How will Lombardi's return affect the Leafs?

With Matthew Lombardi's long recovery from post-concussion syndrome nearing completion, Tyler Bozak or Nazem Kadri could be the odd-man out in Toronto.

Lombardi, who was centering the fourth-line at practice this morning, is aiming to make his Leafs debut for the Oct.6 season opener against the Montreal Canadiens. While his role with the team will be limited initially---he will start on the fourth-line, according to head coach Ron Wilson---he'd eventually work his way to the third-line in a slow transition to ensure he could handle increased ice-time, if all goes according to plan.

While the addition of Lombardi would add depth to the Leafs' line-up, the question arises of whether Kadri or Bozak will have their roles diminished. On the surface, the simple solution would be to demote Bozak to the fourth-line and have Lombardi center Kadri and Colby Armstrong. However, while Bozak may not have the top-six potential Kadri posseses, he does play a key role for Toronto. He led all Leafs in face-off percentage last season with 54.6 per cent. Let's also remember that Bozak scored 15 goals in what was considered a disappointing season from the 25-year-old center---and he was miscast as a first-line center from the onset. His goal totals aside, it's Bozak's ability to win faceoffs that should---but won't neccesarily---keep him from fourth-line duties. While Kadri and Lombardi are capable of playing center, neither are as effective in terms of winning faceoffs---Lombardi's career-high in FO% is 52 per cent.

So, what then?

Lombardi is certainly not suited as a fourth-line center, as many believe he's better suited in a top-six role. So can the Leafs afford to let Bozak wither away on the fourth-line? What about Kadri? A player of his ilk would be rendered useless in such a role and it would certainly halt his development as a potential top-six forward. And if Bozak is demoted, what does that mean for Philippe Dupuis or Darryl Boyce as the fourth-line center? Both players are better suited for the role compared to Bozak or Kadri.

The likely scenario is Bozak will center Mike Brown and Colton Orr on the fourth-line. Personally, I think that's a waste of Bozak's talent, but it speaks volumes of the Leafs' newfound depth. It would be ideal, I think, to add Matt Frattin on the fourth-line with Bozak, which would allow the Leafs to roll four lines that are capable of scoring.

All these questions will answered shortly as the Oct.6 season opener against the Canadiens approaches.

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Matt Cefalu's picture

Interesting dilemma. Nothing worse than feeling like a skilled player's talents are being wasted in the 4th line role. Granted, the 4th line is more than welcome to help with production, though they had better have good forechecking and some defensive upside as well. Leafs appear to be in great shape though if their centers can stay healthy. Looking forward to seeing how well Reimer and Co. can do this year.