Maple Leafs Missing Fraser's Stay at Home Presence
It was the trade deadline 2012 and for another year it was looking like a big disappointment for the Toronto Maple Leafs. In what had become an annual trade deadline mantra the Leafs were retooling for next season. It was on February 27th 2012 that then GM Brian Burke traded Dale Mitchell for Mark Fraser. If you dismissed this deal as a no meaning minor league swap you weren’t alone, the trade was dismissed by fans almost as quickly as it was announced. For Mark Fraser it represented another shot at proving he was an NHL calibre defenseman.
Fraser had made the New Jersey Devils in 2009 after 3 solid seasons in the AHL and got into 61 games of action that season. After being traded to Anaheim in December 2011, Fraser got into 25 games for their AHL affiliate before the trade to Toronto.
Once Fraser joined the Marlies he made an immediate impact adding his solid stay at home game to even out a Marlies defense that at times really lacked a stay at home presence. Fraser earned his playing time under Marlies bench boss Dallas Eakins and helped the Marlies to the 2012 Calder Cup Finals before being swept in the finals.
Once the 2013 lockout shortened season got underway Fraser found himself a fulltime NHL defenseman under Randy Carlyle and played in 45 games last season. Fraser brought with him his safe defensive minded play along with his usual brand of physicality and willingness to drop the gloves to stand up for a teammate. His style of play promotes a sense of calmness from fans and his physicality and willingness to sacrifice the body to block shots has endeared him to fans and coaching staff alike.
Fraser’s defensive style of play will never stand out to anyone but on a Toronto blueline filled with puck moving offensive minded defenseman, he stood out as the calming presence on the Leafs third pairing. Mark Fraser will never be more than a third pairing defenseman in the NHL and he has almost no offensive upside to his game, yet when he went down for 13 games with injury this October it really hampered the Leafs blueline.
With Gardiner, Rielly, Franson, Phaneuf and Gunnarsson the Leafs have an abundance of defenseman who love to pinch in the play and only Phaneuf and Gunnarsson possess capable shut down abilities to match against team’s top lines. Fraser adds reliability in the defensive end, something Toronto has sorely missed after he went down for 13 games with a knee injury.
Paul Ranger has played admirably in the Leafs bottom paring but lacks the timing and confidence to be effective night in and night out. Ranger overthinks plays and can get into trouble in his own zone, and while he tries establishing himself as a physical presence he can be often overpowered. Without Fraser it leaves Toronto with only Phaneuf as a consistent hitter from the back end making it easy for opposing forwards to enter the zone or crash the crease without fear of physicality.
Fraser re-injured his knee on an attempted hit on Sabres F John Scott and left the game after playing only 3:54 of ice time. It is the same knee that Fraser injured October 2nd against Philadelphia, which caused him to miss over a month of action.
The Toronto Maple Leafs are missing Mark Fraser’s reliable presence on their backend and are quickly finding out that they can’t have their goaltending bail them out for 82 straight games.