Putting on My Coach's Cap...
(TORONTO) -- As is always the case in an offseason assessment of a team's lineup, the word ""IF"" plays a major role.
""IF"" Leafs GM John Ferguson has wrapped up his version of the '05 summer shopping spree -- which could very easily be the case -- then the Leafs have a group of forwards, both returnees and players new to this team, with plenty of past experience and success and potentially, lots left in the tank.
Ferguson could have been talking about any of the three prominent front line signings when he told me at a recent press conference, 'IF he's right, he could make a very solid impact'' referring specifically to the arrival of Jason Allison.
What I like most about the three new faces, Allison, Eric Lindros and Jeff O'Neill, is that all three have enjoyed some great NHL seasons recently enough to assume that the skills are still there, but also long enough ago to add a sense of having something to prove to themselves and NHL observers.
All three represent small gambles that the damage can be or has been undone, and these are three guys who will probably thrive in the slightly lesser roles, or profile, than those they assumed in their previous locations.
Having said all that, here's what I'd do if I was given the job of assembling a Leafs lineup:
1st line: Allison at centre, with Sundin and O'Neill as his wingers.
2nd line: Lindros in the middle with Darcy Tucker and Alexander Steen on the wings.
3rd line: Nik Antropov in the middle, with Chad Kilger and Tie Domi on the wings.
4th line: Matt Stajan at centre, with Wade Belak and Alexei Ponikarovsky on the wings.
D-Pairings would look like this:
Tomas Kaberle and Bryan McCabe, Ken Klee and Alexei Khanvanov as the top four.
Aki Berg and either Karel Pilar or Carlo Colaiacovo rounding things off (There are still contract issues with Pilar).
Belak can of course be moved back to the d-group, if Pilar and Colaiacovo don't figure in the plans right away, which would then free up room for Clarke Wilm to jump into the lineup as a forward.
The Leafs are currently rumoured to be seeking another veteran d-man, and a little more scoring up front as well, and I would think that anyone they would bring in, forward or defence, would be expected to be a regular with veteran experience and for that reason take the place of any of the less experienced players I've referred to in this game of 'you be the coach.'
I like Sundin on the wing, to take better advantage of his ability to finish what a solid set-up man can start. From everything we've heard, he's healthy and excited. At his best, Sundin is a top-10 world-class player.
I like the in-your-face quality Lindros and Tucker would bring on the same line and think that Steen could be protected there, and also show off his puck sense the way Stajan did in small doses two years ago.
If the game face is on, the third line could be a forechecking powerhouse and Tie Domi wants to continue proving he can score a handful of big goals as well.
The fourth line, while not quite a project, is still a place for young players to earn more ice time with, in this case, the presence of a hard-noser like Belak to keep the opposition honest.
Okay Pat, I think you're job is safe, and let's be honest, you're privy to a little more information than I am, but I think this is a reasonable lineup with the tools, talents and 'tudes of the old and the new in Blue and White.
That is, of course, ""IF"" the shopping spree is over...