With a playoff spot finally secured for the Toronto Maple Leafs, they can start to focus on strategy for the post-season. When it comes to tactics out on the ice, the main goal for any team is to employ a lineup that gives them the best opportunity to win.
With that being said, how effective would Colton Orr and Frazer McLaren be in a playoff situation for the Leafs? The two have given Toronto some grit this season, but fighting becomes almost irrelevant in the spring. Of course there is the odd occasion where emotions get the better of two players, however, staged scraps in the post-season are rarer than an Aurora Borealis.
Orr and McLaren have just four and five points respectively this season. When you add their totals up they still fall short of every other Leaf player’s numbers this year that played at least 20 games, other than Korbinian Holzer. Not to mention that if you watch the three goals McLaren scored in 2013 you will quickly notice he redefined the phrase “fortunate bounce.”
Both players combined to play in 77 games on the campaign, and with that little production it will be hard to justify dressing them regularly this spring for a number of reasons.
The first thing to consider is the pace of the playoffs and how the speed of the game quickens. Orr and McLaren aren’t the strongest of skaters to begin with (although Orr has improved slightly in that regard in 2013), so making an adjustment in that area is going to be challenging for the both of them.
Now that pace will be amplified even more if the Leafs end up playing the Montreal Canadiens in the first round. Despite all their recent struggles, Montreal is still one of the quickest teams in the NHL and having skaters out there that can keep up is a must. Not only that, but the Canadiens don’t really have a lineup with an abundance of enforcers. Sure Brandon Prust takes on that role for the team, although he has the ability to be a decent player in other areas as well. His 13 points and plus-11 rating in 2013 is evidence of that. It would make sense for him to be much more concerned with forechecking hard and creating chances as opposed to fighting.
The other likely opening round opponent for the Leafs would be the Boston Bruins. Now the Bruins certainly have some more rough and tumble players than the Canadiens, but they all have offensive ability. Milan Lucic and Brad Marchand have been known to drop the gloves; however, they are counted on by the Bruins more for scoring than fisticuffs. Shawn Thornton would be more likely to square off with Orr or McLaren, but during the Bruins Stanley Cup run in 2010-11 he was scratched a few times himself. So it remains to be seen how Boston would use him this year.
The other factor to consider with Orr and McLaren is the potential for lengthy overtime scenarios in the playoffs. Orr is averaging just 6:16 of ice-time per game in 2013 and McLaren is posting even less than that at 5:12. Should a post-season game extend to double overtime or even beyond, not having a fourth line you are comfortable throwing out there semi-regularly is going to put pressure on the other three groupings. Fatigue will set in quicker for some of the top scorers if they have to start double shifting and are playing an extra period or two of hockey, leaving them vulnerable to give up the winning goal.
I’m not saying Orr and McLaren should be sat for the entire playoff run, but certainly this type of hockey is a different animal than the regular season. Toronto has options that have been scratched often in recent weeks like Matt Frattin, Ryan Hamilton, and Joe Colborne, who all have more offensive skill sets and would be valuable in an overtime situation. Then again, the lineup now has gotten them this far and if Randy Carlyle is going to tinker with it, he will probably only do so if he feels it will make a big difference. And with every play being magnified in the playoffs, it just might.