February 18, 2012; Philadelphia, PA USA; Philadelphia Flyers left wing James Van Riemsdyk (21) during warmups before the game against the Pittsburgh Penguins at the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia. James Van Riemsdyk is returning after missing 5 weeks with a concussion. Mandatory Credit: Eric Hartline-US PRESSWIRE

Concerns Down The Middle In Toronto, JVR Center Of Attention

May 3, 2012; Newark, NJ, USA; New Jersey Devils goalie Martin Brodeur (30) makes a save while Philadelphia Flyers left wing James van Riemsdyk (21) and Devils defenseman Mark Fayne (29) battle for the rebound during the first period in game three of the 2012 Eastern Conference semifinals at the Prudential Center. Mandatory Credit: Ed Mulholland-US PRESSWIRE

Rumblings around Toronto suggest that the Leafs are liking the idea of newly acquired forward, James van Riemsdyk, playing center more and more every day.  As per nearly every 2012-2013 preseason roster prediction, James van Riemsdyk is the consensus pick for the Leafs number one center this fall.

Of course, the announcement made last week by Randy Carlyle did not come with a ton of scrutiny.  As most analysts would report, moving JVR to center is more than likely a backup plan in the case of Leafs GM Brian Burke not being able to land a true number one center this offseason.  Furthermore, due to the already crowded roster of centers, this move does seems even more suspect.

I mean.. just take a look down our roster and count how many natural centers already exist: Tim Connolly, Tyler Bozak, Mikhail Grabovski, David Steckel, Matthew Lombardi, Jay McClement, and now James van Riemsdyk?  Not to mention, Nazem Kadri is expected to crack the roster this year.  Seven natural centers are now crowded with another man down the middle.  What does this mean for the rest of the centers in TO?

It’s certainly within the realm of possibility that Brian Burke is shopping some forwards.. probably most of them.  As most of the forwards that flood the roster have proven to be not much more than third line talent.  Also note that two of the players listed above, Connolly and Lombardi, played the majority of last season on the third line.  Those two collect a combined $10 million in salary.  The Leafs also signed Jay McClement for faceoff and penalty killing duties, so it’s safe to assume he’ll hold a center position.  Grabovski also seems to be a lock at center, being the Leafs’ most effective center and after signing that nice 5.5 million dollar extension.  If James van Riemsdyk is truly going in as the number one center, that leaves one spot, likely for the remaining five.. on a bottom line.  This just creates a mess on the wings, having nearly as many centers playing wing than wingers.

The Leafs have under $12 million in cap space, not a substantial amount for a team looking to get bigger, get an experienced goaltender, and still looking for a true number one center.  I’ve repeatedly proposed the idea of making a serious effort to acquire Shane Doan.  Though Doan would bring considerable leadership to a young team, signing another forward hardly solves the issue of crowded centers.  Bottom line is, we need to ship some forwards out.  Be it for size, a defenseman, or even a goaltender.. something has to happen.  There seems to be a lot of uncertainty heading into this season and a lot of unanswered questions if the Burke isn’t able to pull the trigger on a big move.

On the other hand, I like the idea of JVR moving to center and being the presumed number one.  It brings a sense of stability to the situation.  Rather than throwing the undersized Bozak or the under-performing Connolly the job.  He certainly showed excitement and confidence in his latest media appearance Wednesday:

http://video.mapleleafs.nhl.com/videocenter/console?catid=802&id=183983&lang=en&navid=DL|TOR|home

Though I am not a fan of the current instability down the middle, the moving of JVR to the top line shows a legitimate confidence in someone to take on that role.  As always, don’t hold your breath on it, another move is likely to come this summer.  But if Burke is unable to address the need, JVR seems to be a decent insurable option.

 

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