The Toronto Maple Leafs have had to answer questions regarding their need for a top-line centreman ever since Mats Sundin played his final game in a Leaf uniform way back in 2008. While their lack of talent at the position has certainly been and remains to be a concern, the team’s management should not currently be focused on acquiring a player to fill the role.
That statement may come as a surprise to some; Tyler Bozak, who has seven goals and 23 points in 31 games, currently holds the No. 1 role. Those statistics certainly aren’t what you would expect to see from someone who plays between Joffrey Lupul and Phil Kessel, although he has spent time as part of other trios as well, so it’s not entirely his fault.
While Bozak can produce points, what he may be better known as is a two-way forward who can play both sides of the puck. He still has room to grow in this role, but he isn’t expected to ever become more than a second line centre on a strong offensive team. A second line centre is something that the Maple Leafs currently have two of, three if you were to include Mikhail Grabovski.
Grabovski, 27 hasn’t continued on the same pace offensively that he was on last season. Through 27 games, Grabovski has just eight goals and 15 points, seventh in team scoring and well off of his previous pace.
Tim Connolly is the other centreman. He signed a two-year deal in the off-season, which─at $9.5 million─seemed a little too lucrative based on his history with injuries. However, he has proven many of his critics wrong with 15 points in an abbreviated schedule.
With two, possibly three second line centres depending on how you look at it, wouldn’t it just make sense to move one of them in order to acquire a player who can fill what appears to be the Maple Leafs’ most pressing need: A reliable defenceman?
When the Leafs were on their early-season tear, everyone was clicking at full gear. The scorers were scoring, the goalies were stopping pucks and the defencemen were defending. Not much has changed, except for those defencemen.
As games pass and time goes by, it is becoming more and more clear that the Leafs are not a team capable of leading the league in points and/or wins throughout an entire regular season. One large reason for why the Leafs have dropped off significantly is the fact that the defencemen are no longer doing their jobs to the best of their abilities night in and night out.
Instead, we have seen a defence group that lacks motivation. Even captain Dion Phaneuf, who head coach Ron Wilson described as the league’s best defenceman “by a country mile” earlier in the season, has appeared to have lost his drive.
In no situation has the team’s need for a defenceman of such a calibre been more obvious than on the penalty kill, where the Leafs have gone from terrible to absolutely atrocious. Now operating at 73.4 percent, the Buds sit last in the entire league.
One name that has been thrown around a lot lately is Fedor Tyutin, who currently plays for the Columbus Blue Jackets. The 28-year-old has scored a pair of goals and has 16 points in 33 games this season, so it’s clear that he does have the ability to score.
Many are crying out for the Leafs to acquire him, though, based on the fact that he could be a nice addition to the team’s penalty kill unit. Tyutin does have experience with killing penalties; he leads the Blue Jackets in shorthanded ice time with 78:33. It doesn’t necessarily have to be Tyutin, though.
Another name that has been mentioned is Jack Johnson, currently a defenceman on the Los Angeles Kings, although that is probably wishful thinking.
Let’s keep this one thing in mind: The NHL’s holiday trade freeze is currently in effect, and Brian Burke’s self-imposed trade freeze, which began on December 9, is well into effect. So if anything is to happen, Leafs fans will have to wait.
For every Leafs article on THW, follow @THW_MapleLeafs on Twitter.