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If You Plan On Paying Him You Might As Well Play Him

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Looks like the team's new head coach, Randy Carlyle realizes something many of us around Leaf land have been saying for a while: Mikhail Grabovski is the Leafs top Centre. It appears important that Carlyle get off on the right foot with this team in a relatively short period of time if he hopes to salvage this season. As a result, it looks like - based on an admittedly tiny single game sample size - that Mikhail Grabovski is going to be playing top line minutes.

Stranger still to many Leaf fans may have been the appearance on the time-sheet of Clarke MacArthur 2nd amongst Leaf forwards in ice time. I've been arguing for a while that his production for his ice time vastly outweighs his perceived value. People who have argued in favour of moving MacArthur need not step forward - you know who you are. Very few players produce the way MacArthur has been in such limited minutes. Read on after the jump for a bit of a break down on what I'm referring to.

Toronto's forwards have been led in ice time by Joffrey Lupul and Phil Kessel for most of the season - which has been a major part of their hugely productive offensive totals. What has largely flown under the radar as a result though is the fact that Grabovski's production per game is virtually identical to last season, but his ice time has DROPPED by almost 2 minutes per game this year. Comparably, MacArthur's production has declined a fairly small amount but he too is averaging over 2 minutes less per game in ice time.

What does that mean? Well consider the chart below and note the output offensively in comparison to the possession and defensive results on behalf of the Leafs top 4 point producers from this season and last.

2010-11 Corsi REL QoC Corsi REL ES G/60 ES Pts/60 PP G/60 PP Pts/60 ES SA/60 ES GA/60
Mikhail Grabovski 0.465 21.3 0.91 2.06 2.44 3.66 26.5 2.41
Clarke MacArthur 0.379 19.3 0.79 2.25 1.29 4.39 27.1 2.72
Phil Kessel 0.280 -2.2 0.87 1.83 2.07 3.94 31.1 3.23
Joffrey Lupul 0.518 -9.2 0.89 1.60 1.60 5.19 33.5 3.02

It's fairly obvious that last season MacArthur and Grabovski were far superior to Lupul and Kessel in possession and as a result, defensive play. While the offensive production has shifted a fair bit in the direction of Kessel and Lupul this year, the defensive distinctions have actually gotten worse between the two pairings. If you look at the chart below, it seems relatively clear that Grabovski and MacArthur are still by far the more reliable defensive duo. Just to illustrate how valuable Grabovski is in the middle, take a look at his comparisons to Bergeron and Kesler, and remember on the GA/60 that Boston has Tim Thomas and Tukka Rask, while Vancouver has Roberto Luongo and Cory Schneider.

2011-12 Corsi REL QoC Corsi REL ES G/60 ES Pts/60 PP G/60 PP Pts/60 ES SA/60 ES GA/60
Mikhail Grabovski 0.682 13.0 1.03 2.46 1.88 4.24 26.6 2.56
Clarke MacArthur 0.876 6.5 1.26 2.05 1.70 5.11 27.1 2.75
Phil Kessel 0.564 5.6 1.88 2.89 1.18 3.53 30.4 3.49
Joffrey Lupul 0.581 0.1 1.02 2.60 2.10 4.80 31.5 3.74
Patrice Bergeron 0.521 15.1 1.00 2.72 1.18 4.34 25.1 1.86
Ryan Kesler 0.560 14.4 0.81 1.78 1.64 3.62 26.4 1.63

What cements the distinction between the lines and usage is the reality of who they're facing up against and their production on the Power Play. Grabovski and MacArthur play tougher minutes, maintain possession at a higher level, and produce at a comparable - if not superior - level on the power play.

If I was Randy Carlyle I know which way I'd be leaning in an effort to remold this team in a more defensively sound group, and I wouldn't be looking to outscore my problems anymore with Lupul and Kessel running the show. I would be looking to get Kessel and Lupul as many favourable offensive zone starts and easy match-ups offensively as possible.

MacArthur has been an excellent pick up for the Burke regime, and frankly his RFA contract is a steal. Unfortunately with Grabovski finally hitting UFA status after this year it doesn't look like the Leafs will be able to discount his production effectively going forward. What they can do is reward him and play him appropriately for his pay grade. If he's going to get around $5 million a year for 4 years or so, they might as well get as much production as they can out of the effective Belorussian.

The tenure of Randy Carlyle is 1 day old, and I'm still not sold on his ability to develop the Leafs young defense, but this shift in the Line structure in Leaf land has my vote of confidence and it makes me hope we see more of this in the future. I just hope it's not a brief flash in the pan, and in fact continues as a reward for effective play at BOTH ends of the ice. Kessel and Lupul will continue to get their points this year, I don't see them slowing down drastically below their current rate, but they'll be less of a liability in their own end if they see fewer minutes.