In less than five weeks the Leafs will fly out to the best part of the world to get their training camp started in St. John’s, a beautiful city in Newfoundland. Leading up to that, we can expect the release of a pretty inflated list of invites who’ll be making the journey and trying to make the team. Some new players will “look good” and surprise us a bit, other established guys might look sluggish and there’ll be calls about whether they’re in trouble of being bumped, and so on. Coaches will talk about how some of the minor league b’ys are gunning for spots and trying to take jobs. We all know how it goes.
But in the end, just like most years, there really isn’t an open spot on this roster. There isn’t much there for the taking, and we can probably already put together the final lineup with a very high degree of accuracy.
But there are really two “final rosters” aren’t there? With the Leafs enduring significant injuries to Zach Hyman and Travis Dermott, as well as having Mitch Marner in a potential holdout situation, it’s smarter to speculate on how the lineup looks on opening night October 2nd, and then what it will eventually settle into, more or less, when everyone’s ready to go (assuming there aren’t additional injuries, of course).
There’s nothing too scientific about this, I’ve just watched enough training camps and gotten a bit of a handle on how things shake out, and sometimes where the early situational hype comes into play.
Opening night against the Senators
There are some surprises here but the explanations should be relatively straight-forward. For one, Marner isn’t included, and the simple reason is that I half-expect him to miss a game or two in this contract stalemate situation, though it definitely won’t go to the wire like things did with Nylander. In the meantime Kapanen slots in on that line and Kerfoot starts out as a wing since that’s probably where he’s best, and the Leafs will want to bolster that line a little with Hyman and Marner missing. Spezza can essentially play anywhere in the bottom six, Moore is a full-timer, and Mikheyev is definitely going to be a Babcock favourite early who gets a proper look. The fourth line is the fourth line.
The top four in the defence seems somewhat interchangeable to start, or until Dermott comes back and tries to force someone out if he can move to the other side, which is still very much up in the air. I think even though Harpur has looked brutal with the Sens, the Leafs will try him out in real games to see what they have, and Liljegren gets a few games to start in a sheltered role because he’s probably close to capable, and it would be a nice little shot in the arm for his confidence. He doesn’t stick though. I realize Sandin is the better prospect and perhaps even more ready, but his timeline is simply further out as far as the “see what we have in him at the NHL level” thinking goes.
Which brings us to when the dust settles.
The real roster with everyone in it
I titled this picture “eventually” when I saved it, and that’s what it is: The Leafs’ lineup, eventually.
The Leafs made a play for Schmaltz as a depth right-hander and gave up a decent fringe player to get him in Borgman, which signals to me they see some talent there in the former first-rounder. Call it an appeal to authority but I think he gets there and proves them right, settling into the bottom pairing alongside Dermott. The top four is the top four until Dermott forces Ceci out, and perhaps that goes down, but I’m banking on Ceci bouncing back and being serviceable.
Up front the top six is hard to argue against. Line three is one that can keep opponents on their heels and drive people mad with speed. There could be a bit of movement in the bottom six, but I think the players listed here are all NHLers, which goes back to the point about nothing being open for anyone new in camp (i.e. Bracco), unless (or perhaps until) things get shaken up by injuries.
Again, this isn’t a ranking based on who I think is best at each position or whatnot. It’s simply a gut-feel thing about how I believe the roster will play out given training camps of the past, some chemistry observations, and tendencies of the front office and coaching staff. Disagree? Let me hear it.