The NHL is just a couple of weeks away from beginning their training camp, and the Toronto Maple Leafs are among those who finished outside of the playoffs last season that will be competing for a bottom post-season seed. With some solid additions as noted in previous blogs, the Leafs will embark on what could be a significant transition year in terms of production. The following is a projection of the Leafs player points, and where I feel they will finish in the standings once the 2011-12 campaign comes to a close. Note that all stats will be based on a full 82 game effort.
Based on the projected depth chart, the Leafs top 4 centermen for the upcoming season, without considering the possibility that a prospect could earn a spot over a member of last season's squad, is Mikhail Grabovski, Tim Connolly, Matthew Lombardi and Tyler Bozak. Calculating last year's stats with an average over their last three NHL seasons, as well as taking some chemistry into account, the following is how I feel the four will produce, point-wise.
2010-11 Stats - 81GP 29G 29A 58PTS
Projected 2011-12 Stats - 82GP 27G 28A 55PTS
Grabovski found immediate chemistry with Nik Kulemin and Clarke MacArthur on what turned into the Leafs top line, but with Tim Connolly added to the fold and team's now understanding that this is a dangerous line, I see Grabovski having another solid season, but not quite as impressive as what he produced last season. While there is a significant chance Grabo will find his way into the 60 point plateau, the attention comes back to Kessel's line and thus more diminished minutes for the KGM line. Grabovski will show that he is the cornerstone to a very successful second line.
2010-11 Stats - 68GP 13G 29A 42PTS
Projected 2011-12 Stats - 82GP 21G 38A 59PTS
Connolly was the cheaper top line centerman the Leafs inked to a 2-year stop-gap contract. Essentially, Burke hopes he will find the chemistry necessary to provide the Leafs with two solid lines up front, while they continue to develop what they hope will be their top line centerman (Kadri/Colborne). Connolly is ready for a fresh start, a change in scenery, and will be the playmaker to Phil Kessel's sniping. If the chemistry is there, and all of Leafs nations' fingers are crossed, he should easily find himself around the 60 point plateau, but given his bit of streakiness, I believe he'll dip into the high 50s, while the Grabo line gobbles up the extra points.
2010-11 Stats - 2GP 0G 0A 0PTS
Projected 2011-12 Stats - 82GP 18G 29A 47PTS
Lombardi is the wild card. He is arguably a solid 1B playmaking center to Tim Connolly and could be the very reason why the Leafs decided to take a chance on his contract as he recovers from last season's concussion issues. He is a smallish but incredibly fast centerman with great sight, but has difficulty finishing. If Connolly can't find the chemistry he requires to stay on the top line, Lombardi could easily be flipped to top minutes alongside Kessel and Lupul. Nonetheless, having Lombardi playing on your third line in the depth chart is rather impressive - that is, if he still has his skills after a year-long absence from the rink.
2010-11 Stats - 82GP 15G 17A 32PTS
Projected 2011-12 Stats - 82GP 16G 20A 36PTS
Bozak seems to be the odd man out. He's not talented enough to steal a top 3 center position, and he's strong big or strong enough to control the fourth line. That said, if the Leafs opt for four aggressive scoring lines this season, Bozak could be the beneficiary of an excellent second chance with far less demand from the public as he experienced last season as a sophomore on the top line. For that reason, I think he'll improve on last year's efforts, but with limited ice-time it won't be by much.
On the next edition, we will cover the depth chart for the left wing.
Micheal A. Aldred