Now that the roster is all but set and meaningless hockey is finished, the Toronto Maple Leafs prepare to kick off the regular season Thursday against the Montreal Canadiens.
Before moving on to the start of the 2010-11 campaign, let’s take a look at some of the ups and downs of the Leafs pre-season and what can be taken from the results.
The good , the bad and the Kadri
Everything that could be said has been said about the Kadri saga, but it’s tough to ignore the biggest story in Leafland.
If Ron Wilson stays true to his word and the lineup he iced Saturday against the Detroit Red Wings is the opening day roster, Kadri will start his NHL career in the minors.
But Wilson isn’t too concerned about sending his team’s blue chip prospect to the farm for the meantime.
“We know how good Nazem is going to be, it’s jut being patient and allowing him to develop the best way,” Wilson said after Saturday’s game.
“He’s only three hundred feet away at the other rink if that’s where he starts, but again we haven’t made up our mind about who’s going to be here and who’s not.”
The Leafs 2009 first round pick didn’t live up to expectations at camp, oftentimes looking overwhelmed and unable to produce enough offensively to warrant a spot in the top-six group of forwards.
His lone shining moment came in a game last week against the Ottawa Senators where he scored two goals and added an assist.
Pre-season hockey is a time used for players to get their game legs and for new teammates to develop on-ice chemistry. That was precisely the case for the Leafs first line of Phil Kessel, Kris Versteeg and Tyler Bozak.
The trio gelled immediately and have produced at a rate expected from a first line, albeit in the preseason against lesser competition.
Phil Kessel had six goals and 10 points in six games while Versteeg picked up seven assists and nine points in the same span. Bozak chipped in for another four points as the team’s top centre.
If Toronto expects to legitimately fight for a playoff spot this year they will need their top line to carry the bulk of the offence.
Battle for third
John Mitchell came into camp widely expected to be in a dog fight with Christian Hanson for a spot on the third or fourth line, and instead seems destined for the Toronto Marlies of the American Hockey League.
Mitchell struggled in his sophomore campaign last year and that play has carried over into exhibition play.
Two players who spent most of their time last season riding the bus in the AHL—Hanson and Tim Brent—have passed Mitchell on the depth chart, playing their way into the NHL.
At the moment Brent seems to have the third-line centre position locked down while Hanson has been anchoring the fourth, although he sat out Saturday’s game with a shoulder injury.
“I like our mix right now,” Wilson said. “I feel comfortable with what you guys would call a third line, with Tim Brent, Colby Armstrong and Fredrik Sjostrom.”
That could all change once the season gets underway, as there will be a lot of hungry Marlies fighting to get back to the big club.
Blue shirts in the press box
Brian Burke has admitted that he prefers to carry an abundance of defencemen, although having the combined salaries of Jeff Finger [$3.5 million] and Brett Lebda [$1.45 million] sitting in the press box is not an ideal situation.
As of now the opening night pairs seem to be set, and having two veterans unable to contribute while making reasonable salaries will need to be ironed out — whether through trade or demotion—as the season progresses.
For now, Leafs management has some roster decisions to make while Wilson and company will be back on the ice Monday practicing with the personnel set to take on the Canadiens opening night.
“It was a different feeling last year, this is an entirely different group of people,” Wilson said in regards to his team’s pre-season performance. “We’re coming out of camp a lot healthier and feeling better about ourselves right now.”