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Toronto Maple Leafs defenseman Jake Gardiner (51) receives congratulations from teammates after scoring a goal in the first period of an NHL preseason hockey game on Friday, Sept. 30, 2011, in Detroit. (AP Photo/Rick Osentoski) (Rick Osentoski/Rick Osentoski)
Toronto Maple Leafs defenseman Jake Gardiner (51) receives congratulations from teammates after scoring a goal in the first period of an NHL preseason hockey game on Friday, Sept. 30, 2011, in Detroit. (AP Photo/Rick Osentoski) (Rick Osentoski/Rick Osentoski)

Leafs final cuts loom Add to ...

That's it for preseason for the Toronto Maple Leafs.

And the real games begin on Thursday, with the Montreal Canadiens in town for the NHL's opening night of the regular season.

The Leafs took Sunday as a complete day off, but the next three days are all going to be full of cuts and intensive practices as coach Ron Wilson attempts to get ready for that first game.

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Toronto's already down to 29 bodies after they sent third-string goaltender Ben Scrivens to the Marlies, but they need to get to the 23-man roster limit by Wednesday.

Complicating matters is a suspension to Clarke MacArthur and injuries to a whole host of other forwards.

Suspended players count against the 23-man limit, so there's no exemption there. Those nursing day-to-day type injuries will take spots as well. Nazem Kadri, who's out up to a month with a knee injury, can be placed on injured reserve to free up a spot, but everyone else will count – unless they're going to be out longer than the team has let on.

That adds up to a need to cut five more bodies, perhaps as soon as Monday morning before the team steps on the ice at 11 a.m.

"The plan was to keep some lines together [through camp]and it didn't work out because of minor little injuries," Wilson said. "We've had to move some things around. Practice this week's going to be important.

"I think we've identified what we believe are the lines and we'll sit down and discuss it and make our decisions on that. We've got to really sit down and give hard thought about what our defence is going to be when we start on Thursday."

Who's made the team?

The goaltenders are settled: James Reimer and Jonas Gustavsson.

On defence, six veterans in Phaneuf, Schenn, Liles, Franson, Gunnarsson and Komisarek are all staying, barring a trade (more on that later).

Up front, including MacArthur and Kadri, there are 12 players in the "for sure" side of things: Armstrong, Bozak, Brown, Connolly, Grabovski, Kadri (injured), Kessel, Kulemin, Lombardi, Lupul, MacArthur and Orr.

Who's on the bubble?

Basically everyone not listed above. There's room for another defenceman or two (although Wilson made carrying eight sound unlikely) and three more forwards (two extras and one to fill Kadri's roster spot).

Defencemen on bubble: Aulie, Gardiner and Lashoff

The decision between Keith Aulie and Jake Gardiner is the toughest one they've got here, as whoever it is will likely play a regular role on the third pairing.

Wilson has been playing Gardiner a ton in the preseason – he played more than 22 minutes on Saturday – and we've seen a few holes in his defensive game. Still, he led all defencemen in preseason scoring with five points in six games and only Kessel and MacArthur had more shots on goal.

Aulie had one of the poorer showings in the preseason of anyone on the team and at this point likely stays only due to the fact he logged fairly big minutes at the end of last season when the team was winning.

Gardiner gives the Leafs a little more mobility, too, something that's needed on that third pairing given Franson and Komisarek appear set to log a lot of time there.

Here's betting Gardiner stays.

"I'm confident that he's ready to play," Wilson said on Saturday. "But those are things that we're going to discuss later."

Forwards on bubble: Boyce, Crabb, Dupuis, Frattin, Rosehill and Zigomanis

Mike Zigomanis may have put himself back in the mix a little more with an excellent showing on Saturday, although the fact he's already been demoted once during camp doesn't bode well for him sticking in the NHL.

Matt Frattin was one of the team's preseason scoring leaders and seems a lock, while Darryl Boyce remains one of Wilson's favourite pluggers.

Joey Crabb, Jay Rosehill and Zigomanis are probably those going down to the Marlies at this point. Kadri's injury likely saved a spot for Frattin or Philippe Dupuis.

Who's hurting?

Almost everyone down the middle. Tim Connolly injured his neck or shoulder in practice last week, but they're still hopeful he can play opening night. He remains the biggest question mark.

Tyler Bozak's been fighting an undisclosed injury for at least the last week. He's believed to be fine for Thursday.

Mikhail Grabovski, meanwhile, took a puck off the foot on Saturday and had to leave the game, although X-rays came back negative so he should remain in the lineup. Mike Brown and Phil Kessel have had groin issues but are expected to be good to go.

The Leafs may decide to take things slow with Matt Lombardi (concussion) and rest him – even if he played 17 minutes on Saturday in his first game action in a year.

Who could be moved?

The two names that remain on the rumour mill are Tyler Bozak and Carl Gunnarsson, although no deal is imminent. GM Brian Burke was looking into moving two bodies for one – preferably a forward with size – but that won't be easy.

So far in camp, Bozak has looked stronger and more ready to play in the NHL, especially in a third line role. Gunnarsson, meanwhile, fills a needed hole as a dependable option on the penalty kill and alongside Dion Phaneuf. The Leafs would have difficulty getting enough value back to justify moving Gunnarsson, in particular.

Lombardi being ready to go has given the Leafs the leeway to deal a centre, but the various injuries may delay any movement for the next few weeks.

Causes for concern

The jury's still way, way out on Toronto's offence-first line of Kessel, Connolly and Lupul, who played a combined 13 preseason games and put up only three points. Generating chemistry among those three – or finding a replacement on the line – is going to be key in the early going.

Connolly's injury obviously complicates things on that front, as he hasn't even been practising with the full group.

The Leafs special teams, in general, were also again not very good throughout the exhibition games. The coaching staff has said they'll be something they'll work heavily on in the next couple of weeks given the team's thin schedule.

Toronto's other main cause for concern is Reimer's play in preseason, as he posted only a .888 save percentage and struggled early in games. It almost goes without saying at this point that the Leafs playoffs hopes rest largely with how he does in the starter's role and all eyes will be on him beginning Thursday.

"He's working to find his form," Wilson said. "I think he's pretty close to it. With [Francois Allaire]in town, we'll have three really good practices and he'll be ready to go."

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