Toronto Maple Leafs: Can the Leafs Score by Committee?
Three seasons ago, Toronto Maple Leafs head coach Ron Wilson was asked how his team would win games without a definitive primary scoring option. Of course, this before Mikhail Grabovski or Nikolai Kulemin were considered consistent threats, and before the Leafs acquired Phil Kessel. The coach responded with the words, "scoring by committee."
As you may know by now, that "plan" didn't pan out so well with the Leafs battling for 10th in the Eastern Conference for most of the season.
Now, getting to my point of the article, could the Leafs revisit the idea of scoring by committee? Perhaps instead of paying the farm for a top line center, could the Leafs maybe sign two or three lower-grade options to boost us to the playoffs?
You may have read them, but I have written two recent articles about the Leafs acquiring their coveted top-line pivot (or another premier forward), but I came to the realization that perhaps finally, instead of trading away our farm, we should see what we have and let our prospects properly develop.
Now, I understand the frustration of playoff-less Leafs seasons, but it's now realistic to say that scoring by committee is now a viable option. The mistake with the choice last time was that the Leafs realized too late that they didn't have a plan 'B', and ultimately it cost them.
In the present, they have an opportunity to allow Matt Frattin, Joe Colborne, Nazem Kadri and Jerry D'Amigo among others to properly develop, to not be rushed into the NHL, something the Leafs' prospects have been deprived of in recent years.
They can realize plan 'B' can actually be plan 'A' from the start.
So, if we were to score by committee, we would obviously have to bring aboard some lower-grade, scoring free agents to fulfill the idea. A model I used for this post was none other than the Stanley Cup finalist (hopefully champions!), Boston Bruins.
If you look at the Bruins' roster, there's no clear "ace" or primary scoring options. What there is a strong foundation and emphasis on their defense, with numerous secondary scoring options combining for a balanced attack. And of course, all this mixed in with a tough, grinding game, where the players always finish their checks, go into the corners, and win faceoffs consistently.
This is obviously a type of game Burke would love to see his team play, but who off the free-agent market would it take to employ this style of play?
I came up with somewhat of a formula, as I decided that the Leafs need another two-way defenseman, two to three more scoring options (of course, cheaper options over Richards, Stastny, etc.) and a veteran backup to push Reimer or Gustavsson.
Who would fill out what I came up with though? I came up with the most realistic, and beneficial options for the Leafs:
A big, physical center who can contribute consistently on both ends. Laich likes to pass the puck, and could act as the Leafs' top-line centerman in between Kessel and Lupul. Burke will likely have to overpay to acquire him, as he will be a coveted piece if he reaches the free market.
I was looking at something close to a four-year, $15-18 million contract (anywhere between $3.75-4.5 million per year). Would that be an overpayment? Absolutely, but it will required to obtain Laich's services considering the market for a versatile center like the Capitals' pivot.
Upshall isn't the biggest winger on the market, but he certainly plays like he's seven feet tall. The winger isn't afraid to throw his weight around, go into the corners and can put the puck in the net too, having scored 18 and 22 goals in the last two seasons.
He is also very strong on the puck and drives to the net well, something the buds lack right now. He would be an excellent compliment to Tyler Bozak and Colby Armstrong on the third line, and would likely cost something in Armstrong's range, perhaps a tad under $3 million, on a shorter deal too.
You could insert Alex Tanguay's name into here, but I chose Fleischmann because he contributed almost identical results to Tanguay's without having the benefit of playing with a premier talent like Ovechkin or Iginla consistently.
Fleischmann passes more than he shoots, and even though many are already penciling in Lupul onto the first line, the former Capital could fit well into a line with Laich and Kessel.
He can pass, he has a big body, drive to the net well, and can even pot 20 goals as well. He would likely be hard to wrestle away from the Colorado Avalanche, as he was a great player for the Avalanche after being dealt for.
In order to convince him from not returning to Denver, it would likely cost something identical to Colby Armstrong's deal as well, a three-year, $9 million pact.
It's clear that Bieksa won't be returning to the Vancouver Canucks' blue line next season, for obvious cap restrictions. So, why not a reunion with his former employers?
It's been said around the league that Dave Nonis and Bieksa have a great off-ice relationship and that he loved playing for him, and I'm sure Toronto would love to see Bieksa return to Nonis. Ultimately, Bieksa would provide as a power-play quarterback for the Leafs, as well as another physical presence in pairing with captain Dion Phaneuf.
However, he too wouldn't come cheap, as I looked at Francois Beauchemin's deal when he signed here as a comparable (four-year, $3.8 million per year).
I have a hunch that Giguere returns next season. I could be wrong (I most likely will be wrong), but Allaire, Burke and Giguere's connection and relationship will play a big factor in determining a new contract. He would come very, very cheap compared to his previous $6 million salary.
In fact, a salary either just under or just above a million dollars is very reasonable to suggest. If he's healthy like he's said he is, then he should provide just fine a veteran backup and mentor to whichever young goaltender the Leafs' employ next season as their starter.
Could the following team make the playoffs? That's up for debate. When it comes down to numbers, yes they can, but as especially Leafs' fans should now, there are many more elements to a good team than just the numbers.
Here's the lineup I mocked up:
Lupul - Laich - Kessel
MacArthur - Grabovski - Kulemin
Upshall - Fleishmann - Armstrong
Rosehill - Brent - Bozak
Phaneuf - Aulie
Schenn - Bieksa
Could the Leafs ride committee scoring to the playoffs?
Gunnarsson - Komisarek
The forward lines are interchangeable, and of course playing on the fourth line will be much different than your average fourth line. The top line's ice-time will drastically decreased, while the third and fourth units will see their TOI increased to more important roles.
Please note that this is just an idea, and in fact will most likely not come to reality, but it's fun to speculate, right?
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