No Need For Knee Jerk Reaction in Toronto
Nazem Kadri’s three game suspension has sent Toronto in to something of a spin; with their depth chart looking decidedly thin down the middle right now.
With Dave Bolland and Tyler Bozak on the shelf, veterans Jay McClement and Jerred Smithson stand as the clubs only experienced NHL centres and the Maple Leafs will turn to James Van Riemsdyk again this weekend.
Talk of trading for a centre has started again as a result, as it did when Bolland went down. But one look at the schedule is enough to suggest there is no need for a knee jerk reaction.
Toronto travels to Buffalo tonight, before the Sabres visit the ACC tomorrow to start a five game home stand for the Leafs. Those are the same Buffalo Sabres who are an absolute tire fire right now.
The New York Islanders, 3-7-0 in their last 10, then roll in to town on Tuesday and the struggling Predators are the visitors on Thursday, when Kadri will be available again.
In many ways the schedule has been kind to Toronto here. The three games Kadri will miss come against teams in dire straits. The Sabres woes are well documented, and even with a ‘clean slate’ under new (interim) Coach Ted Nolan it’s hardly a roster that strikes fear in to opponents. The greatest threat might be that of a ruckus involving John Scott, after the two clubs infamous preseason clash.
Likewise the Islanders, who made the post season for the first time 6 years last term, had lost four straight before beating Nashville on Tuesday. The Isles followed that win up by surrendering a 2 goal lead in the 3rd period last night, going down 3-2 against LA.
This isn’t Chicago, Pittsburgh and Boston the Leafs stand to face sans their top three centres. Thursdays game is one you’d favour them to win as well given the Preds struggles without star netminder Pekka Rinne; especially with Kadri back in the line up.
More good news seems to be on the horizon as Tyler Bozak, out since the end of October with a hamstring injury, skated in full equipment on Tuesday. Bozak will be eligible for reinstatement from the LTIR from Thursday onwards.
It is unlikely he will return to face Nashville, but with the Regina native on the mend and three quarters of the season still to go; a move simply to solve a short term problem seems rash.
Toronto added Smithson after Dave Bolland went down. The former Blackhawk’s man is likely to miss most of, if not all, of the remainder of the season with a damaged tendon in his ankle. Adding Smithson was a straight forward move for an unrestricted free agent, which cost the Leafs nothing and plugged a hole. Unspectacular perhaps, but a useful addition.
The one time Nashville forward may be little more than a 4th line centre and useful penalty killer in the long term, but alongside McClement (an excellent penalty killer and solid performer in general) and players in the system like Trevor Smith (who was called up today) and Greg McKegg, the Maple Leafs should have adequate coverage until Bozak returns; especially if van Riemsdyk shows a talent for the position.
So why make a move?
Well one obvious answer is that the Leafs may only be one more long term injury from ‘a problem’.
Bozak is on the mend, Kadri temporarily unavailable. Short term issues that can be papered over. Lose either for a significant amount of time and it is a stretch to imagine that McClement, Smithson or van Riemsdyk can really be expected to carry the burden of a top 6 centre on a team with high expectations, only heightened by a return to the play-offs last year. Ideally Toronto won’t want van Riemsdyk playing out of position for any longer than is necessary either.
The other reason to make a move is if Dave Nonis can acquire someone who will genuinely help the Leafs in the long run.
Who that may be, and at what cost, remains to be seen. Sam Gagner was mentioned previously, and Edmonton’s need for help on defence (where the Leafs have assets they could move) might mean the two clubs can at least fashion a starting point from which a deal can be made.
A run at Colorado’s Paul Stastny, another name linked with a move to Ontario, seems unlikely given Toronto’s proximity to the cap ceiling though.
Whatever Dave Nonis decides to do, he has rarely been one to make a move in haste. Which might be the best thing for Toronto right now.
Their situation is inconvenient yes, but also fortunately timed and will soon be forgotten.