Why Toronto Adding This Veteran Center Just Makes Sense

Jess Starr Photography

The Toronto Maple Leafs remain one of the best teams in hockey. Even after a tough Friday night loss to the Ottawa Senators, everyone knows it’s all about the playoffs and what happens in April. With the Toronto Maple Leafs opponent likely already confirmed, mainly due to how dominant the Boston Bruins have been this season. The Maple Leafs looked destined for a rematch with the Tampa Bay Lighting. The Bolts have made the last three Stanley Cup finals and eliminated these same Maple Leafs last season. This time, it’s all about revenge and how the Maple Leafs can finally advance. 

Since these two sides will play in round one, I’ve looked at fifteen to eighteen of the Lightning’s most recent games. Preparing for content and getting my best perspective on how Toronto can finally emerge successful. After watching the Lightning, I think I’ve come across a very intriguing name that Leaf fans might not have thought about at first, but perhaps after this, fans might. Now, this isn’t a flashy addition, but there’s a real potential fit here, and I think it can go a long way for the Maple Leafs come playoff time. Also, fun to mention that NHL.com describes this individual as a “Key part of winning teams.”

The addition of San Jose Sharks center Nick Bonino intrigues me for many reasons. The veteran center is a winner. After winning two Stanley Cups with the Pittsburgh Penguins in 2016 and 2017, Bonino has done what very few have, winning back-to-back. Now take it from someone who followed that team as closely as possible. Bonino was pivotal to the Penguins success. Especially in the postseason when being paired up with Carl Hagelin and ex-Leaf Phil Kessel. Now I’m very well aware Nick isn’t near the player he was during those runs. However, after watching Nick Bonino and breaking down his analytics personally, I think this addition can do a lot of good for the Maple Leafs. The best part is, while improving the roster, it likely won’t cost Kyle Dubas much to acquire. Bonino is currently on an expiring contract making $2,050,000; with some retention, you can get Bonino for a real bargain.

The first reason I think Bonino would be a solid addition is because of his experience down the middle, and yes, for those wondering, he’s also had success against the Lighting in the playoffs. Anyway, if you have followed my work, you know that I prefer my teams to be built stronger down the middle. Now, this isn’t the only move I’d want to see from Kyle, but as a depth addition for the bottom six, I’m all in. So far this season, Bonino has taken a real defensive role with San Jose. Although we have David Kampf, who plays a similar role, Bonino can chip in offensively and play elevated minutes. So far this season, Bonino has seventeen points in forty-seven games, with a San Jose offense that doesn’t score at a high rate. Bonino brings versatility to the lineup, where he can easily switch from left wing to the middle. 

The next reason I’d love to see a Nick Bonino acquisition is because of what he can bring in the face-off circle. Last season the Maple Leafs dominated the face-off dot, and this year likely going against the Lightning in the first round, a team that isn’t great on face-offs this year, could be a significant advantage for the Maple Leafs. This season for the Sharks, ‘ Bonino has won fifty-one percent of the face-offs he’s taken part in. To compare that to the Maple Leafs, that would rank him well ahead of Leafs rookie Pontus Holmberg who has a forty-two percent win rate. Now I love what I’ve seen from Holmberg this season. I’ve been a big advocator that he should be in the lineup every night. Come playoffs though; I’d prefer to see him at the wing. Only because I feel like a veteran center that wins draws at a higher rate might do better vs. a Lightning team that’s built pretty well down the middle. Bonino would be a nice bottom-six versatile option with a winning pedigree.

The third reason, and arguably the biggest reason I want Nick Bonino on this roster, is his style of play. Bonino isn’t a great skater, and he’s not the fastest player in the world, but he can bring a lot to this group. When watching Tampa play, it’s clear a lot of their success comes from the power play. Now the Leafs have had some pretty good penalty-kill units over the years, but this season they’re ranked at sixteenth overall. With the Lightning ranked second league-wide, adding a player with an eighty percent penalty-kill percentage, according to JFresh, is pretty significant. This could help the Leafs big time in a seven game series and provide solid depth down the middle. Another thing I like about Bonino is his play in possession. Now, he’s not necessarily one to put on a show with the puck. However, this season, Bonino has an amazing twenty-six takeaways to thirteen giveaways ratio. We all know how much Sheldon Keefe’s system focuses on having possession of the puck. Adding a player that can win the puck back at a high rate is important.

Now even if you’re still not convinced of the addition of Nick Bonino, I encourage you to at least be open to it. If you watch some of Bonino’s goals, you can see that he’s a presence in front of the goal. A unique skill set that we don’t necessarily have a ton of here in Toronto. He’s clutch and knows what it takes to play in the postseason. The veteran center has played in over one-hundred playoff games throughout his career. Bonino is the kind of guy I can see driving the net against the Lighting and causing chaos. When it’s game seven and the seasons on the line, when there’s no space for the fancy moves, Bonino will drive the net. These are the kind of players that will reward you when the game gets tough. This addition would be huge for the Maple Leafs come April. 

Thanks for reading! For more hockey content, follow me on Twitter at ITR_Anselmo!

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Joshua Anselmo

A hockey mind that's always looking at new and insightful ways to bring different perspectives of the game we all love.

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