled into Octoberâ€™s opening night roster?
Stats at a Glance:
Making his case: Darryl Boyce
First brought up on December 30th after the failed first call up for Nazem Kadri, the pride and joy of Summerside PEI stuck with the Maple Leafs for the remainder of the season.Â Undrafted, Boyce played four seasons in the OHL for the Toronto St Michaelâ€™s Majors (he and Timmy B played there together for 2 seasons) before playing Canadian university hockey at UNB.Â Signed as a free agent in April 2007, heâ€™s the longest serving Leaf on the active roster (having played 1 game during the 2007 â€“ 2008 season).
Darryl Boyce was relied on mostly to play an energy role during 5 on 5 situations and became a twitter sensation when he cut off his own nose to spite the Carolina Hurricanes. The horrifying result of a seemingly innocuous play endeared him to Leafs fans, and the wound and scar that remained seemed symbolic of the never say die attitude the Leafs exhibited in the closing months of the season.
His most notable on ice achievement was being second on the team in plus/minus.Â Though he played steady, Ron Wilson did his best to insulate Boyce with more established two-way players.Â Dobber Hockey reported that Boyceâ€™s most common linemates (26.36% of the time) were Colby Armstrong and the now departed Kris Versteeg.Â Though he ended up fourth on the team in faceoffs taken, he won a deflating 46.4% of them.Â His special teams time on ice â€“ the lowest of the three â€“ suggests that Boyce lacked enough overall talent to be relied upon in tight situations.
On a contending team (something the Leafs hope to be next season) players of Boyceâ€™s caliber become incredibly replaceable at the highest level.Â However the characteristics that Boyce possesses are important at all levels of professional hockey: responsibility at both ends of the rink, likeability and the will to finish your check.Â Heâ€™ll have to settle for being part of the taxi squad, but on a two-way contract near the league minimum in salary, heâ€™s an inexpensive cog if injuries or trades change the landscape.Â Heâ€™s a latter day Ben Ondrus.
Making his case: Tim Brent
What can you say about Tim Fâ€™ing Brent that this series of plays canâ€™t? That string of blocks and defensive plays by Cambridgeâ€™s finest made an indelible mark on the Toronto fanbase.Â Brent showcased a commitment to the job that can only be described as herculean.Â A little smaller than most Burkian bottom sixers, he plays the game with the heart of a lion.Â He was drafted twice by Burke and has seemed to found a niche in the bluff Irishmanâ€™s heart.
He put up 20 points playing most nights as a third line center, leading the trifecta in scoring (though both Boyce and Crabb put up more points per game).Â For better or worse (considering the overall ineptitude of the PK) Tim Brent had the second highest total of short handed ice time amongst forwards.Â Mike Zigomanis â€“ who featured in only 8 games â€“ had a higher average shorthanded ice time per game.
Some of the most key stats relate to his acumen in the circle: third in total faceoffs taken, second highest faceoff percentage (52%), most shorthanded faceoffs (a corollary of playing on the PK so much).Â His AHL point totals (223 in 302 games played) suggest that he may still have some offensive upside, certainly playing with Freddie Sjostrom half the time didnâ€™t afford him many options on the rush.Â Nonetheless, the 20 points should be a good bell weather of what his future holds offensively.
For being a useful special teams cog and proficient at faceoffs, Tim Brent has the best chance of sticking with the Leafs to start next season.Â He can fulfill the role of a grinding center man, and heâ€™s making a name for himself as a fan favourite.Â This guy put his nuts on the line for the Leafs, and with a modest raise (say between Mike Brownâ€™s $737,000 and Mike Ruppâ€™s $825,000) the number 37 will stick around for another year.Â In the end, he is the least expendable to Leafs at this juncture.
Making his case: Joey Crabb
Hailing from way up in Anchorage, Alaska, Joey Crabb skated from the periphery of NHL consciousness and into our tv sets at the close of the calendar year of 2010.Â He initially came up right before Kadri was demoted, and became the de facto other winger on Phil Kesselâ€™s line.Â When Joffrey Lupul was brought in during February and Kris Versteeg shipped out, he took on a role on the third line (something more suited to his talent level).
As for highlights, look no further than this beauty of a shorty.Â Itâ€™s also worth mentioning that he led the three in points per game, time on ice and linemates.Â His most common linemates more than 1/3 of the time were Tyler Bozak and Phil Kessel, who saw large increases in their point totals after Lupul replaced him. Another depressing statistic is Â that he registered no points while playing just under a minute per game on the power play.Â There was also a marked decrease in his PPTOI/G after Lupul came to Toronto, meaning he was featuring on special teams regularly for about two months in spite of zero results.Â Far from being a condemnation of Ron Wilson, that speaks more to the paper thin line up amongst the forward corps.Â In fact, of players who played more than 12 minutes per night over the course of the season no forward had fewer points or points per game than Joey Crabb.
As such, the deck isnâ€™t stacked in Crabbâ€™s favour.Â Crabbâ€™s a Right Winger, and with a sea of prospects on the wings and some firmly established players in the bottom six, heâ€™d be fighting to be even a 14th man.Â Unlike the first two contestants, Crabb doesnâ€™t have a Toronto pedigree.Â Another thing that may well hurt his chances is that he hasnâ€™t galvanized the fanbase the way either Boyce or Brent has.Â Even if you arenâ€™t great, itâ€™s important to leave a great impression.Â He has the greatest chance of being picked up elsewhere, possibly overseas where he could make a name (and salary) for himself in the DEL.
An Unfortunate Final Thought
Even with the effort and determination displayed by Darryl Boyce, Tim Brent, and Joey Crabb, ultimately their status as NHL players is susceptible to too many threats both internally and externally.Â Within the Leafs own farm system, Joe Colborne showed in his late season sampling with the Marlies to be on the verge of a breakout season.Â How much longer does the former first rounder get kept down in the A?Â Tim Brent in particular went to the wall for Ron Wilson, but if Brian Burke thinks that an affordable Max Talbot can help the Leafs make the playoffs, Brentâ€™s job security has to be in question.
You work sixteen hours and whaddya get?