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Who makes the Leafs’ bottom six forwards?


In case you didn’t spend last night huddled around the computer and television furiously searching for Nazem Kadri contract news (or is that just me?), the Leafs re-signed their 22-year-old (he turns 23 on October 6) centre to a two-year deal worth $2.9-million per season. The Leafs got the bridge deal they were aiming for, and locked Kadri up to a pretty reasonable cap-hit. As for Kadri, he’ll have plenty of motivation to prove he’s worth a big money, long-term deal when this contract ends and let’s hope there are no hard feelings left over between him and general manager Dave Nonis.

The Kadri signing means we now know more or less who the Leafs’ top six forwards will be on opening night:

James van Riemsdyk

Tyler Bozak

Phil Kessel

Joffrey Lupul

Nazem Kadri

David Clarkson

If you want to put Lupul on the top line, that’s fine. I prefer having van Riemsdyk in that spot because he did well in that role last year and I really liked what I saw from the Kadri-Lupul combination. However you want to deploy these guys, it’s pretty clear they will, in some way or another, fill out the top six. After that, things get a little bit murky:

James van Riemsdyk

Tyler Bozak

Phil Kessel

Joffrey Lupul

Nazem Kadri

David Clarkson

Nikolai Kulemin

Dave Bolland

Last year, head coach Randy Carlyle played a third line that usually consisted of Mikhail Grabovski, Kulemin and Jay McClement that played obscenely tough minutes. That’s the role Bolland is used to playing, so the smart money is on him replacing Grabovski there. Kulemin stays where he is, meaning the Leafs need to find a third-line winger to stick on the other side. Here are the options:

Position

Age

NHL GP*

NHL Points**

Mason Raymond

LW

27

374

178

Jay McClement

C

30

601

194

Joe Colborne

C

23

16

6

Jerry D’Amigo

LW

22

0

0

Frazer McLaren

LW

25

75

11

Colton Orr

RW

31

422

24

Carter Ashton

RW

22

15

0

*Games played

**Stats via hockey-reference and hockeydb

Raymond appears to be the frontrunner for that spot, because he’s an NHL player and can still produce pretty solid third-line numbers. If Carlyle continues to ice that third line against the other team’s best players, it may be a good idea to go with a defense-first guy like McClement. I don’t think we’ve seen enough of Colborne to know whether or not he can handle that type of role.

This is how I see all four forward lines shaping up:

James van Riemsdyk

Tyler Bozak

Phil Kessel

Joffrey Lupul

Nazem Kadri

David Clarkson

Nikolai Kulemin

Dave Bolland

Mason Raymond

Frazer McLaren

Jay McClement

Joe Colborne

Of course, if Raymond makes the team, that means the Leafs need to sign him to a contract. If the Leafs send Trevor Smith and Korbinian Holzer to the Marlies as expected, that leaves them with $3.3-million in cap room. My guess is Raymond’s contract will be pretty low, seeing as he didn’t generate much interest from teams in free agency, so I’ll give him a Paul Ranger-like $1-million, one-year deal.

It’s time to finally see what we have in Colborne, so he should get a full-time spot out of training camp. I figure Carlyle will want to ice at least one of McLaren or Orr every game, which I don’t agree with but I doubt he’ll change his belief in those players any time soon. Personally, I would like to see D’Amigo get a spot, but I doubt it happens.

As we know, defenseman Cody Franson still needs to be signed, so Nonis will need to open up more space if he plans on signing him. Does that mean Kulemin will be traded? Will some team finally take John-Michael Liles’ contract off Nonis’ hands? There is still much to be decided, and one of those decisions will be who makes the team in the bottom six forward spots.

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