Much like every other team in the postseason, having a competitive and impactful fourth line can be the difference maker in a series win. This season, it looked like the Toronto Maple Leafs may have found something in that regard, but in the end it faltered.
After signing Zach Aston-Reese after a PTO and bringing in Sam Lafferty at the trade deadline, the fourth line seemed to have been invincible at times. As a result, head coach Sheldon Keefe elected to cut out Aston-Reese and they were one forward short up front. This alone leaves more questions on what the new general manager needs to do to build a competitive fourth line.
One name that could finally be the piece they need is Tampa Bay Lightning forward Corey Perry, who is slated to become a free agent. According to Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman on his 32 Thoughts post, he could be hitting the market with the Maple Leafs being linked to him. The team has shown interest in the past in bringing him on in a depth role and to make them more competitive and tough to go up against. Is this the time where the Maple Leafs sign him to be a potential hero instead of playing the villain all this time?
Perry the Villain
It’s pretty obvious that Perry has been a thorn in the Maple Leafs’ side for some time dating back to the 2020-21 bubble season. There was interest in signing him then, but instead, they opted to sign Wayne Simmonds as Perry would sign with the Montreal Canadiens. While Simmonds has shown his ability to be a tough customer to go up against, Perry would prove to be the better option and a move that proved to be a mistake for the Maple Leafs.
Since then, Perry has been an absolute menace to play against. Even earning the label as a villain– especially in the postseason where he has found great success against the Maple Leafs. No matter what team he was on, Perry was always noticeable and making an impact. He would always chip in with a perfectly timed goal just when the team needed him to.
With the Canadiens in the 2021 postseason, he had four points in seven games. But he scored important goals in Game 6 and 7 to build momentum and to push them into the next round. In 13 postseason games with the Lightning, Perry produced seven points against the Maple Leafs, none were more prominent than his three-point performance in Game 1 in the 2023 playoffs. Even his underlying numbers these playoffs were very impressive as he had a five-on-five Corsi For percentage of 56.12, a scoring chances for percentage of 61.54 and a high-danger chances for percentage of 63.64.
Even though he is past his prime, Perry’s still effective and dominant in the role that he assumes as a fourth line agitator that teams hate to go up against. Every time the Maple Leafs played him, he would get booed and it seemed to have motivated him even more each time that happened. The Maple Leafs lack a player with that kind of intensity that’s difficult to go up against and character as they’re still searching for that.
They added some grit at the trade deadline with Noel Acciari. While he was effective, Perry would’ve push them over the top in that regard, being a tough customer in the corners and in front of the net. While the Maple Leafs have a lot of skill, they need more grit and character as that’s more important during this time.
Perry the Hero?
After assuming the role of villain or even being the Maple Leafs’ kryptonite the last three playoffs, what if the Maple Leafs do act on signing Perry to bring him in to be a key piece to their fourth line? What if he’s done being the antagonist and can assume a role as a hero for the Maple Leafs where they can achieve more success than just one series win?
Now, he’s not going to be a go-to offensive player, but he checks off all the boxes they need. We already covered his ability to shine in key moments and be the player others hate to play against. The most important one is that he’s been there before and would be another leader added to this team.
He has a Stanley Cup to his name with the Anaheim Ducks in 2007 and while he’s gone deep in two of the last three seasons, the chase for the second Cup still remains. He would provide a strong veteran presence on and off the ice and be vocal to help keep this team motivated. For a team that lost it all after finally winning a playoff series for the first time since 2004, they can use any form of it.
What stands out even more is how consistent he has been with his production as a depth forward. He had 40 points last season and while it dropped to 25 in 2022-23, it’s still great to see that he can be an offensive contributor. His point total this season would’ve had him in top-10 in Maple Leafs scoring, two points behind fourth line centre David Kampf. To say that he would be productive and still provide that spark the team needs would be an understatement.
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The Maple Leafs went with 11 forwards quite a bit down the stretch and even in the playoffs after Aston-Reese struggled to show any sort of consistency. It was an up and down season for him. The expectation of a competitive fourth line dwindled towards the end and that needs to change. Perry could be a fine replacement.
Don’t Hesitate Signing Perry
The Maple Leafs have had decent success signing strong veteran players to still impact the team. Look no further than Jason Spezza and while Mark Giordano seemed to take a step back this season, he still provided value with his contract.
The same thing can be said with Perry as the Maple Leafs shouldn’t hesitate to sign him once free agency opens. Fellow Maple Leafs writer Shane Seney has him as a move to make for the offseason and it would be a great one at that. Chances are, there’s a good possibility that you can get him at or less than $1 million, as that was his cap hit with the Lightning.
If the Maple Leafs do plan to pursue Perry, it’ll be a great depth addition for a player that can still be effective with his tenacity and offensive production. Considering how they missed out on him in 2021, that should not be the case this time around.
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