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The “final” roster a day later: I don’t feel any better; the forward lines make me, well…uneasy

After the 3pm roster “freeze” passed on Wednesday, NHL teams are now ready— financially and personnel-wise— for the new season.

The question of interest for Maple Leaf fans is simple:  Is this Leaf team, compared with one year ago at this time, better?

As others have well stated elsewhere: yes, for sure.  Fans can rightly be more optimistic about the goaltending, though that's not a sure thing. 

Kessel is healthy and part of what may be a legitimate number-one NHL line.

I’m convinced Beauchemin will be his old reliable Anaheim self this season.  And they have three veterans on the blueline to go with Phaneuf and two developing youngsters in Schenn and Gunnarsson.

They are seemingly determined to be better on special teams.  So yes, they should be better.  And I keep hearing that they will be “harder to play against”.

But heading into the regular season, when you actually see the names of the forwards etched in black and white, I have to admit it’s a different feeling than I had when just day-dreaming about the Leafs over the past few weeks

What do I mean?  Well, we are about to find out, over the next, say, 20 games, if Bozak between Kessel and Versteeg will indeed be a “keeper” when they face either top offensive lines, or good checking/shutdown trios.

They should be capable offensively.  Will they be hard to play against?  I wonder.

Even more sobering (and this reflects what we’ve talked about in this space for weeks, if not months), take a good look at the center position beyond the still young Bozak:  Grabovski, Brent, and Zigomanis/Mitchell.

Would Grabovski (honestly, now), as skilled as he is, be a second line center on any other really good team in the NHL?  Brent is a hard-working guy, for sure.  He has earned his spot, dating back to his work with the Marlies last season. 

Zigomanis will start the season as the fourth-line center, ahead of Mitchell.  Truthfully, though he shows flashes and is a solid young man, Mitchell was off my personal radar screen last spring.  I never thought he would still be here come opening night.  (That said, I didn’t want to believe Grabovski would be the team’s second line center, either, yet here we are.)

We’re back to the earlier question:  Will all of Toronto’s centers be hard to play against?

But my other deep concerns come when looking at the wing positions.  Anyone who has followed this site for any length of time knows I like Kulemin a lot as a player.  He grew more comfortable last season and he should only get better over the next few years.  But will he thrive on this middlish “second” line?

I just don’t see the Leafs having a strong enough second line. Given that Burke talks so much about “top-six” forwards, I’m not seeing significant enough improvement there.  But I’ll be happy to be proven quite wrong.

Beyond that, Armstrong brings a strong work ethic, but I really thought Caputi and/or Hanson would be given a shot to play in the early going.  (Burke suggested it was because Mitchell’s history has earned him another opportunity.  Maybe.)  I would feel much better, as a fan, if I believed that the guys who will be in their place were significant upgrades.  I’m just not sure that will be the case.

And even if the Leafs had kept Hanson and/or Caputi, I would still have the same, uncertain feeling about the forward lines. (As an aside, Kadri may yet play a role before this season is out, but his time with the Marlies will be a wise investment in his future.)

It’s a long season.  And we all understand that teams need lots of skill, toughness and smarts all over the ice to compete at this level.

By all means, let’s be optimistic.  But when it comes to the Leaf forward lines, I’m still from Missouri, for the moment.

They’ll have to show me.

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