How much of a difference can the revamped bottom six have?
While the Maple Leafs lost several players to free agency, Nonis made sure to bring in plenty of players to hopefully fill the void. For the purpose of qualifying the “bottom six” forwards I’m counting David Clarkson as a top six winger based on salary and Mason Raymond as a bottom six, despite their production being completely flipped.
The Maple Leafs parted with Jay McClement, Mason Raymond, Nikolai Kulemin, Dave Bolland, Jerry D’Amigo and Jerred Smithson during the summer, bringing in David Booth, Leo Komarov, Petri Kontiola, Mike Santorelli, Matt Frattin and Daniel Winnik to take their place.
Losing Raymond will hurt the most, as he had 45 points which was good enough for fifth on the team. Nikolai Kulemin, while undervalued in this market, brought a strong defensive value who could fill in for injuries. Bolland is a solid if unspectacular third line centre who got hot early but never regained his form and is coming off a crippling injury.
As for McClement, Smithson and D’Amigo? The Leafs didn’t lose much there. Nonis is hoping that the group as a whole is better by enough of a margin that the loss of Raymond doesn’t hurt.
With Holland still a Leaf that leaves Mike Santorelli replacing the production of Jay McClement and Jerred Smithson, who had 10 points combined last year. Santorelli had 28 in 49 games with the Canucks and is solid defensively, so that’s an obvious upgrade.
Sep 22, 2014; London, Ontario, CAN; Toronto Maple Leafs left wing David Booth defends the puck from Phiadelphia Flyers defence man Brandon Manning in the second period at Budweiser Gardens. Maple Leafs won 3-2. Mandatory Credit: Peter Llewellyn-USA TODAY Sports
Daniel Winnik had a career year with 30 points last year but won’t be expected to come close to matching that here. He’s here to kill penalties and play outstanding defence. Winnik is the player you put out when your ahead at the end of the game or to shut down an opponents top line. He’s comparable to Nikolai Kulemin, albeit better defensively.
Leo Komarov may have had only nine points in 42 games for the Leafs during the lockout shortened season but proved he can score with 34 points in 52 games for Dynamo Moscow in the KHL. His role though primarily is that of a pest, a heavy hitter and chaos causer in the opponents end. He kills penalties and can chip in offensively from the fourth line, which never hurts, and is an upgrade over D’Amigo.
David Booth is out at least four weeks with a broken foot, but when he returns he could be this years Mason Raymond. Booth is a former 30 goal scorer who’s career was sidetracked after he was crushed by a dirty hit from Mike Richards in 2009-10. The concussion caused by the hit cost Booth 45 games and he wasn’t the same player afterwards, reaching 40 points only once in the four years since. Raymond hadn’t score over 40 points in the three previous seasons before he was a Leaf, so the comparisons are there.
As for Kontiola and Frattin, both will likely see limited duty this year with the Leafs. Kontiola has current been assigned to the Toronto Marlies while Frattin will battle Brandon Kozun, Carter Ashton and Josh Leivo for the final two roster spots on the Leafs.
Overall the bottom six appears much better, with more competition for spots. With the Leafs not carrying any enforcers to fill the press box, that means skill players will be ready and waiting for a shot on the team. Competition raises the bar and instantly makes the bottom six forwards far superior to last year.