On Episode 2 of the MLHS podcast, Ian Tulloch and Anthony Petrielli debated the Leafs’ situation at left wing and Joe Thornton’s fit in the lineup after he returns from injury.
Support the MLHS Podcast on Patreon
Early-release full-length video episodes are available to our patrons each week:
Ian Tulloch: For John Tavares and William Nylander, at five on five, it just hasn’t looked right. It hasn’t been clicking to the degree that it should be based on both players’ talent level. Nylander has made a few special passes this year where he has given his teammate a wide-open net, but I think we know there is more that could be generated offensively.
We can blame it all on Jimmy Vesey, but I think the bigger issue is the fact that there isn’t someone better who can come in and take that spot, which is why the Leafs are looking to trade for a player.
If you could trade for someone in the NHL right now, realistically, are there any guys who come to mind for you?
Petrielli: It is tough to say because of Covid and the rules. If New Jersey is out, I would be slightly interested in Kyle Palmieri. I know he is a little bit more-of-the-same, but he is a legit 30-goal guy.
The bigger point is I don’t think they have an internal solution. I would try Joe Thornton there when he is back. I definitely wouldn’t take Zach Hyman off of the Auston Matthews line.
Tulloch: You could throw Hyman with Tavares and Nylander. He works anywhere.
Petrielli: He does, but I still stand by it: I don’t want to see Joe Thornton, at that age and his ability, going against top lines on other teams. I just want to see the Leafs load up. Even in that first game against the Habs, the team kind of putzed around and then got to the third, and then it was, “Let’s take this seriously and put Hyman on the first line.” That is kind of what it felt like.
Tulloch: It is what they have been doing all season, really — throwing Hyman on the ice in high-leverage situations. With Joe Thornton, I like the idea of using him in some offensive-zone situations. He is a good passer.
If you look at the five-on-five shots and scoring chances when Thornton played with Matthews and Marner — and they were also playing with Rielly and Brodie together a lot, so it’s five guys who can all pass — I like the idea of it and it was working. Is it something that would work in the playoffs over a larger sample? That is a question that is to be determined. But it was working.
Petrielli: Was it working because he was playing with Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner or because he was doing anything of note? I was really rarely looking and thinking, “Joe Thornton is carrying the mail here,” or doing something that was a notable contribution.
Tulloch: Sometimes it is the continuation of a passing sequence for me. I know if you look at Nylander and Tavares, when they pass it to Simmonds off the rush, sometimes he can’t complete that next pass. With Thornton, when he gains the blue line, he is able to make the drop pass or the next play.
If you look at the micro-stats on the zone exits and zone entries, if you are able to create a passing sequence of one, two, or three passes after gaining the blue line, it creates a much higher shooting percentage for your team. The idea of having Thornton there to help get those passing sequences going — I have always liked the idea of it. I just don’t know if it is something that would work over a large sample against the other team’s best players.
I guess that would be your biggest fear.
Petrielli: I like the idea of him with Tavares and Nylander. Both guys shoot. Have Thornton tee them up. They already play in favourable offensive situations anyway, so you may as well put Thornton with them and see how it goes.