There are two things you can anticipate with Randy Carlyle.
First, he will devise countless lineups and combinations. “Last year was my first with Randy and he played me all over the place,” is the way forward Jay McClement put it.
Second, his teams will have a strong third line.
Carlyle’s 2006-2007 Stanley Cup-winning Anaheim team thrived with a checking line that consisted of Sammy Pahlsson, Rob Niedermayer and Travis Moen.
Once the home of players who allocated 90 per cent of their on-ice effort to defence, the ideal third line is built not just to shut down the opposition’s top unit but to stagger it with the odd counterpunch.
“When you have a little bit of offence, it makes a big difference” says Leafs Vice President of Hockey Operations Dave Poulin, a Selke Trophy winner for the Philadelphia Flyers in 1986-1987.
“When I look at the numbers I put up as a Selke Trophy winner (25 goals and 70 points), I did so because I was playing against guys who weren’t great defensively. If you can put them on their heels a bit, that’s huge.”
All of which brings us nicely do David Bolland.
Bolland, acquired from Chicago in June for three draft picks, has averaged 17 goals and 41 points per 82 NHL games. While he can be moved up to the second unit on occasion, it’s his standing as an offensive threat on the third unit that bears watching.
“His role with the hockey club with Chicago this year was more in a third-line role but he was the second-line centre when they won a few years previous,” said Leafs Carlyle. “We think he’s good player who can fit into our group and provide us with a level of compete and play that matches his resume.”
Dave Bolland may keep the best company in the NHL. Every time he looked up, he saw an All-Star.
“When I was in Chicago it was the Sedin twins,” he said. “San Jose it was Joe Thornton. It’s always fun, it gets you in the game. If you come out light they’re the best players in the league and they’ll take it to you.”
A combination that seems destined to tickle Carlyle, perhaps as soon as the Leafs hit the ice for their first workouts on Thursday? How about Bolland between McClement and Nikolai Kulemin?
McClement is an excellent defensive player who, unlike Bolland is strong in the face-off circle.
Kulemin, meanwhile, is the best puck retriever on the roster and a tireless skater.
Kulemin’s offence evaporated after a 30-goal 2011-2012 but that level of offensive production belies talent that can produce more than his successive seven-goal seasons.
Poulin, for one, looks forward to the machinations and sees merit in the idea of putting the trio together.
“Those three guys aren’t just intelligent players, they’re difficult guys to play against and that’s a great quality in a third line,” he said. “A good third line lets you be in control at any point of the game because you could put a line like that out against anybody: be it the first, second or third line.”