Not all is well in Toronto following a lackluster loss to the Winnipeg Jets that extended the Maple Leafs’ losing streak to three games. Speculation about personnel changes is one thing but what can be done to stay ahead in the playoff race while working with what the Leafs already have?
1) Let Leo Komarov take Kadri’s draws
Nazem Kadri has been very good for the Leafs this year. He leads the club in scoring with 25 points (tied with Phil Kessel) and even more impressive is his plus-13 rating. However, he is awful in the faceoff dot.
Kadri’s 3-13 record against the Jets on Tuesday night was just the kind of performance that we’ve come to expect from him. It isn’t a surprise so why suffer through this any longer? Plus-13 or not, Kadri is better with the puck. Thus, it is an advantage to start the shift with possession.
Komarov has played effectively with Kadri this year. His feisty style opens up space for the skilled forward and meshes well with Kadri’s own increasingly edgy play. Included in Komarov’s unique skill set is a talent for winning faceoffs so why not let him take the draws for Kadri instead of hoping and praying for the linesman to throw Kadri out of the circle?
Practice is the place for Kadri to work on his draws, not games in a shortened season.
2) Bring back early season accountability
The promotion of AHLers over veterans and a rotating roster gave Leafs fans, and probably the players, the impression of an organization-wide accountability that former general manager Brian Burke often talked about but never managed to implement.
Now, though, it seems as if the roster has reached a more or less static state, with Mike Komisarek and John-Michael Liles putting up curtains in the press box while Korbinian Holzer and Mike Kostka audition for the minors on the ice night in and night out. Where has that fresh feeling of internal competition gone?
3) No need for Kostka
Mike Kostka has played great for Mike Kostka but he is no Jake Gardiner, as anyone who watched the Marlies during the lockout is well aware. At this point, he may not even be a John-Michael Liles. Odds are that, while he can be useful in a pinch, he will never become anything that is not easily replaceable.
With a crunched active roster, the Leafs need not fear moving him out or even losing him to waivers ─ should that become unavoidable ─ if it means getting someone more capable onto the ice. No such dilemma even exists with the waiver-immune Holzer so why is Kostka still playing?
4) Prepare for life without Bozak
Bozak’s days with the Leafs are numbered if his expected contract demands are to be believed. His even strength production isn’t great with eight points so far this year and he could hardly be called a net presence with his diminutive physique. He is a useful player, particularly when it comes to taking faceoffs, and he has done a decent job of being a number one centre for someone who clearly never will be a number one centre.
This is why Nonis would be loath to move him during a playoff run but with Lupul coming back, isn’t the simplest solution to just shift James van Riemsdyk to centre, even for a little while, and play three elite talents on the same line while finding somewhere else for Bozak to play?
Maybe he can take draws for Kadri. van Riemsdyk would provide the net presence that Bozak lacks and, frankly, he’s significantly more talented offensively. JVR can’t be worse at taking faceoffs than Kadri, whose ineptitude has been tolerated thus far.
The Leafs brass has scoffed at the idea since the start of the season but it really isn’t that outlandish. Longer term, they get a read on van Riemsdyk’s prowess at the position, allowing them to make a more informed decision on life without Bozak, which is looking more and more inevitable.
5) Komisarek’s last chance
If Mike Komisarek is going to play in this league in the next two years without the benefit of a compliance buyout, he needs to prove himself on the ice. To do that, he needs a chance to play.
The Leafs, especially if we follow the logic of accountability mentioned earlier in this article, are under no obligation to help Komisarek get his career back on track. However, if they believe that he can still be a useful player, an argument could be made for rotating him back into the lineup in relief of the better-skating but struggling Holzer, at least for a few games here and there.
He probably deserves at least one more shot, if only for the way he tried to spark his team by standing up to his own personal boogeyman, Boston’s Milan Lucic, in a game last year. Komisarek, when he did play this year, really wasn’t all that bad, sitting (quite literally) at plus-2 in four games with some nice hits thrown in to boot.