Is it time for the Toronto Maple Leafs to reconsider the makeup of their fourth line going into the summer? a question I have been mulling over for quite some time now. Coach Carlyle is known throughout the league for using the line sparingly at best, rotating between three scoring lines for most of the year. This must have an effect on the remaining players in terms of overall fatigue during the course of a season but the lack of a true shutdown line has become noticeable this past season to face off against other teams secondary scoring lines and is an area, in my opinion that the Leafs could easily improve upon over the summer with minimal investment. This isn’t written with the intention of focusing negatively on the current makeup of the fourth line given its legacy players but unfortunately the dynamic of the NHL has shifted in recent years and you do not see the opportunities for enforcers like Fraser McLaren or Colton Orr to affect a game with a timely hit or a fight like you once did; there just isn’t the same number of opposing sparing partners for them to square off against and that lack has hindered their overall effectiveness.
According to HockeyFutures.com the Maple Leafs organization is rife with a strength they do not yet appear to be tapping into which is a plethora of “Gritty bottom-six forwards with good size”. One such player that the Leafs really should consider in the near future, in my opinion, for a lengthy overall look next year is Jerry D’Amigo who in a couple of games with the big club this year proved that he can not only skate with some of the NHL’s best but his build (5’11”, 213lbs) which is almost tank like in nature allows him to forecheck with reckless abandon which has led to a fair number of turnovers in his brief appearance with the squad.
“D’Amigo is a strong, powerful forward who can motor at both ends of the ice. He has a tireless work-ethic and leaves everything on the ice. He’s a proven defensive player at the pro level, seeing countless defensive assignments over the last two seasons. He also provides offense in a supporting role and has a knack for raising his level of play when it matters most.” states HockeyFutures.com.
The other player needs no introduction in Carter Ashton, his willingness to grind it out in the dirty areas and engage in physical altercations has been well documented this year. The edge in which he plays is much needed on that line and coming it at decently sized 6’3”, 205lbs lends well to the makeup of this new forth line I am proposing. With Jamie McClement continuing to take the majority of the draws this line has the speeds and acumen to develop into a trustworthy group that could become more effective than what the Leafs currently have and has the potential skill level to go on offense and chip in the odd helper.
The growth and development of these two young players in D’Amigo and Ashton with additional time spent in the league learning the professional game could also see them move up the depth chart to the third line over time if their skill curves continue, something that will not occur if the Leafs do not make room for younger players to move up within the organization. There can not be much harm in playing this newly revamped forth line for 5 minutes a game as the potential benefits far outweigh the costs. What makes the situation even more interesting is that the team still has youngsters like Tyler Biggs at right wing and David Broll at left wing as replacements waiting in the wings for future consideration.
A potential stop gap measure would in a perfect scenario see the Maple Leafs consider another option that exists with the previously reported negotiations that may take place over the summer with Leo Komarov. The recent Finnish Olympian endeared himself to the Toronto faithful as a defensively responsible and considerably annoying presence against the opposition, something that had been sincerely missed since the days of Darcy Tucker. The other addition that for all intents and purposes mirrors Komarov with potentially more upside in terms of overall skill ceiling is recent acquisition Teemu Hartikainen who came over from the Edmonton Oilers in the Mark Fraser trade. Between McClement this could prove to be a considerably frustrating and gritty line to face off against, something the Leafs sorely need.
The Leafs regardless of how the post season pans out still have work to do this off season but hopefully they consider something like the above as a potentially inexpensive and cap friendly upgrade on their fourth line and focus on bolstering their defensive core. As always food for thought.