With less than a week for training camp, this is going to be a preseason much, much different than any in the last 17 years for NHL coaches and players.
Consider the contrast. Last year’s training camp for the Toronto Maple Leafs involved nearly 60 players and 20 days of fitness testing, practices scrimmages, nine preseason games and cuts.
This year? Try just 31 players, six days and no exhibition games to speak of.
The cuts are likely to all come right at the end, as they drop right to 23 players just in time for Saturday. Those on the bubble will have an even harder time making an impression, meaning if you’ve already got a one-way deal and a spot pencilled on the roster, you’re likely keeping it.
Toronto in particular has a lot of bodies at every position outside of goal, where only James Reimer and Ben Scrivens are in camp. Up front is where their hardest decisions will come, as barring a trade or injury, there are 15 or 16 forwards who could make the starting 12 come Saturday.
Here’s a quick breakdown of the 31 and where they fit in:
Forward (7): Phil Kessel, Joffrey Lupul, Mikhail Grabovski, James Van Riemsdyk, Clarke MacArthur, Tyler Bozak, Nikolai Kulemin
Defence (4): Dion Phaneuf, Carl Gunnarsson, Jake Gardiner (inj.), John-Michael Liles
Goal (1): James Reimer
Forward (4): Jay McClement, David Steckel, Tim Connolly, Mike Brown
Defence (2): Cody Franson, Mike Komisarek
Goal (1): Ben Scrivens
On the bubble
Forward (4): Matt Frattin, Matt Lombardi, Leo Komarov, Nazem Kadri
Defence (3): Mike Kostka, Morgan Rielly, Korbinian Holzer
Long shots and no hopes
Forward (3): Keith Aucoin, Ryan Hamilton, Colton Orr
Defence (2): Mike Mottau, Mark Fraser
Based on coach Randy Carlyle’s comments on Sunday, it sounds unlikely Gardiner (head injury) is ready to play to start the year, which means this is going to be at least a 24-man roster to start.
Take out the long shots and no hopes and that leaves us with just 26 players vying for those 24 spots, with the cuts likely to come out of the “on the bubble” group.
The organization seems very high on Frattin, meaning an NHL spot appears to be his to lose, which would seem to put Lombardi and Komarov in the press box and Kadri back in the minors.
At most, the Leafs can carry 14 forwards, meaning at least one of the bubble guys is going down or out the door.
On the blueline, it’s more wide open. Without Gardiner, Rielly likely gets the five-game look they can give him without burning a year of his contract, as he can slide into the left defence spot opened up.
With Franson on the verge of being re-signed and no indication Komisarek is going anywhere, that leaves only one spot for either Kostka (who has a point a game in the AHL and can give them some much needed depth on the right side) or Holzer (who has taken a step back this season and is playing with a broken foot).
My sense right now is they’re leaning toward a 23-man lineup like this for opening night, barring a major shakeup:
Lupul – Bozak – Kessel
Van Riemsdyk – Grabovski – MacArthur
Kulemin – McClement – Frattin
Connolly – Steckel – Brown
Extras: Lombardi, Komarov
Gunnarsson – Phaneuf
Liles – Fransonà
Rielly – Komisarek