John Tavares is a Toronto Maple Leaf.
JOHN TAVARES IS A MAPLE LEAF!!!!!
Okay, okay. Breathe. Let’s get down to business. THE BUSINESS OF WINNING A STANLEY CUP MUAHAHAHAHAA!!!!!!!
Okay, I’m sorry, time to be professional. Breathe.
It’s the off-season, so let’s get right into what we usually do during the summer and play around with the forward lines for the Toronto Maple Leafs to see if we can figure out the best combination for success. Honestly, with JT, Auston, Willy, and Mitch, it really won’t matter how they’re arranged.
But that’s never stopped us before!
I have two early suggestions for what the starting lineup might look like. They are both very similar, so I would love to hear what you might do with the team in the comments. There is a lot of ability for head coach Mike Babock to mix and match wingers within games, and I touched on that a little bit, but what we’re looking for is what the starting lineup will be. Like it’s always been, lineup predictions are fully open for discussion, interpretation, and debate, so have at it!
The First Line
Option one: Don’t change it.
Zach Hyman - Auston Matthews - William Nylander
It’s a great trio that has been growing incredible chemistry over the past two seasons. You have a puck-retriever and net-front presence in Hyman, the shooter and NHL superstar in Matthews, and the creative zone-entry god in Nylander. There is so much talent below this group that there’s no need to mess with it.
Option Two: Babcock’s suggestion
Patrick Marleau - Auston Matthews - William Nylander
According to Dave McCarthy of NHL dot com (as well as some others, I’m sure), Babcock wants to swap Marleau and Hyman for next year. Marleau is a definitive scoring upgrade over Hyman, so putting him on the left wing gives Nylander a second finisher to pass to.
Remember when literally everyone was saying Marleau came to the Leafs to be Auston’s left winger? They only spent 44 minutes together at 5v5 last season. It appears that will change this year. At least to start.
Option One: Give Tavares Kadri’s spot.
Patrick Marleau - John Tavares (AHH!!!) - Mitchell Marner
MarKadMar was a great line for the Maple Leafs last season, but when Kadri took a three-game suspension in the playoffs, Tomas Plekanec took over the middle spot on that line and did incredibly well. So well in when Kadri returned, he was left to play on the fourth line with two AHL bums in Andreas Johnsson and Kasperi Kapanen. But more on them later.
Tavares will get what he was promised in his meeting last Monday and play with his fellow London Knight Mitch Marner. The Marner should have lots of fun playing with two finishers like Tavares and Marleau. Defensively, there should be no problems here.
Option Two: Babcock’s ultimate matchup line.
Zach Hyman - John Tavares - Mitch Marner
Marleau is a great defensive winger, but Hyman is better. Kadri is a great defensive centre, but Tavares is better. Marner is a pest in all three zones, and he’s only going to get better. This could be the line that goes up against the best every team is going to throw at the Maple Leafs, and I’m pretty darn sure they won’t beat this trio.
Also, Mitch and JT are going to score a million goals together with Hyman setting a league record for Darryl Boyce assists.
Option One: re-unite the playoff 4th line
Andreas Johnsson - Nazem Kadri - Kasperi Kapanen
Tomas Plekanec’s biggest accomplishment as a Maple Leaf might have been helping create the best third line in the NHL. I’m not kidding. Johnsson and Kapanen have both shown to be game-breaking, point-per-game players in the AHL, and they don’t look to be slowing down as they hit primes. Kadri is a 30-goal scorer, a top pick in the 2009 draft who is right in the middle of his prime, and one of the most annoying and players to compete against in the NHL today. The Leafs should have no problem sending that trio out in any situation, especially on the road.
Option Two: I don’t have one
Honestly, it feels like the most logical group to pair together. Johnsson and Kapanen are relentless a-holes to play against, they carry speed and skill to burn, and they’re going to play with a high-end second line, 30-goal scoring in Kadri. Not only are they going to be exciting to watch in the offensive zone, but their puck retrievals and transition play should be top notch.
Andreas Johnsson putting up some impressive numbers in his 3rd NHL game.— Mike Kelly (@MikeKellyNHL) March 21, 2018
6 controlled zone entries (2nd to Nylander) and 10 controlled exits (2nd to Marner) last night. The fast get faster.
I’m sure it won’t last for the entire season. Maybe one of the two wingers gets supplanted by the guys below them. Maybe they play so well Marleau or Hyman drop down to create an even line at home. This roster of versatile and electric from one to eight.
Option One: Promote from within
Trevor Moore - Par Lindholm - Connor Brown
Let’s be honest. It really doesn’t matter what this line looks like at all. Moore had his coming out party in the Calder Cup Playoffs with the AHL Champion Marlies. He should be high on the list to make the team. Mike Babcock has been quoted in saying “Lindholm’s a real ‘gud’ player as well” when comparing him to the big three up the middle, so it looks like he’ll have a very good chance of making the roster. And last but certainly not least, Downtown Connor Brown is the Leafs’ 4RW who 28 and 36 points his the previous two seasons.
Other options from within:
Lol no, Josh, sit down. GM Kyle Dubas has said that both Josh Jooris and Adam Cracknell are players “who can definitively come up [from the Marlies],” so there’s a two will get a chance in training camp as well as during the season. Carl Grundstrom will NOT make the Leafs next year, so stop asking about it. His first training camp was impressive, but his play at even strength in the AHL playoffs left much to be desired. Pierre Engvall, Jeremy Bracco, and Dmytro Timashov would need a miracle to make the team as well.
Finally, they could sign some guys. However, I don’t see the need anymore with Josh Jooris and Adam Cracknell already in the fold. If you have a name that’s still on the market and can be gotten for cheap, I’d love to hear it. The Leafs have eight roster spots to Cap Friendly (who I hope is back online) so adding more players to compete with in camp shouldn’t be a problem.
Okay, that’s all I got for now! What does your ideal lineup look like? crap? Does it even matter? WE HAVE JOHN TAVARES!