We're getting close to zero-hour. Tomas Kaberle will be traded and I will have something to write about. Until then, I'll kill more time speculating.
I think that at this point, with free agency winding down and most of our RFAs signed, it's safe to start looking at possible line combinations for the Toronto Maple Leafs. I'm going to start by putting together a list of what I think the lines will be at the beginning of the season and then move on to what I think they'll look like closer to the end of the year. Here's what I came up with.
Line 1: Kessel - Bozak - Kulemin
This line developed some impressive chemistry last season and I expect that they'll start the year together. Kessel is a known commodity; a fast skating winger that loves to shoot. Kessel's style meshed well with Bozak's playmaking ability, particularly as Bozak has been able to make these plays at high speed and in transition. Kulemin primarily played the role of grinder on this line and his defensive prowess covered some of the defensive shortcomings of the other two.
Line 2: Versteeg - Grabovski - ???
This line is assembled purely based on talent. I haven't got a clue how Versteeg and Grabovski will play together but both are worth a look on the 2nd unit. As far as the '???' goes, I can only assume that whoever Burke acquires for Kaberle will fill this role to begin the year. I doubt this player will supplant any top line guys but I also think that from a perception standpoint, if not a talent one, the player will be all but assured to start the year getting top-six minutes.
Line 3: Armstrong - Kadri - Sjostrom
Here's where things get interesting. I think Kadri plays his way onto the team in camp. If he put on the weight the Leafs asked him to gain, it's going to be tough to keep this kid out of the lineup given the numbers he put up last year. Armstrong and Sjostrom will be good players to insulate Kadri as both are strong defensive players and Armstrong will play the role of protector if Kadri gets pushed around.
Line 4: Caputi - Hanson - Orr
Not a bad looking fourth line. These guys can bang, they're big, and if Caputi decides to use his size they could be a fantastic energy line when we need a momentum swing. Both Hanson and Caputi have some offensive skill that needs refining so it wouldn't surprise me to see this line be the difference-maker on any given night. Can't ask for much more from a fourth line.
Lots of players that are still developing in the lineup here -- and more players still in the minors. A lot can change when you have this much youth in the lineup. Here's my prediction for late in the season.
Line 1: Kessel - Bozak - Kulemin
I like what this line does. Each piece compliments the other and so, for reasons listed above, I don't see much changing except for a game or two here and there to shake things up.
Line 2: Versteeg - Kadri - ???
Versteeg is probably a lock on the second unit. He's a well-rounded, versatile player that can probably play with just about anyone. Kadri's development and the team's desire to give him the kinds of minutes that will help this development along will push him onto the second-line. I'm guessing that whoever Burke gets back in the Kaberle deal will be a talented enough player that they'll be able to stick on the second unit.
Line 3: Mueller - Grabovski - Armstrong
Awesome. Mueller reminds me of Kulemin as far as what he does and the way he plays and a little time in the minors to acclimatize himself to the North American rink will serve him well. Grabovski could really thrive on a line that has two solid defensive wingers that will grind it out in the corners and provide him the freedom to use some of his more dynamic / high-risk offensive skills. This line can be physical, will be a threat to score and will probably take some stupid penalties. Overall, I love the look of this unit.
Line 4: Caputi - Sjostrom - Orr
Sjostrom gets pushed back a bit by Mueller's strong play but is a lock to stay in the lineup for his penalty killing prowess. Caputi and Hanson will likely have to fight tooth-and-nail with each other for the final winger spot. This is the kind of competition that Burke was hoping for when he started assembling this roster. He felt the team was too entitled and that there wasn't any feeling that players were being pushed from below.
Wildcards: D'Amigo, Brown
D'Amigo isn't likely to play any minutes with the big club this year but as he leaves the NCAA for the professional ranks he may continue to surprise. His ascent has been steep since being drafted and I wouldn't enitrely rule out some time in the NHL. Brown will probably only play when Colton Orr has sore knuckles.
John Mitchell says "what the F**k?"
I know, but where do you see him playing? Given that Hanson probably has more upside long-term, I imagine he gets first crack at the icetime. My guess is that he's first guy in for an injury and stays up with the big club but he's probably in and out of the lineup.
Did I miss Hanson signing a contract? I thought he was still out there in limbo?
Caputi on the fourth line? No chance.
Kulemin - Bozak - Kessel
Caputi - Kadri - Versteeg
Mitchell - Grabovski - Sjostrom
Brown - Hanson - Orr
Hanson is still unsigned but I haven't read anything that would suggest he doesn't end up with the team. I'm assuming he signs, but he hasn't yet.
hanson - bozzk - kessel
versteeg - mitchell/kadri - armstrong
kulemin - grabovski - ???
sjoestrom - brown - orr
muller and caputi and damigo can battle for the extra spot
if kadri isnt ready mitchell can play if he is ready mitchell bumps brown also leafs should sign defensive 4th line center ryan johnson maybe
Not bad, but I don't think Hanson is quick enough to keep up with Bozak and Kessel and he hasn't shown the skill on the cycle game that Kulemin has. Those lines are certainly more balanced but personally, I prefer to have a 'true' first line (or at least as true as your roster permits).
