After 6 months of waiting, they’re almost back. Game 6 of the first round in the Eastern Conference playoffs, up a goal, the Leafs looked poised to force a game 7. But a late goal from Marcus Johansson, and then an OT winner off Johansson’s stick again ended the most exciting and promising season in recent years for the Toronto hopeful.
But the past is the past, and now Leaf fans anxiously wait for a new season with new hopes and expectations. Before the expectations can ramp up and Maple Leafs Square can begin to fill up, we need to know what the team is and what the team looks like. Earlier today we got that much closer to the final roster. Toronto announced they trimmed it down to 26, with just 3 more to go.
Of the players that were sent to their respective European or Junior teams, or the Toronto Marlies, there were no real shockers. Kasperi Kapanen was a victim of contractual status, Miro Altonen was a victim being slightly out played by veterans and Nikita Soshnikov was a victim of his indelibility of waivers. But now comes the really difficult decisions.
Of the 26 players left, 2 are locks to be cut. Roman Polak is on a PTO and won’t be signed before the season starts and 2017 first round pick Timothy Liljegren is expected to be sent back to Sweden or the Toronto Marlies. But the last cut? It gets difficult.
The forward group appears set. Eric Fehr, Josh Leivo and Dominic Moore are staying with the team after Lou Lamiorello announced they’ll go with 14 forward and 7 defensemen. That means the final cut has to come from the blueline and all fingers are pointing to the one of the new Swedes Andreas Borgman. Unfortunately, Martin Marincin appears to have made the team. So with all that said, assuming that I’ve laid out an accurate representation of the Leafs roster and cuts, here’s my ideal opening night lineup:
Zach Hyman - Auston Matthews – William Nylander
JVR – Tyler Bozak – Mitch Marner
Patrick Marleau - Nazem Kadri – Connor Brown
Josh Leivo – Dominic Moore – Leo Komarov
Eric Fehr, Matt Martin
Ron Hainsey – Morgan Rielly
Jake Gardiner – Nikita Zaitsev
Calle Rosen – Connor Carrick
If you compare my ideal roster to the projected roster, you’ll see 3 major differences. Connor Brown and Leo Komarov are flipped, Josh Leivo in the lineup for Matt Martin and Dominic Moore as the fourth line center over Eric Fehr. Before you lose your collective armchair GM minds, let me explain.
Connor Brown’s offensive potential is higher then Leo Komarov’s. Brown scored 20 goals in a limited role last year leading the Leafs in shooting percentage amongst players who played at least 82 games, he had 4 more points then Komarov in the same amount of games and played, on average, about 50 seconds less a game. If you put a versatile player like Brown with two veterans like Kadri and Marleau, I think the results would be better than results Komarov would bring.
I’m a fan of Matt Martin the person and Matt Martin the hockey player. But am I a fan of Josh Leivo sitting in the press box and Matt Martin playing? No. I think Matt Martin and Leo Komarov do something very similar so having them both play seems unnecessary. Josh Leivo is the better skater, has the better hockey IQ and adds an offensive element to the fourth line that Matt Martin seriously lacks. Leivo had 10 points in 12 games, for .77 points per game compared to Matt Martin’s .11 points per game (9 in 82 games). I understand that’s not why Martin is on the team but I think if you can add a quality player who can score in your lineup, its more valuable then a 4th line “character” guy.
And then there’s the fourth line center battle. I think most people are impartial to who ends up playing, but the most crucial stat is their career faceoff percentage.
Moore: 54.2 %
Fehr: 49.1 %
That stat is the most important stat for a fourth line center, so to me Moore has to get the nod.
No matter how this roster shapes up I think its fair to say this Leafs season is the most interesting, anticipated and exciting in recent years.