The Toronto Maple Leafs are blessed with two exciting mega-stars – Auston Matthews at the center and Mitch Marler at the right wing. Currently, those two have been playing as linemates on probably the best first line in the NHL. And, there might not be a reason to break up that line because it’s going so well. Or, is there?
What would happen if Matthews and Marner were split up and each drove his own line – Matthews from the center position and Marner from the wing? Is there a case to be made for splitting up these two great players?
History Would Suggest this Plan Might Work
In the long-ago past, when Mike Babcock was the Maple Leafs’ head coach, he played Matthews with William Nylander and John Tavares with Marner. Since Sheldon Keefe took over, Matthews and Marner have all but been inseparable. Nylander and Taveres have become the mainstays of the team’s second line; and, although that line has been successful, it hasn’t been as successful as the team’s first line.
Because Matthews and Marner have great chemistry and a strong friendship, one would guess they would like to continue to ply their on-ice partnership. But, for the good of the team, would each consider and be good with a switch?
When Marner and Tavares played together, Marner helped Tavares have his best season ever. Tavares benefitted from having Marner on his wing in the same way that Matthews was good for Nylander’s game. The fact is Matthews helps increase Nylander’s production and Marner helps increase Tavares’ output.
What Would the New Lines Look Like?
If a split-up were made, the first line could be made up of left-winger Michael Bunting along with center Matthews and right-winger Nylander. The second line could have Nick Robertson on the left wing with Tavares at center and Marner on the right wing.
Using the puck-digging Zach Hyman as an example, on the first line Bunting would be the puck digger. On the second line, that would be Tavares’ job. Matthews and Marner would both become double threats who would play a similar role that Connor McDavid plays in Edmonton with the Oilers. Both could either play to pass or set up for a shot.
Tavares would benefit as he ages. The pressure of driving the offence wouldn’t fall on him and he could set up in front of the net to utilize his great hand/eye coordination. Tavares is a hard worker, but he’s slowing as he ages. Still, his face-off skills remain strong.
With Tavares doing the heavy lifting on the second line, it might leave space for a scoring winger. That’s where Nick Robertson, who has a great shot and could become a capable scorer, would get a chance to showcase his skills. He’d also have the team’s captain to teach, coach, and encourage.
Right Now, It’s Good: Might It Be Better?
Right now, who can argue with the deployment of Matthews and Marner on the same line? It works.
However, could the team get better if a change were made? That might be an especially helpful change for the postseason. It seemed that if the first line were held scoreless the rest of the team couldn’t pick up the slack. What if there were two good lines, making it tougher to stop the Maple Leafs’ offence?
There would be an entire regular season to see.