It’s been an excruciating countdown to the beginning of the regular season, but the Leafs first game is this Wednesday and the final pre-season game was last night. The exhibition season is (thankfully, mercifully) over, and so, here are my thoughts on the Maple Leafs roster construction.
The Leafs have until Tuesday to get their roster down to 23 players. That is all we really know. Some of their cuts seem more obvious than others, so let us investigate.
Assuming they carry 14 forwards, here’s who’s left:
Assured of a spot on the team: Bozak, Kessel, JVR, Lupul, Clarkson, Kadri, Komarov, Winnik,
Fighting it out: Frattin, Orr,McLaren, Santorelli, Leivo, Kozun, Ashton, Holland, Nylander
That means three cuts for sure, and four if they want to carry eight defensemen. Nylander will almost certainly be cut, and Orr and McLaren should definitely be cut, making the roster relatively clear-cut. Randy Carlyle, however, has thrown a wrench into the plans of logical observers by being old-school and seemingly insisting on the presence of an enforcer. Since his opinion actually counts, we must take this into consideration.
If I was a betting man, I would expect a compromise: Orr in, McLaren out. There are also rumours the Leafs are trying to move Ashton, suggesting too that he won’t make the team either. Frattin is definitely on the bubble.
Out of the group above, I would bet on the cuts being McLaren, Ashton, Nylander and Frattin, with the team carrying 8 D. That isn’t what I would do, but that’s what I think will happen. (Personally I’d want Frattin’s speed and I’d cut Orr).
Projected opening night forwards:
JVR – Bozak – Kessel
Lupul – Kadri – Kozun
Leivo – Holland – Clarkson
Komarov – Winnik – Orr with Santorelli on the bench.
Of course all of this is complicated because the Leafs might keep both enforcers. Carter has to clear waivers if they cut him, and he won’t. Frattin might clear, but they have to expose him too. Kozun earned his spot, but he doesn’t need to be exposed. Leivo earned his too and doesn’t need to go on waivers either, but it’s more complicated because he is also injured. I can’t see the Leafs keeping Nylander, but he is cheap and they are close to the cap. Basically, there are a ton of variables, but for now, the above makes the most sense to me.
Keeping Orr is a terrible mistake, by the way. Last year the Leafs lost Colborne because they had to expose him to waivers to send him down and so they traded him for a pick, only to have to go out and acquire Holland when no one internally could fill in. It seems that if they keep Orr, they learned nothing from this. Orr is not going to be claimed on waivers. He also makes (slightly) more money than Ashton and is a much less effective player. To be as clear as possible: I think keeping Orr over Ashton should be a fireable offense. It’s horrendous roster management and after all the talk of evolving, after bring in Dubas and all new assistant coaches, I just can’t believe the Leafs will do this. Personally, I’d be comfortable risking Santorelli on waivers and putting both him and Orr in the minors so I could keep the speed and sandpaper of Ashton and Frattin.
On defense, things are a little less contentious and more cut and dry, as Franson is injured, prompting thoughts the team will carry eight defensemen to start the year.
Locks: Phaneuf, Rielly, Gardiner, Polak, Robidas and Franson (injured, but not expected to miss much time).
Still in Camp: Percy, Holzer
Because of the injury to Franson, the Leafs will have to probably start with 8 defensemen, meaning they cut 4 forwards instead of just three.
This means that both Percy and Holzer probably make the team with one of them starting the season in the press box with the injured Franson. If either one of these guys can play in the NHL, I would move Franson as soon as possible. They already traded him once, and he’s a giant liability. Yes, his point shot is great and he does put up the points, but his size and toughness combo is a joke and the Leafs posses three above average puck movers anyways. I would way rather watch Percy or Holzer all year in his place.
Bernier is the starter, Reimer is the back-up. Nothing to argue about or consider here. The Leafs have two solid goalies and the only question marks are if Reimer can be a good team player and accept his role as back-up and if Bernier’s hernia surgery affects him at all. If the answers are Yes and No respectively, then the Maple Leafs stand a good chance of having one of the beset goalie tandems in hockey.
Camp may be over, but the intrigue is just beginning. Who says, who goes, who’s cut and who’s put on waivers? How do injuries affect the way this all plays out? It’s gonna be a great season. I can’t wait.
Covering the Leafs for the Hockey Writers.