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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  • StanSmith

    I’m not sure how moving a player that has never played centre in the NHL into that position can help “solidify” it.

  • http://editorinleaf,com Kurtis Friesen

    @StanSmith That’s why I said it’s an insurable option moving forward. He has played center for most of his career, but wasn’t needed in the crowded middle in Philly either. The difference being that the Flyers were crowded with capable top line centers. Toronto is stacked with middle to bottom line centers.
    I didn’t like the moge at first, but if Burke isn’t able to acquire the number one, at least you’re showing confidence in someone, rather than give the undersized Bozak or underperforming Connolly the job. Though, I believe Connolly can get it together and Bozak would have a lot of value in a package trade. Because as it stands, we have too much mediocre talent and too many centers

  • http://editorinleaf,com Kurtis Friesen

    @StanSmith Well that’s why I said it’s an insurable option moving forward. He has played center for most of his career, but wasn’t needed in the crowded middle in Philly either. The difference being that the Flyers were crowded with capable top line centers. Toronto is stacked with middle to bottom line centers.
    I didn’t like the move at first, but if Burke isn’t able to acquire the number one, at least you’re showing confidence in someone, rather than give the undersized Bozak or underperforming Connolly the job. Though, I believe Connolly can get it together and Bozak would have a lot of value in a package trade. Because as it stands, we have too much mediocre talent and too many centers.
    I only like this move if we move some of the deadweight forwards that take up spots for Frattin or Kadri and if we end up not acquiring a number one center.. like I said, it’s good for insurance purposes. And if it works, Burke and Carlyle are heros.

  • StanSmith

    I don’t understand why no one talks about using Grabovski as the number one centre.  I’m thinking trade Connolly if you can. That leaves Bozak/Kadri/McLement/Steckel for the other three lines.  If you can’t make a move with Connolly and could get something for Bozak, that would be my plan B.  I would either trade Lombardi for whatever, buy him out, or put him on waivers. If he passes waivers and re-entry waivers he would be an extra piece in case of injury.  If not, no big loss.
     
    My biggest worry is that Burke makes a big deal for a 1st line centre only to find out that the player he trades for is one that withers under the spotlight in Toronto. I have seen that a number times over the years.   

    • http://editorinleaf.com Kurtis Friesen

      That seems to happen to question marks coming to Toronto, doesn’t it? It’s definitely frustrating, but if Burke is able to pull the trigger on a big number one center, he did his part. And we’d likely be better off with a mediocre number one with high end potential, rather than a pack of mediocre forwards who have little upside or injury problems.

      I’m a huge fan of Grabovski and would love to see him and his speed along side Kessel, but it’s the same problem we have there as we have with Bozak.. no size. Bozak played extremely well offensively, but with lack of size on the top line, especially at center, creates a lot of matchup problems with other top lines. It would be nice to see a big, two-way forward to center Kessel and Lupul.

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