To get their quarterfinal series back on track against the Boston Bruins, the Toronto Maple Leafs are considering any and all options. In essentially every facet of the first two games, the Maple Leafs have struggled to contend with the Bruins who have looked tougher, quicker, more talented and have had better goaltending through the first two games at home.
The series transitions to Toronto for Game 3 where the Leafs, in what feels like an extremely early “do or die” scenario, are in desperate need of a turnaround. With Leo Komarov out for at least this game, the question of who the Maple Leafs should bring up is beginning to surface.
Many in Leaf Nation are asking for gritty forward Matt Martin to join the lineup to offset and help the Leafs balance the physical presence the team has been up against. Would inserting Martin into the lineup help the team earn a big home victory and tighten up the series?
The Case For Matt Martin
Martin, 28, has not been a regular for the Leafs on the back half of the season, replaced from the lineup as a regular following the call-up of Kasperi Kapanen. On the season, Martin played a total of 50 contests, compiling three goals to go along with nine assists for 12 points.
Martin’s bread and butter for the Maple Leafs is his ability to lay big checks and instil some fear into the opposition. Those clamoring for his call-up to the game day roster believe his demeanor on the ice can create openings for his teammates that the team is struggling to generate themselves. Perhaps, having a player who is not afraid to use his 6’3, 220lbs frame will force a gritty Bruins team take a step back.
One might argue that the idea of someone being on the Maple Leafs bench who will serve the role of a protector and not be fear going into the corner against the toughest players on the opposition will boost the morale of the entire team and serve as a motivator.
And still, while Martin will never be confused as a scoring machine and typically is cast by fans of the team as strictly a big body, he isn’t incapable of putting pressure on the opposing team and generating an attack on his own. The likeliness of Martin terrorizing the Bruins with point production is slim. But, the “goons” of hockey who are completely limited to fighting and throwing some hits are near or at extinction in the NHL. Martin is significantly more talented than a Colton Orr or a Frazer McLaren; both players who started playoff games for the Leafs the last time they played the Bruins.
If anything, Matt Martin’s heart and desire cannot be questioned.
The Case Against Martin
There’s a reason why he isn’t playing, right? Martin has only dressed for three games since Jan. 22, one of which was a game where the Leafs went out of their way to rest players who promised to be a big part of a playoff run. The Leafs chose to go with speed when they took Martin out of the lineup, adding talent to their fourth line. Speed is not something that Martin possesses.
In fact, Martin’s speed can be a severe detriment to the Leafs, as he lacks the breakaway ability to shift opposing defenses and create unique chances for the Leafs to build on. Who plays on the line opposite of Martin? Is it a fast player looking to find open ice and the back of the net? Would Martin realistically be able to race up ice and capitalize on chances with some of the other players on the team? With a Boston team that has been scoring at will to start the playoffs, should the Leafs really consider bringing up a player who has scored only 10 goals once in a full season?
What Martin brings physically, the Leafs would lose in terms of ability to break open the game. Yes, Martin’s ability can and would shift the hitting game significantly. But through the series, Toronto has delivered 70 hits to Boston’s 71. Hits themselves have not been the difference for the buds. It appears more so that intensity is.
If they need Martin to be in the lineup to want to win the series, maybe the Leafs don’t stand a chance at all.
Boston’s defense has been stellar to start the series and a common critique against playing a player such as Martin is that he will not be able to do anything to penetrate that defense. There are other options on the Maple Leafs’ minor league roster that could very well add a tougher mentality to the roster while also being able to provide a bit more for the scoring potential of the final line. Some would argue that playing Josh Levio, or Dominic Moore would provide better ability and that needed increase in grittiness that Martin promises.
For Game 3, it appears the Leafs will be rolling with Moore in the starting roster, giving Thomas Plekanec, a controversial deadline piece that the Leafs traded for who has underachieved, a shot on second line duties. Regardless, the discussion on Matt Martin’s spot on the roster for the remainder of the playoffs will still be had and debated as fans wonder what can get their squad on track.