In this edition of Toronto Maple Leafs’ Quick Hits, I’ll take a look at three short notes – quick hits – about the team as it engages in the All-Star break and bye week.
Quick Hit One: The Changing Maple Leafs Forward Pipeline
Fortunately, with the way the Maple Leafs have constructed the salary cap of their team, there has been a successful history of finding cheap forwards to complement their elite top units. What makes this team so good is that it has a group of players – nicknamed the “Core Four” – who are good enough to keep the team in the hunt for a Stanley Cup each season.
Although these core players are elite and can make the team competitive each season, winning in the postseason remains another issue. To balance the team and to comply with the NHL’s Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) the organization must constantly seek cheaper forwards to flesh out the bottom six forward units. These players come either from the open market or from their own development system because the team cannot afford to spend significant salary-cap space on newer players or re-sign current players.
One thing that is changing with the Maple Leafs is that their organizational farm system is now becoming more filled with what seems like Grade B players. And that’s not a bad thing at all. These young organizational prospects can now be added to players who have been picked up as undervalued players from the open market.
Together, these two groups help successfully replace departing players. Some of these prospects who are rising through the system and might make a move to the big club’s roster include Pontus Holmberg, Nick Robertson, Logan Shaw, Alex Steeves, Nick Abruzzese, Adam Gaudette, Joey Anderson, and Bobby McMann. It’s a good situation for the team.
Quick Hit Two: Justin Holl Is Playing a Strong Game
It would seem as if many Maple Leafs’ fans don’t like or appreciate Justin Holl. However, perhaps it’s time to take another look at how he has been playing lately. Over his last five games, he’s registered four assists and a plus-2 rating. In Wednesday’s game against the Bruins, he recorded an assist, two shots on goal, two hits and three blocked shots.
Even better, Holl was not intimidated by the Bruins’ relentless offensive pressure. The Bruins made the two young Swedish defensemen Rasmus Sandin and Timothy Liljegren look just that – young. However, Holl and his defensive partner Mark Giordano were the best defensive pair for the Maple Leafs in the game. They both assisted on the only five-on-five goal scored by the Maple Leafs and were not on the ice for any of the five goals scored by the Bruins.
Perhaps it’s time to give Holl more credit than he’s getting.
Quick Hit Three: Calle Jarnkrok Is Scoring More Than Expected
Calle Jarnkrok has been a solid replacement on the team’s top-six units. When he moved to the Calgary Flames last season at the trade deadline, he scored zero goals and four assists in 17 games. Many Maple Leafs’ fans wondered why the team even picked him up.
Yet, this season he’s done more than expected in his top-six role. In Wednesday’s game against the Bruins, he scored a goal, took three shots, and recorded three hits. Over his last 12 games, he has had four goals and four assists. This season, he now has a total of 12 goals, 25 points, 66 shots on net, 36 hits, and a plus-5 rating in 45 games.
The highest goal-scoring total of his career was 16 goals and he’s done it two times. Look for Jarnkrok to beat that mark with the team this season. He’s been a good addition.