During today’s NHL rumor rundown post, we mentioned that an NHL reporter out of Edmonton, Jim Matheson, cited pro scout sources around the league who thought it was universally believed the Toronto Maple Leafs could be looking to add one or two greasy forwards.
You ask pro scouts about the Leafs and it’s pretty universal: Leafs need one or two greasy forwards like a healthier Antoine Roussel. Are they that hard to find? Easier to find them than goal-scorers, right?
While Matheson covers the Edmonton Oilers, he is well-respected as far as reporters in the NHL go and he’s as plugged in as reporters will get. If he’s spoken to NHL pro scouts about the Maple Leafs, there is likely truth to the report.
That said, I don’t expect the Maple Leafs to go this route.
The Maple Leafs Are Struggling
At 5-4-2, the sky is hardly falling in Toronto. That said, this is a team that is expected to do more than win one playoff round this season.
With players coming out of the off-season with shiny new deals — Mitch Marner’s new six-year contract at over $10 million per season an example — 5-4-2 isn’t going to cut it.
Marner has 12 points in 11 games but people are suggesting he’s struggling, there are questions about just how good Auston Matthews is, head coach Mike Babcock is taking a ton of heat and the team is dealing with injuries to key players, most importantly John Tavares.
Again, the sky isn’t falling, but in a city that Elliotte Friedman so eloquently dubbed “freakazoid city”, expectations are high. Now more than ever considering the Eastern Conference is no cake-walk.
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Greasy Forwards Won’t Fix This Issue
As Craig Button correctly put it, “When you buy a Maserati, you expect it to perform like one.” In other words, a greasy forward isn’t going to make fans fall in love with Mitch Marner’s production based upon his salary. A greasy forward isn’t going to force Babcock to deploy his top-end forwards differently. A greasy forward won’t turn Matthews into a two-way center. A greasy forward won’t bring back Tavares.
These are all things the team, the coach and the individual players need to figure out and/or be patient with. And, these things should come around. The coach is too good and the talent too strong to stay inconsistent for long.
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What Will a Greasy Forward Do?
The idea behind adding grease and grit is to provide depth to a Toronto team that is heavy up front and lacks depth near the bottom end. The suggestion is that the Maple Leafs will need to win a few games based on something other than pure skill. Nice idea, but this isn’t exactly a new issue for the Maple Leafs.
In signing Tavares, Matthews, Marner, William Nylander and others to hefty contracts, the Maple Leafs accepted this fate, hoping the top-end could carry the team.
It’s been hit and miss to date.
Instead, what a greasy forward or two will do is create more cap issues for an already cap-strapped team if a trade isn’t near perfectly executed.
Matheson suggested someone like Antoine Roussel out of Vancouver as the type of player the Maple Leafs should be looking for. I’m not certain he was actually suggesting the Maple Leafs try to acquire Roussel — he’s currently injured and makes $3 million per season over this season and next — but someone like him.
He contends greasy forwards are likely easier to add than skilled ones and that much is true. That said, GM Kyle Dubas can’t afford to add anyone with term, anyone making over a certain amount ($1 million or so) or anyone that will need to come out of the lineup when injured players like Zach Hyman or Tavares return. That doesn’t leave a lot of choices, at least not ones that will make an impact.
Dubas Has to Think Long-Term
While thinking about this season, Dubas can’t afford to forget about next season. He’s got a single blueliner signed past the end of the 2019-20 campaign and will struggle to find a way to keep players with as much money as is already committed to the roster.
If he thought he was having issues now with an imbalanced roster at forward, imagine the issues he’ll have if he tries to balance out the roster at the expense of the blue line where potentially only Rielly would remain with the team.
Jim Parsons is a freelance writer who covers the Edmonton Oilers and news and rumors posts here at The Hockey Writers.
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