The Toronto Maple Leafs are continuing to reshape their team as they try to be a team that is harder to play against. During the offseason, the Maple Leafs added players like Alexander Barabanov, Wayne Simmonds, Jimmy Vesey, and Zach Bogosian. Most recently the team signed Joe Thornton to a one-year contract. They also elected to keep Jason Spezza around. On paper, the Maple Leafs are tougher to play against. They traded away Andreas Johnsson as well as Kasperi Kapanen in order to create some cap room in order to build this tougher team and improve the defence. The Maple Leafs resemble more of a team that President Brendan Shanahan would play for than what Kyle Dubas envisioned. And with the Maple Leafs re-signing Ilya Mikheyev, the question becomes where do all these players fit in. Especially a guy like Joe Thornton. Let’s take a dive into how these players, especially Joe Thornton, fit into this Maple Leafs lineup.
How Joe Thornton Fits Into The Maple Leafs Lineup
Change of Plans
After missing the playoffs by failing to get out of the qualifying round against the Columbus Blue Jackets, general manager Kyle Dubas came out and said his team was too easy to play against. Which was stating the obvious. Many teams around the NHL felt when they went up against Toronto they could easily push them around on the ice. Dubas thought his new way of constructing a team with fast skilled players was going to take over the NHL. And during the regular season, it works. However, when it comes to the playoffs, the old way of physical hockey still reigns supreme. Having seen the success of the Tampa Bay Lightning and what they did to win the Stanley Cup, Dubas decided to go in another direction with the Maple Leafs.
Dubas decided that he needed his team to be more physical. So he goes out and brings in Simmonds, Vesey, Bogosian, Thornton and keeps Spezza. But what he does not realize is that while the Lightning did play a more physical game, their big-name players carried the team. And that’s what the Maple Leafs need too. But why a guy like Joe Thornton and why now?
What Joe Thornton Brings
A few seasons ago the Maple Leafs were interested in bringing Joe Thornton into the picture. However, he did not want to leave the San Jose Sharks. But realizing that San Jose was not going to win anytime soon, he decided to sign with Toronto. Now Thornton has said all the right things about how the Maple Leafs are a good fit. They have a team that can contend and even win hockey’s holy grail. And having the belief coming into new surroundings is the best thing a player like Thornton can have. Especially for a young team that hasn’t got passed the first round. But at 41 and entering his 24th season in the NHL, what can Thornton bring to the Maple Leafs?
Again this has nothing to do with Joe Thornton as a person but realistically in a young man’s game, Toronto is not getting “Jumbo Joe” for his speed. Thornton was brought in and brought in for one thing only. To be a locker room voice. Now some people may say the days of young players listening to what the old veteran has to say is long gone. However, for a team like the Maple Leafs, they need that calming voice in their locker room. Thornton has been around a long time and knows how to handle the media and what to say when a team has lost a big game. Not to mention he can still play. Now Thornton is not going to put up the numbers he used to. However, he still put up 31 points (seven goals and 24 assists) in 70 games with a bad Sharks team last season. But if he can give the Maple Leafs 10-15 goals this season then he did his job.
Where Do All The Pieces Fit
Head coach Sheldon Keefe has a big question ahead of him, where do all these pieces fit into the lineup? Now Thornton signing would have made more sense if Spezza hadn’t been re-signed. As he could have played a fourth-line centre position. Seeing as Alexander Kerfoot was going to be the third-line centre. However, with Thornton in the mix, it appears either Kerfoot will be out of the picture completely or move to the wing. If Kerfoot does move to the wing, that gives the Maple Leafs solid depth down the middle with Auston Matthews, John Tavares, Thornton and Spezza. However, would it shock anyone if Thornton and Spezza did not play all the games this upcoming season? No. Both are older players and if there is a condensed schedule, it will be easier on their bodies to have some nights off.
And what about the rest of the lineup? Well for starters you know Zach Hyman, William Nylander, and Mitch Marner will be in the top six for the Maple Leafs. Alexander Barabanov signed with the Maple Leafs expecting to play every night. And Jimmy Vesey is best suited to play either in the top six or third line. Vesey and Kerfoot played at Harvard together so there is the chemistry factor. Mikheyev showed in his first season with the Maple Leafs he was capable of scoring goals. He recorded 23 points (eight goals and 15 assists) before an injury sidelined him until the qualifying round of the playoffs.
Then there is Nick Roberston, who was impressive for the Maple Leafs scoring one goal in four playoff games. If he is going to play fourth line minutes then that will only hurt his development. Simmonds was brought in to play on the fourth line and power play. And speaking of the power play, there is not enough time to go around for all these players. You know Thornton and Simmonds will be there. However, the Maple Leafs power play is already one of the best in the league.
One thing is for sure Sheldon Keefe has a lot of tough decisions on his hands. And while the Joe Thornton signing was good for the Maple Leafs. However, it was not necessary. Are the Maple Leafs better with Joe Thornton? Slightly, but again it is all about what he brings to the table when the season starts. Thornton wasn’t brought in to put up points. He was brought in as a voice in the room and help guide this young Leafs team to contention.
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