You could have definitely added me to the very long list of fans who were pretty confused when the Toronto Maple Leafs claimed Frazer McLaren off waivers the previous year given that the team already had a defined pugalist in 31 year old heavyweight Colton Orr. That being said, it is not a very well kept secret around the league that Randy Carlyle prefers imposing players on his team and the recent signing of Troy Bodie would most certainly further support that case. However, all this has had a pretty significant impact on the team as a whole; as Nazem Kadri pointed out on Coaches Corner last year, the boys will be there if opposing teams attempt to take liberties with Leafs star players and you can bet that there isnt a team in the league that looks forward to stepping on ACC ice when both Orr and McLaren are patrolling the surface.
It is unfortunate that the contributions of both Orr and McLaren go largely unnoticed except for the one skill they are adept at, the art of intimidation. There is a preconceived notion amongst many fans that both players add a single dimension to a hockey game, facepunching if you will. Well yes, they definitely do alot of that but lets face it, they are both pretty good at it and you can’t image any other team actually looks forward to being on the receiving end. This kind of intimidation should negatively impact the morale of any team visiting, it adds swagger to your star players who knowing that night in and night out someone has their back and it has an intangible effect on the game as a whole. That leads to situation like the one outlined in the video below. There were more than a couple of instances in highlights from last year where you can hear the announcer claim that Orr or McLaren were in hard on the forecheck, the puck gets coughed up and next thing you know the Leafs have scored. Something that doesn’t show up on the stat sheet except perhaps on their plus minus but no less important. It should also be mentioned in that neither Orr nor McLaren finished last season on the negative side of plus minus.
Wikipedia defines the fourth line as “…the “energy line,” both because their shifts give other players a chance to rest, and because their physically oriented play is said to give their teammates an emotional boost. It is usually composed of journeymen with limited scoring potential, but strong physical play and, as often as possible, strong skating abilities. With the smallest amount of ice time, they tend to play in short bursts rather than pace themselves. Pests and enforcers usually play the fourth line.” Interesting statement that the primary function of the fourth line is to allow your teams top lines to rest and to boost them emotionally. We have to face the fact that getting into a fight is a pretty time consuming event. Play stops, equipment goes flying, greek roman wrestling on ice occurs, players are untangled, sent to their respective sin bins and delivered the previously deposed of equipment and the game ensues. What has since happened is Phil Kessel, Nazem Kadri and the like are now well rested and ready to get back to work, enforcer goal accomplished. Toronto’s fourth line would then satisfy the definition would they not? In no way is this condoning staged fighting, something a number of fans would admit to caring less about but if a fight is timed correctly it could be argued that it would assist teams in certain circumstances.
So Randy Carlyle recently indicated during a media scrum that he was considering trying Frazer McLaren out on the penalty kill and it was almost heartbreaking to read some of the responses to his quote; it is really hard to believe these come from people who claim to support the team given how negative they were. Firstly Caryle said ‘try’ which is a relatively obscure statement in itself, it is pre-season and for all we know he may have meant only in practice for the next couple of weeks. Secondly, why not give the kid a shot at garnering additional experience in another role and at minimum something else to focus his energy upon?. McLaren has for all intents and purposes mastered one art form and it serves him well but doesn’t everyone strive to be better as an athlete?. McLaren back in 2008, during his final year in the WHL split between a sub 500 Portland Winter Hawk’s club and the Moose Jaw Warriors put up 19 goals and 21 assists and was a combined plus five. There is also record of him playing on the penalty kill for the Worcester Sharks of the AHL and at 6’5″ 250lbs, would be a pretty imposing body to get a puck past if he is actively blocking shots. So perhaps there is something to be said for putting him in a position to learn…as the old saying goes, you never know.
Unfortunately all this became a moot point after McLarens pinky finger was fractured in practice by an overly rambunctious Carter Ashton but it does provide an interest topic for debate. All Maple Leaf players should strive to become better players and Frazer McLaren should be no different. As always, food for thought!