So with Elliotte in mind, I’ll pay homage by following a bit of his format while nonetheless focusing exclusively on the Leafs. (Today’s post is also a glove-tap to a family memory that has to do with the world of professional wrestling. One of my sons - Christopher, now an adult himself - and I used to watch wrestling together a quite a bit many years ago, as did our two oldest sons. One night we were watching the old WCW, and a then young Chris Jericho talked about his rival, Dean Malenko, the “man of a thousand moves”. Jericho said he stayed up all night counting his own moves, and he discovered that he actually had 1,001. My son and I got a big kick out of that particular wrestling ‘spot’.
So today, like Jericho years ago, I’ll try to go one better than Elliotte. (Just don’t hold me to his standard…)
- While they will say it’s a level-playing field competition, I really think the Leaf brass wants Jonathan Bernier to emerge as the number-one Leaf netminder.
- Though he is a defensive-minded coach, Randy Carlyle knows the value of a puck-moving defenseman and I sense he wants Morgan Rielly to make the Leaf roster.
- Do I understand correctly that Joffrey Lupul somehow got hurt before training camp even officially started? It's sure not like the old days, when guys came to camp just to get into shape. Today's players work out so hard in the summer they get injured before they even start.
- While I believe the Leafs should make extending Kessel a priority before he hits free-agency next summer, I fear the young winger will not sign before the season starts—and that means he will not re-sign here before early July. And that equals testing the free-agent waters.
- While David Bolland is not a savior, I’m not as negative on his arrival as some are. To me, it’s just a question of having realistic expectations for him.
- I know Joe Colborne is signed to play here; I’m just not sure where he fits. He’s a center, and I don’t like centers, including Jay McClement, playing the wing. We can’t go with five centers. Centers should play center. Wingers should play the wing.
- Cody Franson, as I posted here a while back, has made a serious error in not signing. I like him and he could be an important player here. But if there’s a protracted holdout his season could be in jeopardy, at least as far as the Leafs are concerned. These things tend to go as follows: the player comes back late; they get injured; they are under a microscope; the coach is privately ticked; the player’s performance suffers; a negative cycle kicks in; his value drops off. Not good.
- We will hear no end of positive stories out of Leaf camp. Everyone will be “bigger, faster, stronger” so they can handle the physical demands of the NHL—or conversely, they will have come to camp with less body fat, or lighter, to improve their quickness and agility. Whatever. Mostly I want the season to start.
- I wonder if Carlyle will go with Phaneuf/Gardiner (both can log big minutes; does Gardiner even breathe out there?), Gunnarsson/Ranger and Liles/Fraser? If Liles is somehow moved and Franson does not sign soon, Rielly becomes the next guy up.
- On that note, if Liles is given a chance, I would not be surprised to hear, in the next week, that Liles “looks better" than he ever has with the Leafs. He should be motivated, and hey, the Leafs will be looking to pump him up for public consumption.
- I have no feel for how Steve Spott will do as coach of the Marlies. Some of you may, because you know him by reputation in junior hockey if you have seen him in action. I do know that Dallas Eakins was more than a coach—he was a guy who also developed players. That may be missed.
- I don’t see Reimer and Bernier playing 41 games each. I think one of the two plays at least 60. (It will be Bernier.) This pre-supposes the team will play well, for the most part.
- I still don’t like Carlyle’s “win and you’re in” approach. I just think it’s wrong-headed. Guys don’t generally play well with the threat of a benching or demotion hanging over their head. You can “win” and play lousy and play tremendously well and lose. It’s just not the smart way to make decisions.
- I wonder if Jay McClement can possibly be as effective a second time around in Toronto. Last year he was a revelation to a lot of us, but for many, expectations going in were, well, zero. So it’s hard to imagine he will be better. As good as last year would be very nice.
- With Orr and MacLaren still around, Colborne will be lucky to get regular ice. But beyond that, if Leaf officials were really honest, I’d love to know who they think/feel is truly the next best young forward prospect in the system?
- I know a lot of fans still want to ‘credit” Burke with whatever this Leaf team may accomplish, but for better or worse I now feel it is more a Nonis team than it was before the summer began.
- That said, it’s really a team that reflects Carlyle most of all.
- I keep asking myself who is going to have a breakout offensive season, you know, someone who will surprise us beyond the usual suspects like Kessel and Lupul. Will it be Kadri? Or maybe van Riemsdyk? Will Clarkson deliver more than we expect? (Some have already lessened their expectations of him, it seems…)
- If Orr or MacLaren are hurt for an extended period of time, who is the next “tough guy” in the system that could get a shot? Broll? Devane?
- I’ve been saying for years that parity throughout the league has meant for a watered-down Eastern Conference and that many teams, including the Leafs, have roster flaws. This year should be no different. There will be lots of playoff “bubble” teams. So if the Leafs have indeed improved, can they win their Division? Can they finish third overall, sixth? I’m not into predictions but they should be a serious playoff team.
- By the way, that’s the assumption we should have as fans, that this team at least makes the playoffs. The bar has to be a lot higher than that. Winning a round next spring should be the minimum expectation for this club, no excuses. We are, after all, now five full years into the former General Manager's tenure.
- Will there be a training camp “surprise” this season? I’m struggling to determine who the surprise player (as in unexpectedly making the opening night roster) might be.
- I still think Orr and MacLaren will play most nights during the regular season. Hopefully they won’t be limited to three minutes a night if they are in the lineup.
- After two less than stellar seasons, I guess I just have to accept that Kulemin will not be a major offensive threat, and see him as a strictly useful third-line player. While many still defend him -and I did for years - and I accept he won’t be a 30-goal guy again, I’d like him to hit more often. (I do think he could be dealt at some point.)
- By the way, if you had to pick one Leaf who could indeed be traded during the season, who might it be, besides the guy everyone talks about—Liles (in terms of moving contract)?
- Does Reimer last the season, or do the Leafs look to move him to a team that needs goaltending? Some have suggested here that, for a lot of reasons, Calgary would make some sense.
- Many feel the Leafs would not have made the playoffs if last year had been a regular 82-game schedule. Given that this will be Carlyle’s first full season as Leaf coach, it should be very instructive to see how the team performs over the long haul—and then, presumably, the playoffs.
- If Franson signs and Rielly still makes the team on merit, who is the odd man out?
- Bozak, despite all the criticism, is still a useful player. I'm not sure he was worth the contract he received in terms of amount or term, but given the economics of the game today, I guess the Leafs wanted him back, obviously, even at that significant salary.
- I do have to think the Leafs will at least consider giving Kadri a chance to play on the top line at some point, if not necessarily permanently. Maybe on the power play, to start?
- In recent years I was always concerned that the Leafs had too many 'bottom-six' forwards populating the top two lines. I don't have that nagging feeling any longer.
And a bonus: Carter Ashton or Mason Raymond? Or both?
However positive or less than optimistic fans might be (most, I sense, are quite bullish on Leaf prospects), the good news is the pre-season (i.e. exhibition games, or as the league likes to call them, pre-seaosn games) is under way. Before we know it, it will be October 1, opening night.
I never wish time away, but I do look forward to a new hockey season. So as always, if you have comments to make, don’t hold back!