TORONTO -- There is no question the physical contribution of tough guys Colton Orr and Frazer McLaren played a significant role in the Toronto Maple Leafs making the playoffs this season.
The hulking Winnipeg natives made Toronto one of the toughest teams to play against. But do two players who are best known for their pugilistic skills have what it takes to play in the Stanley Cup Playoffs?
For the first time since 2004, the Toronto Maple Leafs have the pleasant task of juggling their lineup to compete in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. (Photo: Steve Babineau/NHLI)
That's just one of the questions facing Toronto coach Randy Carlyle as he prepares his club to participate in the playoffs for the first time since 2004. Carlyle must also decide which six of the eight defensemen the team carries will dress.
With Nazem Kadri surprisingly filling in for Tyler Bozak on the top line in Game 47 on Thursday night, just about the only sure thing for the playoffs is the fact James Reimer will start in goal. He is the unquestioned No. 1 with Ben Scrivens as his backup.
For a hint as to what Carlyle will do with his frequent fighters, consider the fact both were healthy scratches in Toronto's game against the Tampa Bay Lightning on Wednesday; only Orr was inserted back into the lineup the following night against the Florida Panthers. That may well be a harbinger of things to come.
While fighting is a principal strategy for some teams in the regular season, it is customarily not much of a factor in the playoffs. That said, anybody who witnessed last season's first-round matchup between the Pittsburgh Penguins and Philadelphia Flyers knows it doesn't disappear completely. The two interstate rivals engaged in a bitter six-game series, won by the Flyers, which included two games with more than 100 penalty minutes.
Carlyle has a history of playing his tough guys in the playoffs. When he coached the Anaheim Ducks to the Stanley Cup in 2007, he dressed Brad May for 18 and Shawn Thornton for 15 of the team's 21 postseason games.
Still, it's hard to imagine Carlyle dressing two players who combined to average less than 12 minutes of ice time per game. He may elect to dress one per game. Their contribution to the Maple Leafs getting into the playoffs for the first time since 2004 is not to be trivialized. They became a much tougher team to play against with both players among the top four most frequent fighters this season.
"We think there's a place for toughness in our lineup, but toughness is in a different form at times in the playoffs," Carlyle said. "To say they'll be in the lineup on a day-to-day basis -- well, I'm not going to say anybody is going to be in the lineup on a day-to-day basis. I think they have earned the opportunity to play for our hockey club. They have been great teammates who have defended the honor of our club and defended themselves at times. We have no issue in putting those players in our lineup."
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Orr, 31, looked to be finished as an NHL player last season when he was demoted to the Marlies of the AHL after suffering a serious concussion in a fight with George Parros, then with Anaheim, on Jan. 20, 2011. But the 6-foot-3, 222-pound right wing earned a job and played his role wonderfully this season. McLaren, 25, spent his first full season in the NHL after splitting the past three years between San Jose and Worcester of the AHL. The 6-foot-5, 230-pound left wing proved he can stand in against the League's toughest fighters and also play a bit.
Carlyle has plenty of options if he chooses to relegate his fighters to the press box. Assuming all of his forwards are healthy, it would make sense to have solid sophomore Matt Frattin, who spent some times in the minors and was a healthy scratch on occasion this season, in the lineup even if he's placed on the fourth line. Should one of the right wings on the top three lines go down with an injury in a playoff game, he'd be a much safer and more logical candidate for extra playing time in a playoff game than Orr.
But if Frattin is to be in the lineup for the playoffs, he needs to ramp up his intensity, which has been an issue this season. In 25 games this season Frattin has seven goals, 13 points and is plus-6.
The other choices to replace Orr and/or McLaren include Joe Colborne and Ryan Hamilton. At 6-foot-5 and 213 pounds, Colborne is a player the Maple Leafs hope is getting close to taking the next step in his career. The 23-year-old has great potential but tends to disappear for stretches. Hamilton is an overachieving grinder who brings controlled toughness and defensive ability to the table.
On defense, the only sure bet to be in every night is captain Dion Phaneuf, although Mark Fraser, Cody Franson and Carl Gunnarsson come close. John-Michael Liles, Ryan O'Byrne, Mike Kostka and Jake Gardiner will compete for the other lineup spots. Kostka played both games in Florida after a long stretch of being a healthy scratch. Carlyle will likely go with his most experienced defenders to start the playoffs -- that includes Liles, who played 36 career playoff games with Colorado, and O'Byrne, who has 19 playoff games to his credit with Montreal.
Carlyle said all of his players will have to ramp up their games in the postseason.
"The intensity of the playoffs is always going to bring a little bit of change," he said. "We operate under the 20 percent rule in that there is going to be 20 percent more expected from people. We have asked for people to be more than ordinary all year, so it doesn't really change our template going into the playoffs. We're going to go with the people we feel give us the best opportunity and the best chance for success."