Where does O’Byrne fit?

5 Apr

O'Byrne

Approaching the deadline, the Leafs, like every team, had different weaknesses they could have looked to address. They could have brought a back-up goalie to mentor Reimer through the playoffs, a stay at home partner for Phaneuf on the blue line, and added size and face-off ability down the middle – all moves that could help the Leafs take the first of many steps from being a middle-of-a pack team to being one of the East’s better clubs.

Unfortunately for the Leafs, as the trade deadline approached prices remained high for buyers, as in two second round picks for Douglas Murray high, leaving the Leafs without many options. So, unable to address any major needs, David Nonis and company made a safe, low risk deal to help add some depth to the blue line with Ryan O’Byrne. Roughly twenty four hours and a few interviews later, what can we expect from the 28 year old bruiser? Here at Leafshero we take a closer look.

 Name Ryan O’Byrne
 Height  6’5
 Weight  234lbs
 Place of Birth  Victoria, BC
 Date of Birth (Age)  July 19, 1984 (28)
 Strengths
  • Great size / Plays physical
  • Hard working
  • Fights
  • Can play shut down role
 Weaknesses
  • Little to no offensive ability
  •  Issues handling puck
  • Lacks consistency
  • Poor mobility and skating

First, O’Byrne’s last name is pronounced Oh-Burn, not Oh-Biron or Oh-Beeron. This may have saved some of you a moment of embarrassment at the water cooler at work – you’re welcome.

In order to figure out where O’Byrne will fit in the team’s blue line, it’s helpful to first see where he definitely won’t fit in, and that’s on the team’s first or third pairing. Carlyle has a long history of keeping defensive partners together, stretching back to his days in Anaheim, in order to allow players to get comfortable with each other, and that’s continued in Toronto. Courtesy of our friends at leftwingclock wecan see that Fraser and Franson have been the most frequently matched pair for the Leafs this season, although they’re only 7th and 8th, respectively, amongst Leafs defensemen with TOI/G. Meaning that Fraser and Franson tend to only play when they’re playing together, and that they’re playing the amount of minutes expected for a team’s third pair. Injuries, win streaks, slumps and even the re-emergence and disappearance of Jake Gardiner hasn’t been able to change this pair, so I doubt that O’Byrne will.

The next pair we shouldn’t expect O’Byrne to play on is the team first pairing, which for Leafs has been, and will continue to be, whichever pair Phaneuf is playing on. Phaneuf will continue to get the most minutes, the toughest match ups and the most defensive zone starts and whoever his partner is will be along for the ride. Phaneuf has likely found his partner for the rest of the season in Carl Gunnarsson, his line mate for most of last season as well. Temporarily, while Gunnarsson was recovering from injury, Phaneuf spent considerable time with Kostka and then Holzer, but once Gunnarsson’s injuries were behind him he reclaimed his spot as Dion’s pair.

Which leaves room for O’Byrne to play in one of two other roles: either on the team’s second pairing with a puck moving defenseman on his right, or play the role of the team’s seventh man keeping the press box warm until one of his peer’s is slumping or injured. The odds are he will play a bit of both.

“He’s going to be one of our eight defensemen”, Nonis said in his post trade deadline press conference. “He’s not going to come in here and take over the defensive corps. He’s a defensive defenseman. We feel he can play with good players. Play with John-Michael Liles, with Gardiner, with Kostka. How much he plays, that’s up to the coaching staff.”

Outside of the two “set” pairs for Toronto, the Leafs have four defensemen to use as needed: Kostka, Liles, Gardiner and O’Byrne. From among these four, two will form the second pair and two will be in the press box on any given night. We don’t yet know who Carlyle will prefer to play, but there are three potential factors to O’Byrne’s advantage in getting more playing time. The first is that Gardiner and Liles are both considered more of offensive defensemen, while Kostka is more of a two-way guy. This makes O’Byrne the only real defensive defenseman of the bunch, which may give him a better chance of playing more minutes, especially if he plays well on the team’s PK. A second factor to consider is that Kostka and Gardiner both naturally play the right side on defence, while Liles has played significant minutes on both the left and right side. This makes O’Byrne, who has spent his entire career playing the left, one of only two defensemen that can play that side comfortably. A final factor to consider is the history between Liles and O’Byrne. In the 2010/2011 season the duo was Colorado’s most used defensive pair (courtesy of leftwingclock once again), playing over 17 minutes of even strength ice together, while also each getting ice time separately on the power play (Liles) and penalty kill (O’Byrne). An interesting point is that the 2010/2011 season was statistically the career high for both of them.

All the possible combinations Carlyle can choose from for the 2nd pair

Left Right Current Usage %
Liles Kostka 5.35%
Liles Gardiner 2.69%
O’Byrne Liles  N/A
O’Byrne Kostka   N/A
O’Byrne Gardiner   N/A

There’s a good chance that we won’t see one pair solidify themselves as the team’s number two unit during the season. A clear second pair may only emerge if the team goes far enough into the playoffs. Carlyle will likely change his second pair frequently, and will move players in and out of the press box depending on the team they’re playing, slumps and/or injuries.

In conclusion, the Leafs have a definite top pair, and a definite bottom pair with four defencemen left over to rotate in and out to create the team’s second pair. O’Byrne is one of those four and will likely spend his share of games in the press box.But O’Byrne does have some features that may make him a more favourable option to Carlyle, such as his history with Liles, his style of play and his ability to play the left side. For those sceptical of O’Byrne, look no further than Mark Fraser to see an example of a stay at home defender who had a hard time playing regular minutes anywhere until finding his niche under Carlyle. Maybe the same can happen for O’Byrne and he’ll find himself as a long term Leaf rather than being just a rental.

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One Response to “Where does O’Byrne fit?”

  1. Cookie Monster April 7, 2013 at 11:57 pm #

    Sadly, the Liles-O’Byrne combo were part of the reason why the Avalance gave up 288 goals that season.

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