Despite the glaring team need on defense it shouldn’t be surprising if the Toronto Maple Leafs make a move to acquire another center.
In Coach Mike Babcock’s ideal world, the Toronto Maple Leafs would be able to enter the 2017-18 playoffs capable of rolling four lines. The coach relied heavily on his fourth line in last year’s playoffs against the Washington Capitals, which suggests he’s likely to do it again this year.
With the NHL trade deadline still two weeks away, it would make a lot of sense for Toronto to acquire additional depth down the middle. Dominic Moore and Frederik Gauthier have not performed at a level this season that would make Babcock comfortable playing them in the playoffs.
More from Puck Prose
- Detroit Red Wings 2023 Rookie Camp Has Plenty of Ups and Downs
- This Columbus Blue Jackets rookie doesn’t want to be forgotten
- 2 trades the Boston Bruins must make to secure the Stanley Cup
- 3 reasons the Avalanche won’t win the Stanley Cup in 2024
- This is a big year for Alex Turcotte and the Los Angeles Kings
Last season, the Maple Leafs acquired Brian Boyle at the deadline and his addition to the roster paid off huge for the club. He added a veteran presence and a defensive steadiness to the lineup that didn’t exist given the youthful roster.
Boyle also made it feel like there was hardly any drop off amongst the four forward lines as the Maple Leafs were always able to have a quality center on the ice with Boyle, Nazem Kadri, Tyler Bozak, and Auston Matthews.
When he left in free agency and Moore was brought in to replace him, there was hope Moore would provide many of the same intangibles Boyle brought. Moore certainly isn’t the same physical presence, but there was a belief he’d provide a bit more of a scoring touch as a better skater.
Unfortunately, it just hasn’t worked out for Moore despite playing with a pair of quality wingers in Kasperi Kapanen and Leo Komarov. Kapanen has emerged as an offensive spark for the Maple Leafs while Komarov continues to be the sandpaper needed to grind out close games. Adding a center capable of making an impact with the duo could be the difference between a first-round exit and advancing to the next round of the playoffs.
In Babcock’s perfect world, he’d hope to add a center capable of killing penalties but also be able to play up and down the lineup if needed. Someone who could start the game on the fourth line but finish it on the second line based on the performance of the other centers.
A name that comes to mind immediately would be pending free agent Mark Letestu. He is a veteran of nine seasons capable of playing anywhere in a lineup. Also, Letestu has recent playoff experience after advancing to the second round with the Edmonton Oilers last season.
Letestu and Komarov would be able to form a penalty-kill duo while also being defensive rocks at even strength, allowing Kapanen to flourish offensively. The center would also be able to bounce up and down the lineup should Bozak or Kadri struggle at any point in the playoffs.
The player the Maple Leafs are trying to find prior to the deadline would be similar to what the Pittsburgh Penguins had with Matt Cullen the past two seasons. An unsung hero grinding away every game as if it’s his last while doing everything the team asks of him.
Just like the Penguins had Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, and Phil Kessel. Toronto has their own offensive stars in Matthews, William Nylander, Mitch Marner, and Patrick Marleau. However, offensive talent isn’t everything in the postseason as two-way grinders are just as valuable as proven by Cullen’s play the past two seasons.
If the Maple Leafs are going to take the next step in this year’s playoffs they’ll first need to find their own version of Matt Cullen.