Watching the Leafs through their first handful of regular-season games, the easiest observation to make is that the team is (predictably) working pretty hard under new coach Mike Babcock.
Their overall record after seven games and a loss Saturday night in Montreal is not breathtaking, but from commiserating with fellow VLMers here, I don’t have the sense expectations were anything more than modest heading into the season. So the Leafs are probably where most supporters thought they would be.
Regardless, it’s far too early to make any significant pronouncements about where things are going this season. We need to see how the next fifteen or so games unfold first.
That said, I can’t help but jump ahead a little bit, because there is not a great deal to get excited about when it comes to this particular edition of the Maple Leafs. The roster is filled with NHL players, for sure. But most are replaceable guys, some toward the end of their careers and other individuals who would be useful contributors on a better team, no doubt.
But by and large, it’s a roster built to get through a season, not one that we can expect to do much as currently constituted. So where do we go from here?
As we look ahead to a time when the Leafs will have cornerstone players who are not even on the roster yet (perhaps Brown, Nylander, Marner and others), we can start to wonder which current Maple Leafs will still be here when Babcock has the roster he wants—and will expect to be a strong, contending playoff team.
Will Reimer and Bernier be around? I don’t think both will be. And if one were to be, I’m guessing it will be Bernier, who I sense the organization still believes has a higher talent level—and performance ceiling—than Reimer.
On defense, it would be a shock if Reilly was anything but a significant building block. He has obvious skills, is a guy who skates so well, sees the ice and makes plays. He’s a player, and Babcock no doubt already knew that before he got here.
Gardiner is an interesting case. Is he going to be as good as his boosters suggest? Or will he flatten out, even under Babcock’s prodding, and fall short of fulfilling what seems to be a still promising career on the Leaf blueline?
Rielly will be here for sure. But beyond that, it may be a completely new defense corps by 2017-’18.
Looking through the roster up front, only one forward jumps out as me, and that’s James van Riemsdyk. He's still young and was so effective in his early days with the Leafs. He can score, has good hands and can be very effective around the opposition net. Maybe Kadri will be here, too, but it’s also possible that not a single Leaf forward will be here in two years. I still like what Komarov brings and he could be a useful role player when the Leafs are a contending squad.
So there we have it—the surefire current Leafs who will still be in blue and white two seasons from now. It’s a short list that starts and could end with Rielly. Maybe van Riemsdyk, Kadri and Komarov. Perhaps Gardiner. Bernier—that’s a toss-up.
Who do you see on the roster two years from now?