The Toronto Maple Leafs are seemingly having trouble scoring. This may come as a surprise to some, given the offensive powerhouse that is the top line with sniper Phil Kessel accompanied by Olympic hopeful (okay, probable) James van Riemsdyk and budding number 1-ish centre Nazem Kadri, the three of whom have no difficulty finding the net.
The Leafs are currently scoring 2.64 goals per night. Not bad, in fact it’s pretty much dead average putting them 15th in the NHL in that category. It’s not good enough to be a winning team, though. The problem isn’t with the goal scorers, it’s with everyone else. Kessel, JVR, Mason Raymond, Kadri, Joffrey Lupul and Dave Bolland are in that order the top goal scorers for the Leafs. Those six have contributed a very respectable 62 goals. The rest of the lineup have only put up 20, spread among 10 players, four of which are defensemen. Fourteen other players who have laced up for the Leafs this season have yet to score a goal, and three are pointless after more than 10 games. I’ll give you three guesses who they are. Yeah, that’s right. Colton Orr, Jerred Smithson and Frazer McLaren. For NHL forwards that is simply not acceptable. Toughness and intangibles are fun for everyone, however the ability to punch faces has never and will never result in a goal. The Leafs need back-end scoring, there’s no other way to put it.
It doesn’t take an NHL GM to recognize that the Leafs need more scoring to come from within. Fortunately, things have started to take a step in that direction. Peter Holland and Jay McClement both picked up goals in Sunday’s 5-2 late third period collapse against the Boston Bruins. While the result was unfortunate, the Leafs were only down by one goal with about five minutes remaining (coincidentally when my PVR recording ran out). Hopefully, the unexpected can continue to come up big and keep the Leafs in games when the top six aren’t scoring.
Dave Bolland might return, eventually, someday. He has exceeded expectations picking up six goals and four assists in his 15 games played before that early November injury that sidelined him for an extended period. He will be a key piece of the puzzle if the Leafs make a playoff run this season, and make no mistake he’ll be excited to re-introduce himself to his “hometown” fans.
Lupul and Tyler Bozak (seventh in goal scoring for the Leafs) are also going to be back soon, and both add much needed point production to the top two lines.
The organization also has some, albeit limited depth at forward. They certainly have better options than Orr and McLaren, and Smithson has already been sent down to the AHL which was a drastically needed move. It’s hard to blame Smithson for being unable to execute in a role he was drastically over-matched in, he never should have been in that spot in the first place which falls on management and the coaching staff. In their defense, with the influx of injuries the Leafs were experiencing up the middle in the wake of their own actions getting rid of Mikhail Grabovski and Joe Colborne, they weren’t left with very much to work with.
They can always bring Troy Bodie back up, who looked OK in the NHL and has put up half a point per game in his 8 AHL games, which could translate into more NHL production than the “Winnipeg Blue Bombers” have provided. Sam Carrick and Greg McKegg are also solid forwards who have proven they’re able to score with the Marlies this season.
On the defensive end, T.J. Brennan has put up 23 points (11 goals) in 22 games for the Marlies. He’s somewhat proven, with 11 points in 40 career NHL games he’s shown that he’s capable of playing in The Show. Frankly, the way he’s playing right now, I can’t imagine how he hasn’t been called up already, especially when the Leafs defense has for the most part been silent offensively. I’ve even heard it suggested that he be given a shot at the wing, which while a little out there couldn’t hurt to try. The AHL is primarily a developmental league, no one really cares if you win. Sure, everyone wants to win, but farm teams exist for the betterment of their NHL affiliates. If such a transition were to be made (it has been before), I’d like to see him given some reps in the AHL before slotting in as a winger for the Leafs.
Lastly (and god do I hope it’s lastly), the club has trading assets. Young undeveloped players like Matt Finn and the elephant in the room that is our two goalies who are good enough to be starters, one of which has an expiring contract. I would hate to see James Reimer go but it would make sense from an asset management standpoint to cash him in while his value is high and the Leafs have holes to fill elsewhere.