It’s official, the Toronto Maple Leafs are going to the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the second straight year. Impressive considering it was only a couple years ago when they finished dead last in the league, with the most depressing roster I’ve ever seen. The turnaround since Shanahan took over is remarkable, and while the top 3 lines appear to be pretty much set in stone for their playoff run, the biggest question mark is who plays on the fourth line?
It’s been a revolving door of players suiting up to play on the fourth line this season, and it seems like Babcock is still trying to figure which one’s fit best. Let’s have a look at our options; Leo Komarov, Dominic Moore, Matt Martin, Kasperi Kapanen, Josh Leivo, Thomas Plekanec, and Andreas Johnsson. That is a boat load of players to have come in and out of the lineup. Now, just being realistic, we can probably weed out a few of these players who are very unlikely to get much ice time – Martin, Moore and Leivo. They all got their share of games during the regular season and showed a lot to be desired. Martin can hit and fight, which is useful in it’s own right, but the NHL is turning away from the enforcer role that he provides. Moore was quite underwhelming in his 50 game audition and doesn’t really do anything that well. Leivo although a decent scorer, is in an awkward spot as he’s not good enough to crack the top 9, but his skill set doesn’t make sense for the fourth line because he doesn’t PK and is suspect defensively. Add to the fact that they have all been regular healthy scratches, you know Babcock doesn’t see much of a fit. That leaves Komarov, Kapanen, Plekanec and Johnsson all fighting for 3 spots.
This is tough. These four players all bring their own unique play style, can PK, and are solid defensively. There just isn’t room for all of them unfortunately. Having said that, in my opinion leaving Johnsson or Kapanen out of the lineup would be an absolute mistake! These are two hungry young players that have a lot to prove. They are both excellent skaters and provide a threat to score when they are on the ice. Komarov and Plekanec are known for their defensive prowess and heavy forechecking but they have been black holes offensively. So I guess it comes down to what do you prefer? Or what does Babcock prefer? This is the new age NHL and I don’t see a need for the old school slow skating & hard hitting fourth lines of the past. I want to see speed, and more speed. In my perfect world I think I would have Kapanen and Johnsson flanking Plekanec, and Komarov left on the bench. But I’m also pretty sure that’s not going to happen. “But Komarov is a great PK’er and responsible in his own end”. Yes, but the Leafs have many capable PK’ers and ideally you don’t WANT the puck in your own end. Hence my bid for Kapanen who can skate circles around Leo and has as many goals as him in 32 less games!
As for Plekanec – he has been underwhelming since being traded to the Leafs, but I’m willing to give him the benefit of the doubt with his history, and he’s a much better center than Dominic Moore. I’d like to see some better finish and offensive creativity that he’s shown in the past.
So what will Babcock decide? It’s too early to tell but my gut tells me that Andreas Johnsson will be left off the lineup. It’s unfortunate because he’s played awesomely but at the end of the day – he only has 9 games of NHL experience, and I don’t think that’s enough to sway Babcock from playing his trusted veteran Komarov, or newly acquired Plekanec.
Who would you take into the playoffs for the fourth line?