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Centre of attention


DAN CEARNS The Standard


After another season of disappointing results for the Toronto Maple Leafs, all eyes are on what this team will do to improve for next season.

While the big focuses seem to be finding a trade for one of the core players and figuring out their goaltending, I’d say an underrated area is the need to focus on adding to the team’s depth at the centre position.

Beyond Auston Matthews and John Tavares, the team has struggled to find a third impact centre, along with guys like Pontus Holmberg, Max Domi, and Noah Gregor having served time in the role throughout this past season. It can be argued, Ryan O’Reilly was the last acquisition which had a significant impact on the position.

If you look, only, at the two Stanley Cup finalists, you’ll see the importance of having depth at centre ice. The Florida Panthers, beyond Aleksander Barkov and Sam Bennett, have Anton Lundell anchoring their third line. The Edmonton Oilers may have two star centres, in Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl, but they have a solid third line centre in Adam Henrique. 

Not to mention, it’s pretty clear the Leafs’ second line centre, John Tavares, is starting to slow down with age. While never being a fleet of foot forward, Tavares, at 33 years old, has appeared to struggle, at times, to keep up with the pace of play. His point total took a dip, from the previous season as well. He went from 80 points, in the 2022/2023 season, to 65 points this past season. In addition, it should be mentioned, Tavares is not guaranteed to be on the team past next season, as his contract is set to expire after the 2024/2025 season. It was also his worst point total since the COVID-19 shortened 2021 season. If we look at only seasons where he played 80 games or more, it was his worst season since 2010, when he posted 54 points.

The Leafs have a number of needs, including a quality goaltender and some improvements to the defence. However, their need at centre can’t be ignored, especially, if this team wants to contend for a championship.

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