Following the loss to the Buffalo Sabres Friday night this was what Toronto Maple Leafs Head Coach Randy Carlyle had to say:
Coaching brings you experiences and you can never predict [what’s going to happen],” said Carlyle. “You have Plan A,B, C and D in the drawer and we’re at E and F right now.
The next morning General Manager Dave Nonis managed to acquire Peter Holland from the Anaheim Ducks in an attempt to address the horrible position the Leafs had found themselves in. Many fans have uttered what Carlyle did above, that this could not have been predicted. I find that hard to believe because the Leafs must have entered the season knowing Dave Bolland was going to miss some time. Bolland has played in only 347 of 492 career regular season games in the NHL, and over 70 games only twice in his six year career. The first year Leaf getting injured was only a matter of time.
Perhaps the Leafs could not have known that they would be missing three centres at the same time, but don’t teams prepare themselves for the worst case scenario? As Carlyle mentioned above, the Leafs had to turn to Plan E and F during this crisis. Many have aggressively argued with me that no team could survive the situation the Leafs found themselves in. I beg to differ. The Leafs entered the season with Plan A, B, C and D being Tyler Bozak, Nazem Kadri, Bolland and Jay McClement. Plan E was Trevor Smith. Plan F became James Van Riemsdyk who had never played one professional game at centre and was visibly uncomfortable. Plan G was Jerred Smithson who is an extremely limited NHLer. Ultimately the Leafs found themselves in a horrible position due to both injury and suspension.
I went through the league team by team to identify which could overcome the current predicament the Leafs find themselves in. Of course, no team is going to be able to seamlessly transition with multiple injuries to a certain position. For example, Pittsburgh would obviously be a different team without Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. However, unlike the Leafs, they have Brandon Sutter (who has underrated offensively ability) and Jussi Jokinen (who has three times scored over 50 points in a season) to pick up the slack. Not ideal, but not McClement and Smithson either. In the Leafs time of need they were forced to turn to: an uncomfortable and unproductive JVR, Jay McClement (who has one assist this season and a career high of 36 points), Jerred Smithson (career high of 16 points) and Trevor Smith (a 28 year old who entered the season with 24 career NHL games).
Here are the 30 NHL teams’ depth charts at centre (I’ve also included players in italics who have – unlike JVR – proven they can play centre and are capable of sliding to that position if their team so needed). I originally included Holland in the Ducks system, but following the trade I removed him. Neither Holland nor Smithson were included with the Leafs because I wanted to demonstrate just how porous the situation was prior to the injury bug hitting.
Teams That Could Survive Losing Three Centres
San Jose Sharks – Joe Thornton, Joe Pavelski, Logan Couture, Patrick Marleau, Adam Burrish, Tomas Hertl, Tyler Kennedy, James Sheppard, Tommy Wingels and Andrew Desjardins
Washington Capitals – Niklas Backstrom, Mikhail Grabovski, Brooks Laich, Marcus Johansson, Michael Latta and Jay Beagle (Jeff Taffe in the AHL)
Chicago Blackhawks – Jonathan Toews, Brandon Pirri, Marcus Kruger, Andrew Shaw, Michael Handzus and Joakim Nordstrom (Mark McNeil in the AHL)
Los Angeles Kings – Anze Kopitar, Mike Richards, Jeff Carter, Jarret Stoll, Trevor Lewis, Colin Fraser and Linden Vey (Jordan Weal in the AHL)
Pittsburgh Penguins - Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Brandon Sutter, Jussi Jokinen, Joe Vitale and Craig Adams (Andrew Ebbett in the AHL)
Boston Bruins - David Krejci, Patrice Bergeron, Gregory Campbell, Chris Kelly, Carl Soderberg and Ryan Spooner (Alexander Khokhlachev in the AHL)
