February 26 2017 11:05AM
Photo Credit: Rick Osentoski/USA TODAY SPORTS
On Saturday Night Headlines, Nick Kypreos reported that the Leafs are inquiring about Brendan Smith and Riley Sheahan.
A number of pieces have already been written, including several by myself, analyzing the state of the Leafs' fourth line centre situation. Here, here, here, and here. One might suggest that all that can be said has been said (I definitely plan to leave it be after this unless an acquisition is made). And, other than the new factor of the pursuit of Riley Sheahan, that certainly seems true. So this piece will focus entirely on the value of Sheahan himself and the Leafs' apparent pursuit thereof.
February 03 2017 07:00AM
Photo Credit: John E. Sokolowski/USA TODAY SPORTS
The Leafs sent down Frederik Gauthier to the Toronto Marlies yesterday. Ben Smith was able to come off of the Injured Reserve and join the team to re-claim his spot at the team's fourth-line centre for last night's game. So, between Gauthier and Smith, they chose Smith. But, based on what we know, they were 100% wrong.
January 25 2017 09:59AM
Photo Credit: Tom Szczerbowski/USA TODAY SPORTS
According to Elliotte Friedman, the Leafs are looking for a center to help their depth . From the same piece, Tomas Jurco and Martin Hanzal are on the block, but I doubt either of them are targets for the Leafs.
It doesn't seem there are a lot of center options for the Maple Leafs to pursue. There's a potential to call St. Louis about pending UFA Patrik Berglund, to see if he's available. Acquiring him would be overdoing it a bit, but he's a really good player for the Leafs to shore up the center position with.
Two things appear to be at work here: the Leafs are not quite satisfied with Gauthier so far, and Ben Smith may still be a ways away. But is it possible there's an internal solution to this problem?
Heading into this season, one of the questions I had about the construction of the Leafs' roster was about the 4th line center position. We knew Auston Matthews was coming and was announced as the 3rd line center. This meant the obvious choices for 1st and 2nd line were Bozak and Kadri. But who would play on the 4th?
Some hoped Peter Holland had a chance to stake a claim on that role, but Babcock and the Leafs decided he wasn't a good enough fit there. Most of Holland success the past season had come on the wing, where he was also played in pre-season, so a long-term role at center likely wasn't in Babcock's plans for Holland anyways. After a few games trying him there, the Leafs claimed former Leaf Ben Smith, who got locked into this 4th line center role from then until his unfortunate hand injury.
From then forward, for the last 15 games, it's been Frederik Gauthier. The much-bemoaned former 1st round pick of the Maple Leafs, Gauthier had a ridiculous start to this season, statistically. His Corsi numbers were in the high 30's, and his goal-share numbers were in the high 70's. It was amazing to see, for better or worse.
January 10 2017 07:32AM
Photo Credit: Isaiah J. Downing/USA TODAY SPORTS
This offseason, the Leafs signed Nikita Zaitsev, a KHL free agent that brought much anticipation. The Leafs were in desperate need for improvement on the right side of their defense, and Nikita Zaitsev's play promised to bring that.
There were some that were skeptical of just how much an impact he could have, including myself. After all, we're still not totally sure how the KHL stacks up against the NHL, since that league is so volatile these days. Could Zaitsev really be a top 4 defenseman in his first NHL season?
He definitely can.
December 19 2016 07:51AM
Photo Credit: Tom Szczerbowski/USA TODAY SPORTS
Recently, Connor Brown has been fitting in nicely for the Maple Leafs. It seems like an appropriate time to talk about his performance so far in more detail. He has played all 29 games for the Maple Leafs so far and has seen a lot of faith put in him by Mike Babcock.
Despite being a forward that didn't have to go through waivers, among a sea of depth forwards that the Maple Leafs had in training camp, Connor Brown was able to find a role on this Maple Leafs team. It started on the 4th line with Holland and Martin, grew into a 3rd line role with Nazem Kadri, and now is partially becoming a shared role on Auston Matthews and Zach Hyman's 1st/2nd line (the line TOI is a little muddled) with William Nylander.
There was a pretty strong feeling heading into this year that Brown was going to win the uphill battle of making the roster, knowing how Mike Babcock lauded over his stint with the Maple Leafs last season. Here is his TLN prospect profile written in the summer (by yours truly) for some context. Now that he's here, he's making waves.