Breaking News: The Toronto Maple Leafs Still Need a Centre

July 7th, 2011 No Comments

After the acquisitions of Matthew Lombardi and Tim Connolly, many fans of the Toronto Maple Leafs felt that their beloved Buds had solved their need for a centre.

Now, don’t get me wrong. When healthy, both Lombardi and Connolly can be effective players. That said, given Lombardi’s concussion issues that saw him miss 80 of the 82 games in the 2010-11 season (which still carries lingering effects) and Connolly’s fragile china doll reputation, there is every reason to believe Maple Leafs general manager Brian Burke is not done trying to address the centre position.

As good a season as Mikhail Grabovski had last year, Burke looks to be penciling him onto the second line where he will play with Clarke MacArthur and Nikolai Kulemin, all of whom had career years in 2010-11 playing as the Buds second unit.

On the third line Burke has a bevy of players to choose from including the newly signed Tyler Bozak, young prospects Nazem Kadri and Joe Colborne or perhaps taking a flyer on unrestricted free agent veteran forward Mike Zigomanis, who spent much of last season with the Maple Leafs AHL affiliate, the Toronto Marlies.

Both Kadri and Colborne will be given every opportunity to make the big club out of training camp, but if you listen to Burke, he looks to have already made a decision on Kadri, at least as far as his days of playing centre goes.

In a recent article published in the Toronto Sun, Leafs columnist Lance Hornby asked Burke about the chances of Kadri playing wing again next year. Burke’s response may surprise some of the Leaf fans that are anticipating Kadri’s injection into the centre position.

“Probably. What we ask our centres to do at both ends of the rink are not his strong suits, but he can step up and make a play. Guys like Paul Kariya played wing his whole career, but once he crossed the blueline, he was a centre.”

Reading between the lines, Burke seems to be leaning towards Kadri assuming one of the wing positions on one of the top three lines, which leaves the door wide open on Burke acquiring a legitimate number one centre.

Going forward, if Kadri continues to get penciled in on the wing that leaves one of Connolly, Lombardi or Colborne to take over the number one centre position, which doesn’t exactly fill you with a ton of optimism for the upcoming season.

Sure, as we said before, Connolly and Lombardi, when healthy, can be effective players.

That said, when you look at everything objectively (which can be something of an impossibility for many fans of the Blue and White) neither one of these players has been looked upon as a number one centre in quite some time, if ever.

So, is Colborne the answer?

Last time we checked, Colborne was buried in the Boston Bruins organization before coming to Toronto in the Tomas Kaberle deal.

Colborne impressed the Leafs’ brass in his short stint with the Marlies last season netting eight goals and 16 points through 20 games. While his numbers were good at the AHL level (Colborne also had 12 goals and 26 points in 55 games with the Bruins AHL affiliate, the Providence Bruins), it remains to be seen if Colborne’s game translates to the NHL, never mind assuming the number centre position anytime soon.

In the end, try as Burke might to upgrade at the centre position, and he has by acquiring Connolly and (if healthy) Lombardi, no matter how you slice it, Burke still lacks a stud down the middle, and may lack a number one centre for quite some time unless he pulls off a miraculous deal.

Until next time,

Peace!

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