The Leafs have added some strength down the middle by signing Jay McClement to a two-year deal worth $3 million total.
They were also able to agree to terms with Matt Frattin on a two-year deal that totals $1.7 million, while resigning Ryan Hamilton and Jussi Rynnas as well as adding Mike Kostka to the organization, too.
It wasn’t a banner day for the Leafs, but it was still an important one.
Most notably, they finally added the third line center they’ve needed for quite some time and that has serious ramifications on the rest of the roster.
Burke talked about it in his press conference, saying that he sees McClement as a potential 3rd line center, and that matches up perfectly with everything we have been discussing here over the last month or so (meaning, we’ve been looking for a shutdown line). This also pushes Dave Steckel down to the fourth line. That gives the Leafs a 6’1, 205 pound center who won over 51% of his faceoffs on their third line, and then a 6’6, 215 pound center who won 58% of his faceoffs on their fourth line.
Those are the two pillars of their bottom six units.
This also works in line with what Anaheim had in Pahlsson and Marchant as their bottom two guys. I’m not saying McCelement-Steckel is better or even the same, but they will most likely share the same responsibilities. Burke briefly discussed that, while Steckel will probably be the fourth line center, he won’t play fourth line minutes because he’ll get ample penalty killing time (which was how Marchant was used way back when). This also gives the Leafs two central centers and faceoff men for the penalty kill, and now it’s just a matter of matching them up with wingers. A lot can happen between now and the end of the summer, but Brown and Kulemin would seem to be the two guys who could feature beside them right now.
In Anaheim, Burke would not allow Carlyle to play his top guys on the penalty kill for fear of them breaking bones (specifically toes) while blocking shots.
As far as McClement’s on-ice game, the best way to explain him is simply a better version of David Steckel. He too has a bit of an awkward stride and isn’t the fastest of skaters — to be clear he is faster than Steckel — and also like Steckel he isn’t a physical force who will go out there and hammer players despite his size. That said, he does get in on the forecheck diligently, he can work the corners and when he is in the offensive zone he really looks to establish himself in front of the net and be a presence right in the slot.
Off the ice, McClement is known as a quiet leader (at least, according to Burke). That’s noteworthy because Leafs management did talk about bringing in veteran support to surround captain Dion Phaneuf and so far they’ve done it by removing a loud guy (Armstrong) and putting in a quiet guy.
It’s also quickly worth noting that Frattin potentially not starting camp on time is troublesome. Players who miss all or some of camp tend to struggle (see Doughty, Drew). While it is premature to worry about Frattin, I do have some concerns about his recovery and where it leaves him when he returns.
Looking back on the lineup model that we’ve already laid out, McClement as stated, is the third line center. The shutdown man. At the very least, he’s going to get the opportunity to be that guy to start. Not only does this push Steckel to the fourth line, but it also pushes up Grabovski to more of a scoring role, which makes sense because now they can pair him with James Van Riemsdyk for that unit and hope that they can click.
And for the record, if McClement is starring as their shutdown center this year and does well, then he will be one of the bargain’s of the summer making only $1.5 million per season. In fact, if you add up McClement’s $1.5 million and couple it with Matt Frattin’s $850,000, they’re combined $2.35 million is only a little over the $2 million that was cleared up when the Leafs bought out Colby Armstrong. That’s some pretty thrifty maneuvering when you consider that Frattin is essentially replacing (and upgrading) Armstrong AND the Leafs were able to add a center.
This leads us to the forwards as a whole, where we can essentially look at the them in the designated line roles (top line, shutdown line, scoring line, energy line) and see “tandems” of players already associated to each. It reads as:
Top line -> Joffrey Lupul-______-Phil Kessel
Shutdown line -> ______-Jay McClement-Nikolai Kulemin
Scoring line -> JVR-Mikhail Grabovski-______
Energy line ->______-Dave Steckel-Mike Brown
Pretty well all these players seem set in stone. Unless Kulemin and the Leafs have problems agreeing to a contract or the Leafs trade Joffrey Lupul (seems unlikely at this point, but could happen), the rest of these guys all appear to be players that will start the season in Toronto.
After these eight, you can almost begin to fill the rest of the spots with what’s leftover on the roster. Either Clarke MacArthur or Nazem Kadri seem most likely to end up on the scoring line, Matt Frattin or even Jerry D’Amigo could appear to be candidates for the shutdown line; Tyler Bozak, Joe Colborne and Tim Connolly could be competing to center the top line while Carter Ashton, Leo Komarov and a host of other Marlies could start the year on the energy line.
None of that, of course, takes into account any further acquisitions, which you know will happen. Burke still said he’s looking to address size, the center position, and goaltending. All three of which hold interesting subplots.
The Leafs have already added JVR and McClement to bolster their size, and they join some other players who either are big or play big in Steckel, Brown, Kulemin, Frattin and Lupul. Only a select few of these guys are particularly physical though, so it’ll be interesting to see if Burke adds a guy who is a “head-hunter” of sorts somewhere in the lineup. Burke did mention they could possibly bring back Jay Rosehill.
When it comes to upgrading the center position, we know Grabovski and McClement are locks. It seems all but certain that Steckel will be here too; by all accounts, Carlyle loves him. So if Burke is talking about upgrading at center –even if internally– does that mean Tyler Bozak is on his way out no matter what happens? At the very least one of he or Connolly will have to be shipped out, and Lombardi is another player who is getting squeezed out of the roster too. If the Leafs turn to Joe Colborne this year that would be a huge risk and also give the Leafs four left-handed centers.
Meanwhile, any talk of goalies always leads back to what happens with Ben Scrivens. He’s currently an RFA but as long as he’s retained this year he will have to be put on waivers in order to be sent down, and he surely would not get through. So if Burke is looking at a guy like Roberto Luongo, and it appears he is, then what does that mean for Scrivens?
Finally, it doesn’t appear Burke is looking at upgrading his defense, which is a little puzzling. Their defense currently reads along the lines of Gunnarsson-Phaneuf, Liles-Komisarek, Gardiner-Holzer/Franson. That isn’t exactly a lights-out unit so it’s been pretty interesting to hear Burke say that they think they can improve it internally with guys like Holzer and Blacker — basically saying we have an internal solution to our seventh D hole, but the rest of the spots are fine. For what it’s worth, Bruce Garrioch of the Ottawa Sun (I know, not the most reliable of sources) did say the Leafs were interested in Douglas Murray so for all we know it’s a smokescreen from Burke.
It’s only been one day of free agency and already things are heating up in Toronto. What else can you expect though, this is the Leafs we’re talking about.