Toronto Maple Leafs: A New Top Line in Town?


Toronto Maple Leafs: A New Top Line in Town?

Instead of a faulty toaster, head coach Randy Carlyle decided to bring a blender to the Toronto Maple Leafs’ practice on Monday morning. Because of the Boston Bruins’ domination at the Air Canada Centre on Saturday night, lighting Toronto up 4-1, the Leafs forward lines were shaken up in hope of producing more offence in preparation of Tuesday night’s game against the Buffalo Sabres.

With David Clarkson‘s promotion to Tyler Bozak and James van Riemsdyk‘s line, and Phil Kessel‘s demotion (?) to Nazem Kadri and Joffrey Lupul‘s line, which line is now considered the No. 1 line?

Apr 25, 2013; Newark, NJ, USA; New Jersey Devils center David Clarkson (23) celebrates his goal on Pittsburgh Penguins goalie Marc-Andre Fleury (29) during the third period at the Prudential Center. The Devils defeated the Penguins 3-2. Mandatory Credit: Ed Mulholland-USA TODAY Sports

Let us look back at Clarkson’s days in New Jersey. Playing six full seasons with the Devils (2007-2013), not including his seven-game rookie season in 2006-2007, Clarkson drew up 166 points, averaging almost 28 points per season. Over his last four years with the Devils, Clarkson averaged about 15:30 minutes per game. Over his last two years with the Devils, he averaged about 3:38 minutes on the power play per game. Comparing those numbers to other players in the NHL, some would say he played second-line minutes in New Jersey.

Clarkson enjoyed the spotlight in New Jersey, especially in his final years with the organization playing on the top line with Travis Zajac and Patrik Elias. His gritty game suited New Jersey’s style of play, having a career year in 2011-2012 where he scored 30 goals and added 16 assists.

Although the new line with van Riemsdyk-Bozak-Clarkson may seem like a top line, and a demotion for Kessel, I see it the opposite way.

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Kessel’s new linemates in Lupul and Kadri might be exactly what the Maple Leafs are looking for: more consistent scoring.

Yes, I realize the stigma in splitting roommates Bozak and Kessel, but it had to be done.

At least for one game.

The new lines may provide an opportunity for Clarkson to park himself in front of the net, and allow van Riemsdyk to use his offensive creativity and smooth hands to be a real playmaker and scorer along with Bozak. Although I love Kessel’s playmaking ability with van Riemsdyk in front of the crease, I believe Clarkson is better in front of the net, using his agitation qualities to truly frustrate opposing defencemen and netminders.

Nov 8, 2013; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Toronto Maple Leafs forward Joffrey Lupul (19) congratulates forward Phil Kessel (81) after a goal against the New Jersey Devils in the third period at the Air Canada Centre. Toronto defeated New Jersey 2-1 in an overtime shoot out. Mandatory Credit: John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports

Considering Kessel’s new linemates, Lupul is a familiar face, playing alongside Kessel and Bozak on the top line before Brian Burke traded for van Riemsdyk in the 2012 off-season. With the centre position, Kadri left fans and management with the impression that he could potentially take over as the No. 1 job when he played alongside Kessel and van Riemsdyk during Bozak’s injury last season.

However, Monday’s practice line combinations are considered brand new to fans.

In my humble opinion, I believe the top line is considered to be Lupul-Kadri-Kessel, providing second liners Kadri and Lupul with the opportunity to dazzle the eyes of the fans and hopefully bring back some life to the Sea of Blue. The second line in van Riemsdyk-Bozak-Clarkson might result in complete offensive damage to opposing teams, with an agitator in Clarkson, a scorer in van Riemsdyk and a playmaker in Bozak.

What do you think? Which line should be considered the top line?

Let us know your thoughts in the comments section below.