Frazer McLaren Must Go
By Lukas Hardonk (@LukasHardonk)
The least-known players on the Toronto Maple Leafs' roster created one of the biggest issues in 2013, an issue that will continue until a resolution is found this summer.
Randy Carlyle has been criticized time and time again for the way he has distributed ice time since joining the Toronto Maple Leafs as head coach. Perhaps no more than how he has utilized the abilities of Colton Orr and Frazer McLaren, two players who are known for one thing and one thing only: their fists.
Dave Nonis, Maple Leafs GM, has been able to negotiate a new contract with one of the two upcoming free agents; Colton Orr re-upped with the team for another two years. McLaren, however, remains without a contract as July 5, the day other teams will be able to bid on his services, approaches.
It's unknown whether McLaren and the Leafs are negotiating at the moment but one thing is positive: Leaf fans should be hoping that their favourite team's brass is wise enough to let him walk.
Toughness isn't needed
There is no doubt that a team in today's NHL needs to possess a certain level of toughness if they are to compete with the likes of the Boston Bruins and Philadelphia Flyers among others. Given that the Leafs play in the same division as the Bruins, it is especially important for Toronto to show a never back down mentality. However that doesn't mean McLaren is the man to have.
Looking at the Leafs' current roster it is clear they already have the toughness needed to compete. Orr can throw with the best of them, Jay McClement is a grind it out kind of player who won't go down easily and Nikolai Kulemin is more than capable of knocking off defenders on route to the net. Go farther up the lineup and you will find James van Riemsdyk, who brings a size factor like few others, and Clarke MacArthur, who if re-signed, will continue to provide plenty of grit and determination. Remember, toughness isn't all about blood.
It's simply unnecessary to play both Orr and McLaren at the same time when there are kids with the AHL's Toronto Marlies who are waiting for their shot, something they most definitely deserve. And if you aren't going to play them in the same game, what is the point of keeping both around? Orr will be here for the next two years; you know what that means for Frazer McLaren.
Add size elsewhere
It's certainly important for an NHL team to retain players with size ─ not everyone has to be huge but a roster full of players around or above six feet would be more than ideal. Fortunately for the Maple Leafs, they already have enough size to compete with each team in the league but they must continue to add size if they are to reach the next level.
That doesn't mean sign Frazer McLaren.
Size can almost always be added higher up the lineup through trade or free agency. By doing this, the team would not only improve in height and weight but also in production numbers. If the team doesn't have the money to add to or improve the top-six, there are other ways to add size to the bottom-six. How about a grinder who is difficult to knock off the puck rather than someone who is being paid hundreds of thousands to throw fists?
The value of salary cap flexibility in professional sports leagues is very underrated. It can allow a team a chance to upgrade at any point through the season and gives it room to find relief in the event of a long-term injury to a key player. For a middle of the pack team like the Maple Leafs, cap flexibility is that much more important.
It's plausible to say that if Nonis elects to re-sign McLaren it will cost the Maple Leafs somewhere in the $600k to $750k range. Although that may not seem like big money when there are players on the team who make as much as $6 million, it can be enough to help acquire a player who the team otherwise wouldn't be able to afford.
There are simply too many signs that show it would be wise to let Frazer McLaren walk as a free agent this summer. The Maple Leafs wouldn't lose anything major and, in fact, they would benefit in the sense that they would have money to work with and those waiting in the wings with the Marlies would finally get their shot.
Let McLaren go, shore up the bottom-six with depth players who can contribute in more ways than fighting and spend big dollars on solidifying the defence. It's a simple formula really and it's one the Toronto Maple Leafs would be smart to follow.
You can also contact Lukas at firstname.lastname@example.org.