Philadelphia Flyers - Claude Giroux, Vincent Lecavalier, Sean Couturier, Brayden Schenn, Matt Read and Kris Newbury (Nick Cousins in the AHL and Scott Laughton available as an emergency call-up)
Carolina Hurricanes - Eric Staal, Jordan Staal, Riley Nash, Manny Malholtra, Nathan Gerbe, Jiri Tlusty and Tuomo Ruutu (Victor Rask and Elias Lindholm in the AHL)
St. Louis Blues - David Backes, Derek Roy, Patrick Berglund, Alex Steen, Vladimir Sobotka, Max Lapierre and Jaden Schwartz (Keith Aucoin in the AHL)
Detroit Red Wings - Pavel Datsyuk, Henrik Zetterburg, Darren Helm, Stephen Weiss, Joakim Andersson and Luke Glendening (Cory Emmerton and Riley Sheahan in the AHL)
New Jersey Devils - Travis Zajac, Patrick Elias, Dainus Zubrus, Adam Henrique, Jacob Josefson, Stephen Gionta and Andrei Loktionov
Anaheim Ducks - Ryan Getzlaf, Saku Koivu, Andrew Cogliano, Matthieu Perreault, Nick Bonino and Daniel Winnick (Rickard Rakell in the AHL)
Montreal Canadiens - Tomas Plekanec, Lars Eller, David Desharnais, Alex Galchenyuk, Daniel Briere, Ryan White, Gabriel Dumont and Louis Leblanc
Nashville Predators - David Legwand, Mike Fisher, Nick Spaling, Paul Gaustad, Matt Hendricks, Matt Cullen, Craig Smith and Colin Wilson (Colton Sissons and Austin Watson in the AHL)
Ottawa Senators - Jason Spezza, Kyle Turris, Zack Smith, Mike Zibanejad, Cory Conacher, Stephen Da Costa and Derek Grant
New York Islanders - John Tavares, Frans Nielson, Josh Bailey, Casey Cizikas, Peter Regin and Pierre-Marc Bouchard (Ryan Strome in the AHL)
Colorado Avalanche - Matt Duchene, Paul Stastny, Nathan MacKinnon, Ryan O’Reilly, Max Talbot, John Mitchell and Marc-Andre Cliche
Buffalo Sabres - Cody Hodgson, Steve Ott, Mikhail Grigorenko, Marcus Foligno, Johan Larsson, Cody McCormick, Zembgus Girgensons and Ville Leino (Luke Adam and Mike Zigomanis in the AHL).
Teams That Could Survive Losing Two Centres
Tampa Bay Lightning – Steven Stamkos, Valterri Filppula, Tyler Johnson, Nate Thompson and Brett Connolly (Vladimir Namestnikov in the AHL)
Winnipeg Jets – Bryan Little, Olli Jokinen, Mark Scheifele, Patrice Cormier, Jim Slater and James Wright
New York Rangers – Derek Stepan, Brad Richards, Derrick Brassard, Brian Boyle, Chris Kreider and Dominic Moore
Columbus Blue Jackets – Brandon Dubinsky, Ryan Johansson, Artem Anisimov, Mark Letestu, Derek Mackenzie, Michael Chaput and Boone Jenner (Darrly Boyce in the AHL)
Minnesota Wild – Mikko Koivu, Mikael Granlund, Kyle Brodziak, Charlie Coyle, Torrey Mitchell and Zenon Konopka (Zack Phillips in the AHL)
Phoenix Coyotes - Mike Ribiero, Martin Hanzal, Antoine Vermette, Jeff Halpern, Kyle Chipchura and Andy Miele
Dallas Stars – Tyler Seguin, Rich Peverley, Vernon Fiddler, Cody Eakin, Shawn Horcoff and Jamie Benn
Calgary Flames – Matt Stajan, Mikael Backlund, Joe Colborne, Sean Monahan, Ben Street, Jiri Hudler and Mike Cammalleri
Florida Panthers - Nick Bjugstad, Marcel Goc, Alex Barkov, Shawn Matthias, Jesse Winchester and Scott Gomez.
Teams That Could Not Survive Losing More Than One Centre
Edmonton Oilers - Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Sam Gagner, Mark Arcobello, Boyd Gordon, Will Acton and Anton Lander
Vancouver Canucks - Henrik Sedin, Ryan Kesler, Mike Santorelli, Jordan Schroeder and Zac Dalpe
Toronto Maple Leafs - Tyler Bozak, Nazem Kadri, Dave Bolland and Jay McClement (Trevor Smith in the AHL)
The addition of Holland and the imminent return of Kadri once again provides Carlyle with capable options at centre. No longer will he be forced to put players in positions that they are unable to prosper in. As shown above, Toronto was one of only three teams that entered the season without adequate depth at centre. A team that spends to the cap like the Leafs do though should have never found themselves in that situation. The Leafs not only didn’t have proper depth in the NHL, but they didn’t have reinforcements in the AHL. Hopefully this situation opened Nonis’ eyes to the fact that 27 of his peers were better equipped to overcome such a problem.