The Toronto Maple Leafs New Shut-Down Defensive Line

David Kampf #64 of the Chicago Blackhawks is one of the newest members of the Toronto Maple Leafs (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
David Kampf #64 of the Chicago Blackhawks is one of the newest members of the Toronto Maple Leafs (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images) /

The Toronto Maple Leafs have once again remade the bottom of their roster.

The Toronto Maple Leafs decided several years ago that the best way to build an effective and perennially competitive hockey team was to use their salary cap allotment better than other teams.

This meant two things: 1) concentrating the bulk of the money for star players. The Leafs have no less than seven (Matthews, Marner, Tavares, Nylander, Muzzin, Rielly and Brodie + Campbell if he doesn’t regress too badly), including two of the very best in the world. 2) Combing the league for players who are undervalued and could perhaps contribute as much as the mid-range contracts the strategy eschews.

As we can surmise by the Leafs nearly wining the President’s Trophy and outplaying their playoff opposition (good play, bad results), the strategy works.  One cost of this strategy, however, is the near constant turnover of the lineup.

You can’t exactly go bargain hunting and sign players to long term deals. It would defeat the purpose.  When you hit on a player, like Zach Hyman, he might price himself out of your plans.  So once again, the Leafs have (at least potentially) turned over a third of their lineup this summer.

One thing they have hopefully found in doing so, is a defensive specialist.  They wanted to fill this role so badly that they acquired an injured Riley Nash and gifted him a roster spot despite being unable to suit up for the team in the regular season.  It turned out Nash wasn’t in good enough game shape after his injury to be effective, but you could clearly see what the team wanted – an elite defensive player who can help form a shut-down line.,

Toronto Maple Leafs Sign David Kampf

David Kampf is 26 years old and has played four NHL seasons, all in Chicago.  His scouting report says that he is a tenacious and effective defensive centre with elite defensive potential.  The statistics don’t exactly back this up, but If I knew how to measure defense on teams who are near the worst in the league, I’d probably be a millionaire.

The Toronto Maple Leafs plan to install Kampf as their 3rd line centre, giving him   tough minutes and a lot of defensive zone starts.   One advantage the Leafs have with a Matthews/Marner combo is that it’s a first line that can dominate most other first lines, which means you don’t have to worry so much about line matching, and you can use your defensive line at precise times and in specific situations, instead of just hard matching them.

If your team’s first line neutralizes the opponent’s first line in most cases, and you’ve got an elite defensive line to back that up, you’re in amazing strategic position and a lot of options – coaching wise – are opened up.

The Leafs already have two excellent candidates to round out the line – Alex Kerfoot and Ilya Mikheyev, both defensively excellent players.

Kerfoot on the wing is better than Kerfoot at centre, and while his offense and speed make him an asset who can play in the top six, I think you’re better off with Robertson, Bunting, Ritchie and Kase competing for those offensive roles.

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There is still a good chance Kerfoot or even Mikheyev gets traded, but if they remain, they could, along with Kampf,  form a very solid defensive specialist line which would potentially be among the best in hockey