Toronto Maple Leafs' Middle Men Doing It by Committee
The Toronto Maple Leafs' first line has been dubbed the "donut line" since the day Mats Sundin left the club in 2008. Not those beautifully powdered and creme-filled treats that Tim Horton's has perfected over the years, but the sugar glazed ones that have NO CENTER.
The top middle man and Leafs' centers in general have all heard the noise of not quite fitting the bill in recent years, and no one can really dispute the comments from the fans and army of experts on every media outlet known to man in the Greater Toronto Area.
A look at this year's team shows that you can get it done by committee and there are more ways than one to get the job done in the NHL. You have a tight game plan, solid goaltending, defensive coverage and drive, and you can get some wins with consistency night in and night out.
Tyler Bozak, Mikhail Grabovski, Nazem Kadri and to a certain extent, Jay McClement, are all holding the middle strong, contributing in different ways and playing to their strengths so far this year.
The Leafs still don't have that big, stud guy, say an Eric Staal or a Jonathon Toews, but they have three guys who are all playing like strong No. 2's right now, and that area of the ice has been a strength for the Leafs thus far.
In today's NHL it is less and less about the name, or what you have done in the past, as it is about what have you done for me lately. The other night against the Philadelphia Flyers is a perfect example.
The Flyers do have that big No. 1 the Leafs have coveted in Claude Giroux and then follow it up with Brayden Schenn and Sean Couturier, two very high draft picks. On paper, they are stacked with size and strength up the middle, but subpar play elsewhere in the lineup have that team sinking fast.
Two games doesn't make a season, but the Leafs have shown that paper is only good in the program and that their club is doing fine up the middle. New Jersey and Montreal are two other teams having success this season without a bona-fide number one center. Look at Boston, or Ottawa. Neither of those teams have a center in the top 30.
Kadri is the "third"-line center and he leads the team in points with 17. That places him tied for 13th among centers in the league so far. His hands and offensive IQ are second to none in the league. Bozak has 12 points, but his value has been shown all over the ice and especially in the faceoff circle, which has been huge to the Leafs success.
Bozak also has real chemistry with top winger Phil Kessel, and that matters. Grabovski has nine points and has been a feisty and dangerous player more nights than not, and you have to give an honorable mention to Jay McClement as well.
Dwight Wakabayashi is a contributor to Bleacher Report NHL Toronto Maple Leafs and a Featured Columnist with Bleacher Report UFC.
Follow him on Twitter at wakafightermma
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