On the same day it was announced that Toronto Maple Leafs centre Tyler Bozak will be out of the lineup for at least the next three weeks, C Dave Bolland suffered a significant injury. While avoiding a body check along the boards, the recent offseason acquisition in Blue & White took Vancouver Canucks forward Zach Kassian’s skate to the foot and immediately dropped to the ice in pain. Kassian’s blade cut through tendons in Bolland’s ankle. So much for not going to the White House Monday. Dave Bolland had surgery to repair his ankle in a Vancouver hospital last night.
The injury comes at a bad time for the Buds who now must carry on for the next several weeks without two of their top three centres. The loss of Bolland is detrimental. Teammate James van Riemsdyk told media, “he’s [Bolland] a huge part of our team. You never like to see a guy like that go down.” It may turn out that JVR is thrust into a centre role over the next stretch of games if head coach Randy Carlyle is willing to explore a quick fix using current personnel. Read full update by NHL.com here.
Another short term fix to replace Bolland might be the promotion of 4th line centre Jay McClement to one of the top two lines. However, this move would severely hinder the depth of the Leafs bottom six and overwork the premiere penalty killer.
It may be time to panic, just a little, if you are Leafs GM Dave Nonis. The goal in Toronto is qualifying for the Stanley Cup playoffs. The Leafs can’t afford a bad month or two because of injuries to centremen. The Atlantic Division is very strong – a lengthy losing streak is likely to damage any hopes of making the playoffs this year. Without Bozak and Bolland, wins will be hard to attain.
A trade may be the Leafs only option at this point. The salary cap will make trading difficult, however, not impossible. The Leafs need to find a centre who can step in at reasonable value and still fit under the confines of the Cap when everyone returns to full health.
The best way to make a centre fit within the restraints of the Cap would be to move salary the other way. However, with the ceiling so low, convincing another NHL club to inherit salary might be difficult. In a dream world, defenceman John-Michael Liles fetches a centre via trade to bail the Leafs out of their predicament. In reality, that appears unlikely.
A more realistic option is that the Leafs dangle an attractive asset around the league and hope they can retain a quality centreman in return. If I’m guessing, and that’s all I’m doing here, Jake Gardiner may be the player the Leafs trade to acquire a centre.
Here is why: The Leafs are deep with young defencemen. 19-year old Morgan Rielly is showing all the signs that he is for real. In the system, Stuart Percy and Andrew MacWilliam are very promising prospects. Not to mention, Korbinian Holzer and Jesse Blacker can step in and play if need be. Ditto for Liles.
Another thing to consider is that the Leafs have to re-sign Gardiner, Franson and Phaneuf next summer. All three will earn pay increases. When all is said and done, there may not be space under the Cap to keep all three. If I’m picking, I consider letting Phaneuf walk. But I understand that is probably not an option for Leafs management who aren’t afforded the luxury of merely guessing that a blueline core consisting of Gardiner, Franson and Rielly will be strong enough, soon enough, without Phaneuf. NHL GM’s deal in sure bets.
Say what you will about Phaneuf, but he’s a sure bet. He makes mistakes and butchers man advantage opportunities, but at least you know what you’re going to get from the captain. Plus, Dion is durable. In an era where injuries are so prevalent, Phaneuf never seems to get hurt. That in itself is valuable and probably attractive to Nonis and his staff.
Cody Franson isn’t going anywhere. He is the club’s only right handed shot on the back end. He’s also relatively experienced, and a tremendous power play specialist. The Leafs need Cody Franson.
Jake’s time with the Leafs may be up in the very near future if acquiring a good number one centre is the plan in Toronto. Because Gardiner is so talented – his skills so obvious – he is the best trade bait the team has right now. While the thought of losing Gardiner doesn’t exactly make anyone in Leaf Land rejoice, it wouldn’t be the end of the world if he is traded for a centreman of equal or greater skill, age, and potential. *Think D Jack Johnson for C Jeff Carter – it helped the Kings win a Cup.
That being said, trading away Jake will not be easy for Nonis. Gardiner’s talents are rare and desirable. Losing him is risky because his ceiling is so high. But the Leafs may not have a choice.
Another option, and this might be the best one: the Leafs don’t panic. They don’t overreact and make a move even though standing pat could potentially derail their season. There is always next year for a team as young as the Leafs. And who knows? Maybe they can continue winning games without trading anyone while Bozak and Bolland recover from their injuries. The Ottawa Senators rallied a year ago to become a playoff team despite losing several key players for lengthy stretches. The Leafs could pull through with what they have. It’s possible, anyway.
Defenceman Mark Fraser will return to the lineup next week. His emergence from the press box means the Leafs have 7 defencemen on the active roster. One of them will be forced to sit. At this point, it’s very tricky to predict which blueliner will become the odd man out. If it’s Jake, may as well explore trading him for a high-end centre.
Leafs fans need not necessarily be worried. Acquiring a great young centre has long been high on the Leafs to-do-list. As great as Gardiner is, the right man up the middle would help the Buds. And, sometimes you have to give a little to get.