In yesterday’s post I brought up how the Leafs have three forwards who are currently in the top 25 for average time on ice. Considering the amount of ice time and responsibility that line is entrusted with from Coach Randy Carlyle, this should come as no surprise:
Randy Caryle is concerned about #leafs JVR/Kessel going to the Olympics. "Sometimes they don't have anything left" when they come home.
— Chris Johnston (@reporterchris) January 4, 2014
While most teams lean on their stars to get the job done, only the Vancouver Canucks are using a trio to the extent that the Leafs are. Therefore, when 28 other teams are doing something different, it’s more than likely the proper course of action. Considering the fact that Carlyle is already wary about JVR and Kessel’s fatigue level, it may be time to be proactive and cut back on their minutes. Of course those two are still a major part of this team, but playing a more balanced lineup may leave the two star wingers with some gas upon their return from Sochi.
While thinking about this very topic on Monday, the following tweet caught my eye:
— Toronto Marlies (@TorontoMarlies) January 6, 2014
After making the Leafs out of training camp, Ashton has been bounced back and forth between the Leafs and the Marlies. He has dressed for 18 games for Carlyle and averaged 7:17 of ice time in those contests. I have nothing but time for the 22 year old Ashton. He has great size 6’3″ 215 pounds, and has demonstrated in his brief time with the Leafs an ability to win battles on the boards (a major area of weakness for the 2013-14 Leafs). Ashton has done everything asked of him by the Leafs organization both with the parent club and in the AHL. Having watched the Marlies game on Saturday afternoon, I can tell you that Ashton was dominant. He excelled at controlling and protecting the puck and was head and shoulders the best player on the ice for the baby Leafs. He can cycle offensive and is a willing battler in the defensive end (things that Carlyle stresses are necessary to winning hockey clubs).
With David Clarkson perhaps on the shelf after leaving Saturday night’s game against the Rangers, it would appear that Ashton’s strong play for the Marlies should lead to him being recalled to help out the floundering Leafs. I mean, every game is a tryout, right? Not so fast. At practice on Monday (without Clarkson) Carlyle decided to have a 4th line of Frazer McLaren and Colton Orr centred by Peter Holland. McLaren has been a healthy scratch for 8 straight games and has averaged only 4:26 per night when he does draw in. Orr, on the other hand, seemingly has a roster spot guaranteed as long as he is healthy enough to dress.
Am I the only person who finds it completely baffling that a team scared of fatigue for their stars continuously dresses an incompetent 4th line forcing them to use only 9 of 12 available forwards a night? How about the fact that the Leafs are wasting the games that Holland has before he costs the team a 2nd round pick in this summer’s draft by flanking him with two useless wingers? Would a sheltered 4th line of Ashton, Holland and Jerry D’Amigo capable of playing 10-12 minutes not take the pressure off of the other three forward lines? Why are the Leafs married to Orr and why is McLaren on the active roster? Ashton’s inclusion in the lineup not only makes the Leafs a better team, but it also rewards a young player for doing everything that was asked of him by the organization. At what point do these questions not get asked?
I will say this, practice lines are not an indication of anything. Once Clarkson’s status is determined, Ashton may very well be recalled. However, having watched Carlyle coach this team for two years, I’m not holding my breath. Even if Ashton is recalled, the 4th line will fail to play more than 5 minutes anyways. The second Carlyle whines though about Kessel and JVR being exhausted from the Olympics though, don’t take the bait. It’s 100% his fault for failing to maximize his lineup.