Locks for top line minutes - Kessel, Bozak, Versteeg, Kadri.
Locks for bottom line minutes - Sjostrom, Mitchell, Brown, Orr, Hanson, Mueller (if he makes the big club).
The tweeners - Kulemin, Armstrong, Grabovski, Caputi. They will be in the line juggle/blender category. These guys will go up and down on the depth chart all year round unless one of them really stands out - my money's on Kulemin, but who knows how he'll play now that he's not trying to impress for a big payday.
I doubt Burke traded for Mike Brown just to have him sit in the press box all year. Considering how bad the Leafs PK was last season it would be dumb to not use a good penalty killer like Brown. If Burke simply wanted a replacement goon he would just call up Rosehill (who is a far better fighter than Brown) than give up a draft pick for Brown.
Caputi on the other hand doesn't fit the mold of the type of fourth liner that Burke usually has on his team, while Brown is a perfect fit.
hanson only plays well with bozak plus he would be the power forward on the line crashing the net after bozak and kessel have rushed up the ice and made the play
A lot will change in the line-up by September. Hanson has great hockey sense but his skill sucks. Burke doesn't value draft picks but Brown will be in the line-up. Look at the contracts and you'll see who'll play.
I can see that Hanson will wait and see what the product of the Kaberle deal is before he signs - wondering if he can try to hold the Leafs collective feet to the fire because the hole at centre may still exist.
In the end, though I figure he'll sign for 1M on a one-way deal and end up playing half the time on the third line with Sjostrom & Armstrong, when Nadri is spending some time with the Marlies or when Grabo is in the dog house.
Leaf fans, brothers.. I'm thinking none of u guys have ever seen Colby Armstrong play! Maybe u forget he owned when he played with Sidney..
Line combos if we don't pick up no scraps in the market..
1st - Armstrong-Bozak-Kessel (Armstrong is a leader just realizing his potential. He's there to protect and bring confidence to kessel/bozak)
2nd - Kulemin-Grabo-Versteeg (kulemin is as strong as a tank, and he's just beginning to realize it! He is also Grabos best chance of having a respectable year..again)(Versteeg is the wildcard. Really depends on which versteeg comes into camp. He will either take Colbys position on top line or he will ride the wings as a responsible 3rd line checker with Freddie Sjostrom, cause he will not gel with Grabo and nik)
3rd - Hanson-Kadri-Sjostrom (Kadri could be a #2 center but all depends on his composure etc.. Kadri should be ready tho. All depends if he and versteeg can find some chemistry on that second line, otherwise he'll be trying to fit into the lineup somewhere, maybe even on the wing)
4th - Brown-Mitchell-Orr (Mitchell will have to evolve this year or he's out of the longterm picture opening the door to blue-choppers like Irwin,Mueller,D'Amigo etc)(Orr is in the top 5 for enforcers, plus he's got some hands and alot of heart! Brown will ride shotgun and take out the middleweights freeing up Orr's responsibilties to a degree)
We all know injuries, consistency, chemistry will play a part, so things will change, rookies will slide in and out..
1st D - Phaneuf-Beauchemin
2nd D - Kaberle-Komisarek
3rd D - Schenn-Gunnarson (Lebda and Aulie should impress and push for a spot)(and u know komisarek is gonna get injured so it's gonna be whoevers ready, willing and able)
Goalies - Jiggy and Monster (barring another catastrophic injury in the nets) should go 50/50, who's ever hotter, which should be both at all times!
I'm dissapointed in not moving Kabby, mostly for having to hear all the hype build up. Kabby definetly doesn't deserve that! Burke screwed him over plain and simple. Brought in Dion to subtly remind Kabby know he's not enough offence. Stringed him along, and played to the media shopping him relentlessly, all for nothing.. If Burke doesn't sign Kabby to an extension - he is gone for nothing next summer and that will hurt!
But I have faith in Burkie. He's not done yet..
Possible FA signings before camp
- Raffi Torres (could fit in and play hard)
- Mike Comrie (if faith is lost in Grabo/Bozak/Kadri, this could be a reality)
- there are others obviously, but mostly the rest are photocopies of one another. Burke might play the home town card and bring in hardworking local boys just to balance things out.
- There are moves to make, money to shed (Jeff Finger) I think Leafs will keep what they got for now, pick up another piece in the FA pool and have a pow-wow in November to see what needs improving.
All in all.. I'm looking forward to this year. I think the kids are alright. Our young blue-chippers are gonna impress the whole league - the stars are aligned this year! Stanley cup? Of course not.. Playoffs tho? Absolutely!
Hanson better sign soon or he'll find the Leafs don't have an SPC left for him.
I doubt Armstrong sees first line minutes for any more than a handful of games this year. There is no Sidney Crosby on this team and the chemistry of the Kessel-Bozak-Kulemin line means that they at least start the year together.
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