Currently and assuming RFA's are signed and no other trades are made the Leafs depth chart looks something like this:
Lupul vacant Kessel
MacArthur Grabovski Kulemin
vacant Bozak Armstrong
Brown vacant vacant
The Leafs have some players currently in the system that are candidates to fill some of these vacancies.
Nazem Kadri is possibly a good fit on third line and will not be an option for fourth line. Best fit for Kadri right now is replace a second line player moved in a trade to acquire a number one center (or be part of that deal).
Tim Brent played fourth line center last season and was adequate. The only option for Brent is fourth line center.
Matt Frattin possibly may make the third line out of training camp. After his one game last season Burke said, "He looks NHL ready". Eventually may work his way up to a second line role.
Marcel Mueller came back strong after an injury and looks NHL ready. Mueller may be a very good option for the third line.
Nazem Kadri is ready for the NHL and must either make the team, or be part of a trade. Assuming Kadri is not moved, he will fill the third line winger vacancy and move up for injury relief. That leaves the big hole at first line center and two holes on the fourth line.
There has already been plenty of speculation on the first line center position so lets focus on the fourth line.
Currently the only under contract players penciled in for the fourth line are Mike Brown, and Colton Orr. Brown brings speed, checking, defense, and lots of truculence. Orr only brings fighting, and given the seriousness of his concussion suffered last season has left his future in doubt. If Orr is able to play, he may be a healthy scratch as the role of enforcer is disappearing from today's NHL.
If the Leafs want to seriously add depth to the team some names that would make the fourth line very formidable and are available as UFA on July first are; Joel Ward, Chad LaRose, Zenon Konopka, and Anthony Stewart.
Rick Dudley recently joined the Leafs management team. Dudley was the GM last season of the Atlanta Thrashers and is very familiar with Stewart who is now an UFA. Stewart is 26 and is 6-2, 233 and plays right wing. Last season Stewart scored 14 goals and 25 assists. Stewart earned $575,000 and was not qualified by Winnipeg, making him a very attractive affordable option.
Chad LaRose earned $1.5 playing for the Carolina Hurricanes last season scoring 16 goals and 15 assists. Not as big a player and may be too expensive for the fourth line. LaRose is fast, a good forechecker and good defensively. Brown is a cheaper, more physical option.
Joel Ward had a break out playoff for the Nashville Predators scoring a whopping 13 points in 12 games. Ward is 29 and is 6-1, 220 and hails from Toronto. Ward also earned $1.5 last season and given his success in the playoffs may price himself out of fourth line consideration.
Zenon Konopka may be the perfect fit for the Leafs fourth line center. Assuming Orr may not be back and even if he is it will likely be in a diminished capacity or with the Marlies, Konopka was the league leader in penalty minutes for the last two seasons. Konopka is no stranger to chuckin' the nucks'. Konopka can also play however. He is solid defensively, and very good on face offs winning 57.7% last season and 62.3% the season before. Burke is familiar with Konopka from their days in Anaheim and Konopka is familiar with Toronto being raised in the Niagara region. Konopka is 29 and is 6-1, 213 and can bring all kids of grit, toughness and agitation to the game. Having earned only $500,00 last season he could be a very affordable fit and an extremely valuable role player.
While most of the attention in the next few days will be focused on signing Brad Richards, I hope the Leafs free agent shopping list includes Stewart and Konopka to fill out the fourth line and play with Brown. What a formidable and intimidating line that would be.
Pete Harling is and always has been passionate about hockey. He loves to watch it, play it but what he loves the most is fantasy hockey. Email Coach Harling at [email protected].