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Reinforcements have arrived

Brodi Craddock - Leaf writer for Hockeytracker.net

Whats especially impressive about the Toronto Maple Leafs 5-2-2 record to kick off this season is that they've managed to win, on most nights, without the help of players who were thought to be key's to the teams success. Tim Connolly, the newly appointed starting pivot, has yet to suit up. MacArthur, who led the Leafs in points last season missed two games due to suspension while Bozak and Armstrong have both already missed multiple games.

So while we can all admire Pittsburgh's tremendous record without two of their star players, the Leafs depth has really done a tremendous job of relieving the pressure off of a guy like Connolly, who now takes his place on a roster that has the ability to win without him.

The main question of everyones mind as of now is: "Do we throw Connolly in the deep end and start him on the top line, or do we allow him to gradually take that role?". Bozak in the early going has shown a lot of character in "keeping the seat warm" for Connolly. To put it in perspective, 2009 Burke signs Bozak with the intention of making him a top line centre someday, 2010 gives him the job, 2011 decides he isn't right for the job then later he is asked to fill the role temporarily despite the widespread belief that he incapable of doing so. And through it all Bozak has really been a great sport and played well to the point where the coaching staff are leary to disrupt the chemistry on the top line. Tim Connolly's salary($4.5million a year) would, on paper, suggest that he is receiving quality top line minutes but the reality is that Ron Wilson does not take salary into account when delegating ice-time. Ask Mike Komisarek, the highest paid 6th defenceman in the world. Or Colton Orr for that matter, who's 1 million a year for 9 minutes a night make me wish I practiced fighting more in house league. But I digress. Connolly will have to earn his place, but will be given ample opportunity to do so. From watching him in Buffalo, I can see him really helping the ailing Toronto PP. Ranked 17th at 15.4%, it actually is much worse than the numbers suggest. Most of the goals came in bunches and were conceded by basement dwellers who practically gift-wrapped them for us.

So with Connolly and Bozak back in the lineup and Armstrong's return looming, where does that leave Kadri, Frattin, Rosehill and Dupuis? Frattin has only one assist in 8 games, but seems to have gained the confidence of the coaching staff and appears to be auditioning for Clarke MacArthur's spot on the 2nd line. The problem right now is that neither of them are scoring, but Frattin at this point is creating more offensively and if MacArthur, fresh off his new contract, is going to keep his job on the 2nd line he needs to get back to playing the quick give-and-go game that made him successful last season. Kadri almost seems destined to return to the Marlies, which is something that I'm really starting to question. On most other teams he would have been given a full year in the NHL by now, but since Burke believes so strongly in a proper AHL education Kadri has sort of bounced back and forth, which as we've seen in the Leafs organization never seems to help the development of a player(i.e Jeremy Williams). I tend to be in favour of a strong AHL performance then a clean break into the NHL, but due to a growing strength in the Leafs depth pool, Kadri's clean break into the NHL has been put on hold. Because of his contract, I will be surprised if he remains with the Leafs all season but I fully expect him to play his way into a job at some point in the next year. If he figures it all out he could be such a dangerous weapon for this team. Which leaves Rosehill and Dupuis who represent half of the 4-headed monster that is Toronto's energy line. Dupuis is an adequate replacement if not an upgrade over the departed Tim Brent, and never seems to make a bad play. Rosehill and Orr are the Leafs version of the Nasty Boys, but with so much bottom six depth they aren't likely to see as many games as in past seasons. I personally love the prospect of a Steckel-Brown-Dupuis line, especially come playoff time(Yes, we will make the playoffs).

Quick bit on Franson rumours
Franson has been the latest subject of Leaf trade rumours. Whats interesting is that Franson's trade value is higher than that of Gunnarsson's, but the Leafs management are actually higher on Gunnarsson at this point, or at least seemingly. This, along with the Leafs hot start, has put Burke in a position of great advantage with all the stuggling teams out there looking for defence. If things keep getting worse for teams like Montreal and Columbus, expect them to sacrifice a hot commodity in an attempt to bulk up and dig themselves out of their proverbial graves.Columbus, being an organization known for poor prospect management, may even be willing to part with Ryan Johansen if the deal could take their team off life-support.



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