TORONTO - The centre-ice position for the Maple Leafs became a touch more intriguing on Thursday when coach Randy Carlyle revealed to QMI Agency that he plans to try James van Riemsdyk in the middle when training camp opens in September.
During three seasons with the Philadelphia Flyers, van Riemsdyk was drawn to the faceoff circle from his left wing spot exactly 10 times. Of those faceoffs, the 23-year-old won two.
To say van Riemsdyk has his work cut out for him would be an understatement, especially since heís going to be on one of the top two lines. If the experiment works, it will have meant that van Riemsdyk did his proper homework during the summer.
But what of the other Leafsí centres? If Carlyle knows in the first week of July that van Riemsdyk is going to start at centre, could it mean that when and if general manager Brian Burke makes a trade or two, that one of the incumbent centres is out the door? It certainly appears that way.
The Leafs last season had five players ó Tyler Bozak, David Steckel, Mikhail Grabovski, Tim Connolly and Matthew Lombardi ó who counted taking faceoffs among their primary responsibilities. Bozak led the team with 1,198 draws, but Steckel, who squared for 90 less faceoffs, was third in the NHL in winning percentage (among those who went to the circle at least 1,000 times) at 58%, behind only Jonathan Toews of the Chicago Blackhawks and Patrice Bergeron of the Boston Bruins.
The Leafs signed newcomer Jay McClement so he could centre the third line, and they loved Steckelís work last season after Burke got him on the eve of the opener, so itís hard to see anyone knocking Steckel off the fourth line.
Lombardi likely will see most of his time on the wing. Connolly, a disappointment in the first season of a two-year, $9.5-million US contract, will be given a chance to re-discover himself at camp, but itís not realistic at this point in his career to expect him to be a top-six forward. Connolly saw time on the wing as the 2011-12 season wound down and itís possible he find himself there again in 2012-13.
Grabovski got his signature on a long-term contract last winter, and his place among the top six canít be argued.
And then there are prospects Joe Colborne and Nazem Kadri. Colborne didnít take the step forward a year ago that the organization had hoped, recording 39 points in 65 games with the Marlies. Kadri has to show in camp he finally can get a grip on a full-time NHL job, one that is looking more and more like it will be on the wing.
If thereís a centre on the Leafs roster now who stands the greatest chance of being part of a trade, a wild card whose future with the team could be in question, itís probably Bozak, who really had not found a niche in Toronto in three seasons. He improved to 47 points last season in 73 games (as compared to 32 points in 82 games the previous year), but there have been clear indications he will be much more than that. Still, he would be attractive to other clubs in that his salary cap hit will be just $1.5 million next season and heís an unrestricted free agent in 2013.
There will be less to figure out if it becomes clear that van Riemsdyk doesnít work up the middle.
And though van Riemsdyk has almost zero experience at the position in the NHL, you canít fault Carlyle for wanting to try him there. Thereís nothing about a roster, whether Burke is able to improve it or not, that should be set in stone when the Leafs are coming off an 80-point, 13th-place, non-playoff spot.
Carlyle canít leave any stone unturned. Whether van Riemsdyk is capable, we will know long before the season opener.
DOAN NOT IN LEAFS' PLANS?
A couple of players linked to the Maple Leafs in rumours and trade speculation are unlikely to wind up in Toronto.
Terry Bross, the agent for Phoenix Coyotes captain, told QMI on Friday afternoon via e-mail that he has not heard from the Leafs regarding Doan.
The Coyotes winger is a free agent and is expected to start fielding offers next week if the teamís ownership issue remains uncertain.
And Vancouver Canucks goalie Roberto Luongo, an interview with the The Fox radio station in Vancouver, said he knows it is time to move on after six years with the Canucks.
ďIím okay with that,Ē Luongo said. ďI had a great six years with Vancouver. Unfortunately, I was not able to bring a Stanley Cup, which is my biggest regret. Florida is definitely one of the spots I would be willing to go to. Itís my home in the off-season and makes sense for family reasons. (But) I have not made any decisions whatsoever. It has to be a place I am comfortable with.Ē
Luongo did not discuss the idea of a trade to the Leafs. He did seem open to the idea of being dealt to the Chicago Blackhawks, and said his preference would be to play in a hockey market.