Stamkos Stays in Tampa; Leafs Plan B

“Stammergeddon” has passed and out from the rubble and rhetoric emerges Tampa Bay Lightning general manager Steve Yzerman, as the last man standing. Kudos to you, Stevie Y; you held fast and won the day. Steven Stamos stays in Tampa, now it’s time to roll out ‘Plan B’. Fret not, however, for all is not lost. You have that Matthews kid. And the Marner kid. The Swede wearing number 62 looked pretty promising for twenty-odd games last year as well. Oh, and there’s that new goalie who, although an upgrade from Jonathan Bernier, will soon feel the weight of the city’s hopes squarely on his shoulders. Godspeed, Mr Andersen…

Kudos to you, Stevie Y; you held fast and won the day.  

It would have been preferable to see these young men sheltered by the big-brotherly presence of a Stamkos; someone to score a bunch of goals and distract the media, if not those 220-pound NHL defensemen that the trio will become increasingly acquainted with come Autumn. Of the three, the biggest adjustment will likely be to the incessant media throng and their nasty habit of dissecting every word uttered, hyper-analyzing just about every shift, under the brightest spotlight in hockey, for all to observe and evaluate.

Someone to shoulder the load the way Marty St. Louis once did for a young Stamkos would obviously be the best way forward with reference to the young guns and as Brooks Laich once said:  “well done is better than well said”, and securing that leader with the body of work to back up what he says – however little that may actually be – might become the Leafs’ top priority going forward.

As we may surmise from recent events,  leadership on the ice is at a premium, and a quick glance at the Leafs’ current roster would indicate that most of it can be found behind the bench and not in the dressing room. No disrespect to Tyler Bozak, James van Riemsdyk or Matt Hunwick, but there is a leadership void on the ice in Toronto.

The Leafs need to find a meaningful way to fill that hole and the closest they may come at this point could very well be re-signing 20-goal scorer P.A. Parenteau. He’s a far cry from Stamkos, but he’s a mature, capable veteran who can chip in on offence and be a steadying presence on a very young team. What he can’t do is diffuse the media pressure that the young guys will face.

Although the Leafs have cap to burn, there really isn’t a ton of other free agency options that serve the Leaf’s needs in terms of leadership, especially at forward. Sure, they could offer Eric Staal an attractive package of dollar and term, but that means finding a new home for Bozak, who may be just as effective at this stage. Staal could stand to commit a couple years in a major market where he’ll have opportunity to be a leader, while showcasing his skills.  The notion of Toronto actually being deep at centre may take some getting used to, but that’s where they are at. Even with William Nylander moving to wing, the Leafs are the deepest they have ever been in modern history at centre, with Nazem Kadri, Bozak and Auston Matthews filling spots one through three. Any one of  Laich, Byron Froese or Peter Holland can provide quality fourth line centre minutes.

…there really isn’t a ton of other free agency options that serve the Leaf’s needs in terms of leadership

Bozak has been a fairly reliable if unspectacular foot soldier in Toronto, however, the stats community have never embraced him. He wins draws, scores shootout goals, disrupts mounting offensive pressure in the neutral zone and adds a layer of secondary scoring that the Leafs need. What he is not, is a top line centre. In fairly short order, he won’t be a top-six centre, either. At least not in Toronto. He may in fact be expendable, if someone with more obvious leadership qualities can be had.

On the back end, it would behoove the Buds to add a rugged, stay-at-home crease-clearer to give young Mr. Andersen room to operate. There are three immediate options. Maybe four, depending on how much you care to invest. Start with Roman Polak. He plays a man’s game, he’s a fearless shot-blocker, and he’s as tough as it gets. Right shot, for what it’s worth. He knows the Leafs landscape well, and may be coerced into returning, but it is more likely that he looks to ply his trade somewhere that is further along in their development cycle as a group. Next up is Ben Lovejoy. A recent Stanley Cup winner, Lovejoy is another reliable soldier who can give you responsible minutes, add to the winning culture, and provide veteran leadership. He won’t break the bank either. Luke Schenn could be a longshot, but if he can be acquired for less than what he was earning in Philadelphia and subsequently Los Angeles, he’s a younger version of Polak in many ways. He gives you a rugged bottom pairing right shot who can still throw devastating hits. He might manage a decent first pass. Jason Demers is another option; however, it is expected that incoming Russian defender Nikita Zaitsev will snap up that second pairing right-shot role right out of camp. At 28, Demers is in his prime years and has the majority of the kinks worked out of his game. He won’t come cheap, though. As a Western Conference product, Leaf fans have seen precious little of him, so he is something of a mystery.

It will be interesting to see which route Leafs management goes as the free agency signing season begins at noon tomorrow. Whatever they decide, we can rest assured that a reactionary move to missing out on Stamkos won’t be part of their “plan B”. The void Leaf fans hoped Stammer would fill will likely be filled by adding a free agent or two, perhaps a trade, and the re-signing of quality contributors like Parenteau.

 

TORONTO, ON – MARCH 21  – Toronto Maple Leafs William Nylander (39) puts his arm around teammate Connor Brown (16)  after their team’s 5 – 2 win over the Calgary Flames in NHL action at the Air Canada Centre, March 21, 2016.        (Andrew Francis Wallace/Toronto Star via Getty Images)


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