Does Matthew Lombardi Have Anything Left?
When Toronto Maple Leafs general manager Brian Burke acquired forward Matthew Lombardi and defenseman Cody Franson from the Nashville Predators in return for defenseman Brett Lebda and prospect Robert Slaney the jewel of Burke’s eye was Franson with Lombardi being more of a throw-in.
At the time of the deal Lombardi had just come off a terrible concussion which saw him miss the lions share of the 2010-11 season. With Lombadri’s future in doubt, Predators general manager David Poile felt Lombardi was expendable and was probably pretty stoked Burke was willing to take him off of his hands.
Lombardi’s lost season derailed any momentum he may have had when he set a career high in points with 53 which earned him first-line minutes with the Phoenix Coyotes.
Known for his excellent skating, speed and penalty killing abilities, Lombardi was supposed to make a seamless move as the Predators number one centre. Unfortunately his dreams were derailed by his concussion injury.
When Burke acquired Lombardi he was just hoping he would recover enough to make some kind of contribution to the Maple Leafs in 2011-12 by mid-season, with an eye on the future where he felt Lombardi could return to the form that made him so valuable to the Coyotes.
Lombardi played in just 62 games for the Blue and White last season, registering eight goals and ten assists for a total of 18 points. Unlike years past, Lombardi struggled defensively, leading the team with a minus-19 rating while the speed that served him so well in the past was rarely on display.
Playing a limited role at the beginning of the 2011-12 season, Lombardi’s minutes increased in the latter half of the season where he saw upwards of 19 minutes per night in five of the final eight games.
Lombardi posted just one assist over that time span to go along with a paltry minus-4 rating. That said, Lombardi did show flashes of his former self down the stretch and with another summer to lick his wounds there is a measure of optimism surrounding him heading into the 2012-13 season.
Competition for minutes will be fierce this summer with Mikhail Grabovski, Tyler Bozak, James van Riemsdyk, Jay McClement, David Steckel, Tim Connolly and Nazem Kadri all looking to land a spot at centre.
With just four spots to be had and the club looking to JVR to fill the first line centre assignment and Grabovski pencilled in on the second line, Lombardi will likely have to accept a role on the third line at best.
Kadri has been hard at work at former Maple Leaf Gary Roberts training camp this summer, leading many to believe he will be ready to challenge for top-six minutes. Kadri struggled at centre last season which resulted in him being used sparingly on the wing, but with Toronto desperate for help down the middle you get the feeling Kadri will get another chance to audition at centre.
At 30-years of age Lombardi still has upside and veteran leadership to offer the club, but with the Maple Leafs heading in the direction of a youth movement, one wonders if he has lost his value on this team?
At 5’11” and 195 pounds Lombardi does not have the physical attributes normally associated with a checking centre, while the fragile nature of his past concussion injury is also a reason for caution.
If Lombardi is to be effective he will have to come to training camp with the willingness to play a checking role and demonstrate that his wheels are back.
As it stands now both Bozak and McClement look to have the inside track on the third line centre role, while Connolly will also get some consideration.
When everything is said and done it would appear as if Lombardi’s best chance to make the roster would be along the boards where, if he can find some additional snarl in his game, he could be an effective shutdown player and valuable member of a penalty killing unit which finished 28th overall at a horrific 77.3 percent last season.
Lombardi is not alone where making changes are concerned. Plenty of great NHL players have had to accept lesser roles with their clubs, many of which were banished to the bottom-six where they had to put their offensive games on hold and learn to be an effective defender.
Landing a spot in the Maple Leafs top-six would seem like a pipe dream for Lombardi, but that doesn’t mean landing a spot in the bottom-six will be easy either.
Steckel, Bozak, McClement, Connolly, Mike Brown, Leo Komarov, Clarke MacArthur and Matt Frattin will all challenge for minutes, as will prospects Carter Ashton and Tyler Biggs—who is having a great summer camp.
Does Lombardi have anything left? Time will tell, but if he fails to come to camp in the best shape of his career he will likely see more games from the press box then he ever imagined or find himself on another team.
We wish you luck Mr. Lombardi—you’re gonna need it!
Until next time,