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Toronto Maple Leafs forward Mikhail Grabovski waits for a face-off against the Buffalo Sabres during the second period of their NHL pre-season hockey game in Toronto September 27, 2010. REUTERS/Mike Cassese

Mike Cassese/Reuters

It always appeared to be one of Brian Burke's core tenets, right up there with his love of fights, obscure words and American-born players.

The Toronto Maple Leafs general manager, almost from Day 1, made clear he wanted a team with skilled forwards filling its top two lines and gritty, checking types on the bottom two.

"To play the way we're going to play," Burke had said at the 2009 draft, "you need pick and shovel men."

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Fast forward a little more than two years, and the Leafs are test driving a third line featuring Nazem Kadri, Tyler Bozak and Colby Armstrong – only one of whom fits the checker description – in training camp.

The philosophy appears to have changed, at least slightly, and it's with an eye on finally getting more offence from deeper in the lineup.

"You say your top six, your bottom six, but they all have to contribute offensively," Leafs assistant GM Claude Loiselle said on the third day of camp Sunday. "It's not good enough to be just a defensive guy. You've got to be able to chip in some goals.

"Because you never know – if your first two lines aren't scoring, you need contributions from everybody else."

Of all the problems the Leafs battled last season en route to finishing nine points out of the playoffs, scoring depth was one of the more pressing ones that never received a lot of attention.

While Toronto's top four forwards in Phil Kessel, Nikolai Kulemin, Mikhail Grabovski and Clarke MacArthur contributed 112 goals – 53 per cent of the team's total – the rest of the group had just 66 on the season.

That's a stark contrast from last season's playoff-bound teams. The top four forwards on the eight Eastern Conference playoff teams averaged 103 goals last season – slightly less than the Leafs – but had far more depth, getting an average of 111 goals from their other forwards.

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Burke's answer has been to attempt to add more high-end talent, starting with centre Tim Connolly and winger Joffrey Lupul, who will both likely start the season alongside leading scorer Kessel on an offence-first line.

Also added to the mix were two other centres in Matt Lombardi, who may be a factor once he returns from a concussion, and Philippe Dupuis, who played his first full NHL season last season on the Colorado Avalanche's fourth line.

Dupuis is battling for the final centre spot with Darryl Boyce in camp, but brings a unique skill set in that he has scored at other levels, including in junior where he had back-to-back seasons of 84 and 108 points in 2004-05 and 2005-06.

While Dupuis knows his ability to kill penalties is likely what earns him a spot, he believes he can chip in more than the 17 points he had playing only nine minutes a night last season in Colorado.

"For a fourth-line role, I think I did a pretty decent job offensively," Dupuis said. "I've got good vision, I see guys well on the ice and I can make plays. That's another part of my game."

"We're trying to bring in skill," Loiselle said. "We're trying to improve our team at every level. Now when you're getting competition at different spots, it's terrific."

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Still cause for concern for the Leafs, tough guys Colton Orr, Mike Brown and Jay Rosehill will be taking regular shifts, something that can be traced back to Burke's first love listed above.

But for someone like Armstrong, who spent large portions of last season playing on third lines that struggled to score with the likes of Brown, Tim Brent, Freddy Sjostrom and Joey Crabb, the change could be dramatic.

"We talked about it in that we could be the difference in us winning games," Armstrong said of his new line. "When you have a third line that can contribute, play good minutes, it's big.

"I know this summer when we picked up a bunch of these guys, knowing our lineup was going to be deeper, a lot of guys were excited. All our lines will be a threat."

Goals scored by forwards last season

Top four forwards

Depth forwards










































*- average of Eastern Conference playoff teams

- Players’ full season totals count for the team they finished the season with

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About the Author
Hockey Reporter

James joined The Globe as an editor and reporter in the sports department in 2005 and now covers the NHL and the Toronto Maple Leafs. More

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