Searching for Depth – Leafs Bottom Six Gets a Major Revamp

Last season the Toronto Maple Leafs were plagued by three problems throughout the year. The first: they had a porous defense that was easy to play against and gave up too many shots per game. Over the summer the Leafs have tried to correct this issue. To address the problem, they waved goodbye to Carl Gunnarsson, Tim Gleason, and Paul Ranger, while bringing in certain defensemen in an effort to become tougher to play against (Roman Polak), as well as a veteran, right-handed shot with offensive upside (Stephane Robidas).

The other two problems had to do with the bottom-six forwards. For starters, the penalty kill was dreadful, one that routinely featured Nikolai Kulemin, Jay McClement, and Mason Raymond, falling from second in the NHL in 2012-13, to 28th overall in 2013-14. Also, there was a lack of scoring depth, as much of the offense was contained within the first two lines, specifically the van Riemsdyk-Bozak-Kessel line.While ‘MayRay’ was managed to post 45 PTS, he, like many others in the bottom two lines, was a defensive liability that was susceptible to turnovers. There were a few bright spots among these lines, namely Peter Holland and Troy Bodie, both of whom shone bright playing approximately half the season with the Leafs, as well as the fact that David Clarkson was misused in a third-line role, but the bulk of the bottom-six has been let go, namely Kulemin, McClement, Raymond, and Dave Bolland.

Leafs Bottom Six Gets a Major Revamp

As a whole, the new additions to the Leafs third and fourth lines should be better on paper for two reasons. Taking a quick look at the advanced stats for new additions Daniel Winnik, Mike Santorelli, David Booth, as well as Polak and Robidas (excluding Leo Komarov and Petri Kontiola as they were not in the NHL last season), compared against the departing Leafs, the new group should be a better fit. The giveaways are fewer, and the new players spend more time in the offensive zone (7% more) and less time in the defensive zone (7% less) vs. the former Leafs. Now, while advanced stats certainly are far from perfect, if these stay true and result in the Leafs spending less time in their own end, these new additions could turn out to be huge. The other reason why these moves are the right ones are because of the cap hit. By refreshing the bottom-six by bringing back Komarov, as well as inking Winnik, Santorelli, Booth, and Kontiola, it will only cost the Leafs a $7.95 million hit, compared to the $5.25 million it would have cost just to keep Bolland, not to mention any of the others.

If it costs the Leafs only $7.95 to complement Holland and Bodie (and/or Trevor Smith and Matt Frattin) with players who may improve the PK, as well as provide offensive depth and cut down on time spent in their own zone, then these off-season moves may end up being a slam-dunk for Toronto.

Here’s a closer look at the new individuals who will join the Leafs next season in the bottom-six. I won’t look at Komarov, as Leafs fans already know what they are getting with the feisty Finn, a player who gives his all on every shift, who was part of the PK that performed so well in 2012-13 (though it was pretty well the same type of system in 2013-14, we’ll see what new, defensive-minded assistants Peter Horachek and Steve Spott employ this year) As Mike Kostka once told me, Cpl. Komarov is one of the most well-liked guys in the locker room.

Dan Winnik: Want a PK machine? Then look no further than Winnik. Shortly after signing in Toronto, he quipped that he relishes his role on the PK, and that he takes pride in his teams penalty killing. Not to mention he contribute offensively, notching a career high 30 PTS last year, leading the Ducks in shorthanded goals and points as well.

Mike Santorelli: While he had rarely been given a chance to shine in the past, it was Santorelli who averaged over 18 minutes a game last season, and helped the Canucks to the 8th best PK in the league at 83.2%. He also chipped in with a career high 28 PTS and had a 51.3 FO%. He could form a nice duo with Winnik, and he has familiarity with assistant coach Horachek from his time in Nashville.

David Booth: Booth has the potential to be a solid depth scorer. He potted 31 in 2008-09, but his production has dipped since then, not to mention the fact he has struggled with injuries. Canucks fans were happy to see him go (one fan even said, “Booth will not be missed here, he did nothing except shoot animals”), but if he can find that scoring touch and stay healthy, he could be a bargain for the Leafs.

Petri Kontiola: Originally a 7th round pick of Chicago in 2004, Kontiola has been in the KHL since 2009. He has put up decent offensive numbers overseas, but what really stands out is his FO%. Last season it was 53.1%, and his average in the KHL has been 54.7%. For a team that struggled to control the puck and breakout last year, Kontiola’s specialty on the draws could help, but it remains to be seen if he can transition that play to the NHL. Also, he will have to compete with Holland and Smith down the middle.

Thank you for reading. Please take a moment to follow me on Twitter – @nkonarowski2. Support LWOS by following us on Twitter – @LastWordOnSport and @LWOSworld – and “liking” our Facebook page.

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  1. Santorelli’s career high in points was 41 with the Panthers, scoring 20 goals and 21 assists that year

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