MAPLE LEAFS(0-0-0) at SENATORS (0-0-0)
It has been 186 days since a Toronto Maple Leafs roster played any meaningful hockey. It has been 3 years since a total evaluation and tear down of the roster started in earnest. Now . . . today . . . Leafs Nation will see at least some fruits of the Leafs management effort.
The great rebuild has taken a new turn. The teardown is complete and Leaf rookies are now tasked with leading this team to the promise land. It starts in earnest with a renewal of the battle of Ontario this evening from the Canadian Tire Centre in Kanata, Ontario.
The Senators underwent significant changes during the off season in hopes of returning to the post-season. It was out with the old and in with Guy Boucher as the Senators newest head coach.
Boucher carries with him significant coaching experience at many levels of hockey and appears to be a good choice for the club. Boucher wasted little time in hiring Marc Crawford as his assistant. Crawford needs no introduction. Both coaches had recently been coaching in Europe.
The Senators had a busy offseason trading for Derick Brassard as well as dipping into free agency by signing Tom Pyatt and Mike Blunden. Both players played for Montreal and Tampa Bay. Chris Kelly returns to the Senators fold after a 5 year stint with Boston.
Perhaps the player that is going to benefit the most is former Leaf captain Dion Phaneuf. He has now had the benefit of an offseason and training camp as an Ottawa Senator. Phaneuf is Ottawa’s second defensive pairing where he is better utilized behind Ottawa captain Erik Karlsson.
The playoffs are a possibility for the Senators with Boucher and Crawford behind the bench and good seasons from goaltender Craig Anderson and the rest of the cast.
There is a definitive change in taking the pulse of Leafs Nation. The buzzword around the Leafs dressing room is youth. For tonight there will be 6 players of interest with no to little NHL experience.
Players like Nylander, Hyman and Carrick got to enjoy a cup of coffee in the NHL last season. Number one overall pick Auston Matthews along with scoring sensation Mitch Marner and free agent signing Nikita Zaitsev will be making their NHL debuts tonight.
Matt Martin was a free agent signing during the offseason. He was hired with an eye on keeping the opposition honest in dealing with Leafs youngsters. The hard hitting forward will open up ice for the skilled players and will also act as big brother to those that give the Leaf youngsters too hard a time.
Leaf fans can also look forward to Morgan Rielly having a strong season playing top minutes. Kadri has been looking to take on a leadership role and continue his strong 2-way play from last season. It is worth noting that he did not received one of the A’s when the teams alternate captains were announced 2 days ago. For now the Leafs have held off on naming a captain. Stay tuned Auston Matthews.
It is also worth mentioning that Rielly along with 7 other Leafs played in the recent World Cup of Hockey. The experience of playing at such a high level will no doubt carry over to the regular NHL season.
One not surprising absence from camp was Joffrey Lupul. As expected by many, Lupul will start the season on injured reserve. Many also believe that Lupul has played his final game as a Leaf.
The Leafs have the financial might to ‘pay not to play’ as they have done with Nathan Horton, Stephane Robidas and now Lupul. There are others being payed simply because they are not in the future plans of the team.
The Leafs preseason record was 2-4-2 but nobody should read much into it. Training camp is more about auditions than game shape and there were many bodies in and out of the lineup during that time. The real test begins now. However, now that the roster is made up of potential talent, Leafs Nation is starting to get antsy. After a year of relative calm there is an expectation for the team to start producing results.
The question is what are the expectations? While talented, the kids are also raw. They are in a steep curve learning how to play hockey at the NHL level. There will be ups and downs throughout the season. Playoffs are a long shot but there are those actually predicting a post-season birth.
Matthews and Marner garnered most of the preseason attention. With that there is also a new buzzword being used to describe both players. Calder trophy candidates. It has been decades since this kind of discussion had any merit in describing Leaf rookies. All bets are on Matthews but Marner’s hockey sense and ability to score is also putting him into the conversation.
It appears that both Bozak and Kadri currently rank higher than Matthews on the depth chart. Bozak starts tonight on the top line, Kadri centering the second line and Matthews on the third. One must wonder how many games it will be before Matthews supplants both players and plays his way into the 1C role. That is the plan anyways.
So here there you have it. Game Day Thread number 1 for the 2016/2017 season is in the books. In just a few hours it starts for real.
Fans are looking for something good starting tonight. How good? Playoff good? Leafs Nation awaits.
Discuss amongst yourselves.
Toronto Maple Leafs
JVR — Bozak — Marner
Michalek — Kadri — Komarov
Hyman — Matthews — Nylander
Martin — Holland — Brown
Marincin — Rielly
Gardiner — Carrick
Hunwick — Zaitsev
Hoffman — Turris — Stone
Smith — Brassard — Ryan
Varone — Pageau — Pyatt
Dzingle — Kelly — Neil
Methot — Karlsson
Phaneuf — Cici
Boroweicki — Wideman
Leafs Players Morning Skate