Offense: Ah, yes, the dreaded offensive debacle that the Leafs are purported to be. Except, on this so-called offensive debacle there are plenty of pieces to be excited about. Of course there’s Phil Kessel, the 22 year old two-time 30-goal scorer. Then there’s gritty young Kris Versteeg, a two-time 20 goal scorer and Stanley Cup winner at the age of 24. Nik Kulemin and Clarke MacArthur both have 2nd-3rd line potential and will be given opportunities to perform on the top line in all likelihood. Grabovski is entering the final year of his contract and showed signs that he remembered how to play this game when he came back from a wrist injury in the spring.
Then you have the two young centers that will likely be given first shot at the top two line pivot roles, Tyler Bozak and Nazem Kadri. Bozak was one of my favorite Leafs last year, and the promise he showed makes me wonder what could have happened if he’d been given a shot a bit earlier in the year. Kadri has bumped his weight to 188 pounds and, from what everyone is saying so far, is a lock to be in the top six. If that is the case, and Kadri steps in and contributes immediately, he could be a very pleasantly surprising source of offense. Remember, this is the same kid that was skating circles around the OHL with John Tavares and John Carlson in Windsor we’re talkin’ about here. I’m not saying he’s gonna walk in and drop 90 points, but he could very well pop 30-40.
When Brian Burke and Ron Wilson crafted the silver-medal winning American Olympic team (yea, silver medal Andrew, suck it), Burke made it clear he wanted the best six scorers and the best six checkers for his club. No one is going to accuse the Leafs of having the six best scoring forwards, but their new 3rd and 4th lines should be much more effective in helping out a defense that shouldn’t require an abundance of assistance to begin with. Colby Armstrong was a great pickup, as he participates heavily at both ends of the ice. Mike Brown, Freddie Sjostrom and Kris Versteeg are all solid defensively as well, and play with the physical energy Burke wants to create. A bottom six of Armstrong-Grabovski-Caputi/Hanson/Mitchell and Sjostrom/Brown/Orr might not score too many goals, but should contribute some offense while harassing opponents.
If the Leafs’ defense can play up to the expectations that should be rightfully leveled upon it, given the salary tied up there, then the scorers won’t be forced to try to run and gun with teams on a nightly basis. A tough, young, aggressive group of forwards with plenty of youthful optimism and energy should be a perfect fit with a talented, physical blueline. If the forwards are dedicated to playing two-way hockey, as many of them already are, then the offense will come as needed. There’s plenty of talent and potential on the roster, it just remains to be seen how much of it will come to fruition.
Tying this back to the Coyotes, they finished last season with just 225 goals, less than any other playoff team except the Devils. They had a very similar point production scale as I would project for the Leafs as well. See if there aren’t just a few similarities between how the Coyotes performed last year to what the Leafs are expected to do this season:
Phoenix Coyotes ’09-10 Point Production Breakdown:
- Two 50+ point scorers - Shane Doan, Matthew Lombardi
- Two 40-50 point scorers- Radim Vrbata, Keith Yandle
- Four 30-40 point scorers - Ed Jovanoski, Martin Hanzal, Scottie Upshall, Vernon Fiddler
- Four 20-30 point scorers - Robert Lang, Adrian Aucoin, Taylor Pyatt, Petr Prucha
- Seven 10-20 point scorers - Daniel Winnik, Zbynek Michalek, Wojtek Wolski, Zbynek Michalek, Peter Mueller, Jim Vandermeer, Lauri Korpikoski, Sami Lepisto
Toronto Maple Leafs ’10-11 Potential Production Equivalents:
- 50+ points - Phil Kessel, Kris Versteeg, Tyler Bozak(Scored at a 60 point pace during his 37 games last year), Tomas Kaberle
- 40-50 points - Nikolai Kulemin, Mikhail Grabovski, Dion Phaneuf
- 30-40 points - Clarke MacArthur, Nazem Kadri (if the stars align and he comes out flying)
- 20-30 points - Colby Armstrong, Nazem Kadri (more realistically), Francois Beauchemin, Carl Gunnarsson
- 10-20 points - Fredrik Sjostrom, Luke Schenn, Mike Komisarek, John Mitchell, Luca Caputi (if he plays more than 30-40 games)
I would have to say I think the Coyotes offense was a bit more balanced than the Leafs will be, but I think there’s the potential for some of the Leafs to have some big offensive years, given the opportunities that will be provided to some of the younger skaters who should be chomping at the bit for full time NHL duty, and with Toronto playing in the Eastern Conference, they should be able to score more than the 225 goals Phoenix scored last year.