The Toronto Maple Leafs have been priding themselves on their depth throughout the preseason.
But on Saturday night, a lineup that will closely resemble the Blue and White’s opening-night roster was defeated by a team that defines true depth in the National Hockey League.
With a lineup that excluded virtually all of their star players, the Detroit Red Wings came into town and handed the Leafs a thorough 4-2 defeat.
It has now been 21 seasons since the Wings failed to make the Stanley Cup playoffs. During those years, Detroit GM Ken Holland has iced some of the most complete teams in the expansion era.
Saturday’s game was an indication that the Leafs are still struggling to establish that depth, let alone making a push for a playoff appearance.
After Mikhail Grabovski left early in the second period with a sore foot, the depth at centre was tested. Mike Zigomanis, Philippe Dupuis, and the returning Matthew Lombardi all got elevated ice time in Grabovski’s absence.
Zigomanis displayed an impressive face-off prowess, going 18-for-21 on the draw. Dupuis was positionally sound, and Lombardi brought some much-needed speed in his first game in 352 days after suffering a concussion last season.
However, none of the three provided the complete skills needed to fill in on either of the Leafs top two lines, and that’s where the Leafs should be concerned.
If any of the three hope to secure a roster spot on this year’s version of the Maple Leafs, they will have to find a home on the third or fourth line, where the Leafs can legitimately claim to have depth.
Joining the aforementioned centres in the competition for checking line spots is centerman Tyler Bozak, wingers Matt Frattin, Darryl Boyce, Mike Brown, and Joey Crabb, and enforcers Colton Orr and Jay Rosehill.
With alternate captain Colby Armstrong holding down the third-line right wing spot, that leaves 10 men battling for five available spots, all of whom have not proven they can adequately play a scoring-line role.
It is assumed that free-agent acquisition Tim Connolly will centre a unit between Phil Kessel and Joffrey Lupul. And nothing suggests Ron Wilson will break up last year’s best line of Grabovski, Nikolai Kulemin and Clarke MacArthur.
That means if there are any injuries this season, it looks like it will have to be the oft-examined Nazem Kadri that is called upon to fill any vacancies on the Leafs’ scoring units.
Kadri was not in action Saturday, due to some knee issues that will keep him out of the lineup for the next three-to-four weeks. MacArthur was handed a suspension Saturday that will keep him out until the Leafs’ third game of the season. Bozak and Connolly are licking wounds of their own.
That thin group of playable scoring forwards should open some eyes in the organization after the season opens on Thursday.
On the back end, some youngsters may have made Ron Wilson’s decisions a little easier with their performance against the Red Wings.
Jake Gardiner’s terrific preseason had many calling for the 21-year-old to stick with the big club, but he showed Saturday he could use a little more time to develop.
After Matt Lashoff’s neutral-zone pinch started a two-on-one break for the Wings, Gardiner missed tying up Justin Abdelkader in front of the net, allowing him to put a rebound past a helpless James Reimer.
The play likely sealed the fate of both defencemen, and they will presumably start the season with the Marlies.
Wilson refused to give any indicators as to who he would pair together on defence, saying he would like to speak to his players first this weekend before making his lineup public on Monday.