MONTREAL – The Toronto Maple Leafs’ 4C rotation will continue for the foreseeable future.
The conclusion of training camp was only a soft deadline for the tryout of Dominic Moore and Eric Fehr as the club’s fourth-line centre, winning faceoffs and killing penalties in the middle of wingers Connor Brown and Matt Martin.
Fehr was given the first game, in his hometown of Winnipeg. Moore was handed the second, in his hometown in Toronto.
And the one-game-on, one-game-off pattern will maintain at least through Game 5 in Montreal, no matter who scores or which team wins.
Moore has registered goals in each of his two appearances, but it’s Fehr’s turn to draw back in Saturday night against the Montreal Canadiens.
“I don’t know when that process is coming to an end, but we’re still in it,” said Mike Babcock after Saturday’s morning skate.
The Leafs coach had previously hinted that he may settle on a fourth-line centre and a third-pairing left-defence partner for Connor Carrick around the season’s 10-game mark. (Carrick draws back into Saturday’s lineup, alongside Andreas Borgman, following “a little bump” in last Saturday’s home opener versus the Rangers that caused him to miss two contests.)
“It’s not ideal for either of us, but we’ve both taken advantage of our opportunities in the lineup. We’re pushing each other. We’re pushing to get ourselves in the lineup,” said Fehr, 32.
“I’m not sure what [Babcock’s] thought process is. We haven’t discussed it at all. You show up. If your name’s on the board, you’re in.”
Has Fehr been told how long the rotation will continue? Does he know what criteria he’s being evaluated on?
“No idea,” he smiled.
Over his 564-game, four-team NHL career, has he ever been in a lineup situation quite like this?
“I’ve seen until the team loses, then you switch. I don’t think I’ve seen every other game,” Fehr said.
“Players like to get into routines. That’s a big thing in this sport, getting into a groove. You see guys when they’re on a hot streak how much better they handle the puck. You see their game ramping up.”
Despite playing more than 1,400 games combined, Fehr and Moore, 37, had never met prior to Leafs training camp. Consummate professionals, they speak often through this friendly employment competition, paradoxically working with and against each other.
Many assumed the 4C job was Moore’s to lose when he signed a one-year, $1-million contract as an unrestricted free agent on July 1, but Fehr’s broken finger healed well enough this summer and the younger, bigger man has excelled in penalty-kill opportunities.
“I don’t know if it’s really worth talking about expectations,” Moore said of the job-sharing program. “I’m just preparing every day the best I can do to my job well, to play my game and focus on that.”
Fehr admits it’s been a difficult situation for both veterans but has part of internal competition in Washington and Pittsburgh, a couple of powerhouses he used to dress for.
“Every team that has playoff success has guys just waiting to step in and take your job,” Fehr said. “If you don’t have that, your team is probably not going to be a contender or a playoff team.”
Moore should look to continue his goal-scoring streak Tuesday in Washington.
In the meantime, with this being an odd-numbered game, Fehr draws in—and he’s amped up to try out for the Leafs at the Bell Centre.
“I play when I play, I give my best, and I hope that’s what they’re looking for,” Fehr said.
“I love playing in this building. Saturday night, it’s a rocking building, so I’m really excited to be part of this rivalry.”