While none of us want to see summer slip away, those of us who have a passion for hockey usually long for a new season to begin by the time the end of August rolls around. This year is likely no different for most Maple Leaf fans.
As I mentioned in a recent post, I always remember longtime Leaf great Dave Keon, early in his career, commenting that the only time of the year that dragged for him was the last two weeks in August. That was when he was anxious to get back on skates, and for training camp to begin.
Nowadays, athletes train year-round, and a lot of guys are skating already, well before training camp officially begins.
Regardless, fans are keen for training camp to begin every September, because a new season—especially in Toronto—brings hope. New players, rookies, new line combinations and this year, with a new team President in place, there is a lot of anticipation.
With camp now around the corner, here are a few Leaf-related thoughts to get us warmed up:
- Like a lot of Leaf followers, I usually wait until about the 20-game mark to make any serious assessments about where the Leaf team is at. This year, however, the window for fans may be a little narrower. Carlyle is on the hot seat, at least in the minds of a lot of Leaf supporters. So getting off to a good start will matter.
- As much as I continue to believe that the Reimer/Bernier “tandem” approach can’t work and Reimer will inevitably end up elsewhere, I’d like to believe that for this coming season, at least, it could somehow work. A year ago, Reimer was the guy clinging to his old job as the “number one”, but he surely knew he didn’t have much of a chance to keep the job. That’s a lot of pressure, and things were bound to collapse around him. Now, while he signed a new contract, he is clearly the back-up, and Bernier is indisputably the top guy. But Reimer’s competitiveness may work in his favour this time around. My hope is he will become a ‘super sub’ and respond to the challenge by filling in well when Bernier needs a rest. And if Bernier stubs his toe or is hit by an injury, the hope is that Reimer can do the job in his absence. Long term it won’t work, but for now…
- I have no idea which direction Jake Gardiner will go. With a new, long term contract in place, though, he should have the piece of mind to settle in, feel secure and play well. He certainly doesn’t lack confidence. I just hope he is coachable enough to combine his raw skill with learning his position so he can be reach his significant potential.
- I don’t see Morgan Rielly as the kind of young player who will have a sophomore slump. I could be wrong, but he just seems to be a player that will get more and more comfortable at this level.
- As I mentioned the other day, I’m not as concerned as some fans and media observers are about Tim Leiweke’s departure. He certainly changed things up around MLSE and brought in some notable leaders for the Leafs, Raptors and TFC. And yes, he has personality drawing power—and connections. But I don’t think the door suddenly closes for hockey players who might consider Toronto as a destination. I believe that Toronto still has appeal, though it has not been, historically, a free-agent destination for the Leafs. Hey, Leiweke may be a loss. I don’t really know. But there are good executives out there. And the three franchises—TFC, Raptors and Leafs—are seemingly in capable hands now.
- While I am not over the moon about it, I am interested to see Polak and Robidas in Leaf uniforms. Sometimes players don’t measure up to what you hope/think you’re getting, but neither of these guys comes in with fanfare. If Komisarek had come into town years ago with a lighter contract and modest expectations, his career here may have turned out just fine. Same with David Clarkson (whose career may still go well in Toronto). I don’t see either Polak or Robidas starting their time in Toronto with unrealistic expectations, so maybe they’ll contribute nicely, and make the Leafs a little harder to play against along the way.
- When it comes to the regular season, I think we have plenty of depth at the center ice position now. (Bozak, Kadri, Komarov, Kontiola, Santorelli, Holland , maybe even young Nylander…) I just don’t know if the Leafs have enough quality at center to make a significant playoff run. We have guys who can play, but are any of our pivots difference-makers against really tough opposition? Will anyone have to game plan to neutralize our centers?
- I expect some young prospect (at least one) to turn heads at training camp. I don’t know if there really are jobs available up front or on the blueline, but someone (Granberg?) may just catch the eye of the Leaf brass and earn a roster spot somewhere.
- It will be intriguing to see precisely how the analytics-oriented approach Leaf management now subscribes will impact decisions, beginning during training camp. What will be, I wonder, the first outward, visible “sign” that things will be different? Will we see it in Carlyle’s approach and decision-making? Will it impact roster composition? Line configurations? Just curious.
- Matt Frattin was a guy I believed had a higher ceiling than some thought when he was here before. Though he seemed to struggle in his one season away from Toronto, he’s still only 26. I thought he had the makings of a mini power-forward. If he can find the form he flashed at times during his first tenure in Toronto, he could help. Consistency will be the key, I guess.
There are plenty of other points that could be raised, and lots of questions to ask. So by all means share your own pre pre-season thoughts.