The Toronto Maple Leafs have a decision to make.
Centre Nazem Kadri is facing a three-game suspension for his Game 1 hit on Boston Bruins forward Tommy Wingels, leaving the Leafs with a massive hole in their lineup as they try to even their first-round series on the road.
Here’s a look at a few of their options to replace their two-way centre.
Coach Mike Babcock trusts him, having used Marleau down the middle for stretches during the season, and the Leafs appear to be going this route, judging by Friday’s line rushes at practice. If faceoffs are your jam, the 38-year-old has a 51.4 per cent win rate for his career. Babcock is fond of Marleau’s defensive awareness, and going with the veteran on the road could give the Leafs bench boss peace of mind while not having the last change.
Moving Marleau opens a lineup spot for Andreas Johnsson, who showed well in a nine-game stint to close the regular season. The Leafs seem set on putting Johnson on their fourth line, alongside Kasperi Kapanen and Tomas Plekanec. Leo Komarov looks to have been promoted to the Auston Matthews line.
This is how Toronto practised on Friday.
Going with Marleau down the middle is a seemingly safe option, but if Babcock wanted to there is another winger who could be moved over.
Nylander is another player who has spent time at centre this season, and is slick and skilled enough to carry a line on his own. While Leafs brain trust might be hesitant to break up the Matthews-Nylander duo, splitting the two could actually give the Bruins something to think about with the matchup game. Boston went hard with the Patrice Bergeron line against the Matthews unit to great success in Game 1, and Nylander could quite possibly provide a spark elsewhere down the lineup.
Going this way would be bold, and you wonder if Babcock trusts his 21-year-old with the burden of centring his own line at this point in the season.
“I think there’s a little bit more comfort there from Mike Babcock with Marleau being a veteran guy,” Chris Johnston told the Jeff Blair show Friday, suggesting that a Nylander move would be unlikely, at least on the road.
Dominic Moore, moving Tomas Plekanec up the lineup
By bringing in Moore the Leafs would ensure a lineup with four natural centres, and Plekanec has played in a top-six role for much of his career.
Moore only played in 50 games during the regular season, and chipped in with six goals with limited ice time while winning 54.3 per cent of his faceoffs. He hasn’t quite ever been able to earn Babcock’s trust, however, leading to the Plekanec acquisition in the first place. Plekanec himself hasn’t looked thoroughly impressive as a Leaf, with two assists in 18 games since coming over from Montreal.
Bring in the muscle
While Kadri’s two-way play will be missed most, you could argue that without him the Leafs won’t really have a physical presence anywhere in their forward group, save for Komarov. Enter Matt Martin.
The enforcer hasn’t played much lately (having made just three appearances since Jan. 23), but if the Leafs are looking to get more physicality into the lineup, he’d be the guy to get the call.
This would likely involve moving one of Marleau or Nylander to centre, and bumping Kapanen into a top-nine role. A very unlikely scenario, but … worth mentioning.
What would you do if you were Babcock? Have your say below.