Who should play on the Leafs 4th line?
One of the mostly hotly debated topics in this year’s training camp has been the Maple Leafs 4th line. The Leafs have a surplus of skilled wingers vying to make the team, along with some grizzled veterans who can play a depth role.
Due to this controversy, I have decided to perform my own analysis of the Leafs future fourth line, with an emphasis on scoring and skill.
Note: I was also inspired by Dom Luszczyszyn’s snarky comment in The Athletic.
If you want to see the final result, scroll to the bottom now.
The Top 9
We must first outline who will be on the top three lines. Based on last season and training camp so far, this is how it appears it will play out:
Hyman – Matthews – Nylander
Marleau – Kadri – Komarov
James Van Riemsdyk – Tyler Bozak – Mitch Marner
It appears as if Connor Brown is the odd man out in this set up, having his place taken by Patrick Marleau. I am comfortable making this assumption for two reasons. 1) Marleau played with Kadri and Komarov in Toronto, while Connor Brown dressed the night before in Ottawa. 2) There is no way Marleau plays on the fourth line, and I don’t see Brown taking Hyman or Komarov’s spot.
Since we have established Brown being outside of the top 9, this automatically places him onto the fourth line. He had 36 points in 82 games last year with the big club and just signed a 2 year $2.1 million contract, so there’s no way he doesn’t make this team.
Centre is a bit more of a contested spot. The Leafs signed Dominic Moore in free agency making him the immediate favourite for the role. Eric Fehr was acquired via Pittsburgh last season in what was essentially a cap dump. More interestingly the Leafs signed Miro Aaltonen out of the KHL and Chris Mueller from the AHL.
To compare point totals, I will be using Rob Vollman’s NHLe (read an old guide here), a metric that calculates the difficulty of scoring in a certain league and how that would translate into 82 games in the NHL. Here are this year’s NHLe calculation numbers.
<blockquote class=”twitter-tweet” data-lang=”en”><p lang=”fi” dir=”ltr”>Updated translation factors<br>.74 KHL<br>.58 SHL<br>.47 AHL<br>.43 SM-Liiga, Swiss NLA, NCHC<br>.38 H-East<br>.33 Big 10<br>.30 OHL<br>.29 WHL<br>.25 QMJHL<br>.23 ECAC</p>— Rob Vollman (@robvollmanNHL) <a href=”https://twitter.com/robvollmanNHL/status/866477120360402944″>May 22, 2017</a></blockquote>
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Using regular points and NHLe, here is how the scoring numbers play out:
|Dominic Moore||Boston Bruins||82||25||25|
|Chris Mueller||Tuscon (AHL)||68||67||37.97|
|Miro Aaltonen||Vityaz Podolsk (KHL)||59||44||45.25|
Based on Miro Aaltonen’s impressive scoring numbers and the fact that he is the only player on this list under the age of 25 (Aaltonen is 25, Mueller is 31). I believe he is the best fit for the Maple Leafs.
That means we currently have Miro Aaltonen centring Connor Brown, which leaves us with the most controversial position.
Matt Martin appears to be the clear favourite on the left side. He played all 82 games last season and he has 3 years remaining on his contract. However, Martin only had 9 points in 82 games last year and a course rel of -3.1 (thanks Hockey Reference). For more scoring upside, the Leafs would be better off using Kasperi Kapanen or Josh Leivo on the 4th line.
Last year was a weird year for both Kapanen and Josh Leivo. Leivo spent most of the year in the press box, but played great when he was in the lineup, with 10 points in 13 games, a scoring pace of 63 points in 82 games. Kapanen played great in the AHL with the Marlies averaging a point a game in 43 AHL games, good for an NHLe of 38.54. He also looked great in the playoffs alongside Brian Boyle and Matt Marin. Josh Leivo didn’t even get to dress for the Leafs in the playoffs.
Leivo and Kapanen are very comparable and both clearly better options than Matt Martin. I have to give the edge to Josh Leivo, mainly because if he were sent down to the AHL he would most definitely be claimed off of waivers. Kapanen is waiver exempt, meaning he can be sent down to the Marlies without the fear of being lost to another team.
Josh Leivo – Miro Aaltonen – Connor Brown
This line has the most upside, and it means Kasperi Kapanen can get top minutes with the Marlies as opposed to a reduced role with the Maple Leafs (perhaps he will get called up if JVR is ever actually traded?). As for Matt Martin, I feel he would be better suited for the press box. He can still be a factor in the dressing room and at practice, and if a game is expected to get very rough or the game is against a big rival Martin can be dressed to ‘protect the kids’.