The Leafs are finally home, HUZZAH! The downside is that the game is against the Sabres, and not even enough good Sabres to make them interesting, so we really won’t talk about them. The opposition in pre-season doesn’t really matter, outside of weird reunions and thankfully there aren’t any former Sabres storylines on the Leafs, well, at least not with Nick Baptiste not in the lineup tonight.
— Leafs PR (@LeafsPR) September 20, 2019
Here’s what to watch for
1. Sandin’s back but Harpur isn’t
For all the “sky is falling” concern that people had about Mike Babcock giving faint praise to Ben Harpur, it doesn’t seem like it was enough to keep him with his defensive partner and Sandin has broken free. This raises two very important questions about Sandin and those are “will he continue to be playing on the right?” and “who will the new partner be?”
We’ll start with the playing on the right option. The fact that Martin Marincin is the defensemen imported from the other Leafs split squad makes my ears perk up, as Sandin could potentially stay on the right and play with Marincin. It would allow the Rielly and Ceci pairing to stay intact, same with the Kivihalme and Liljegren pairing. I’m going to make a bold statement here and say that Rubins and Hollowell are after thoughts at this point and are likely the playing their last game before the next round cuts likely occurring on Sunday.
Keeping Sandin on the right shows that the Leafs are looking at him for a permanent spot on the Leafs roster beyond being just a Dermott understudy at the start of the year. He’s in the mix with Schmaltz, Holl, Liljegren, and probably Marincin for the third pairing RD spot. At this point I’m guessing he’s going to get at least his nine games before his entry level contract comes into effect.
As for other potential partners beyond Marincin, it would be interesting to see him with Liljegren to see if they can enter the league together, although Mike Babcock playing two rookie defensemen together seems like a stretch, additionally I want to hold up hope that he could be playing with Rielly and you’re a jerk if you take this dream away from me. Anyway, it’s probably Marincin he’s working with and that’s not a bad thing.
2. Freddie Andersen is back
Andersen had been working with the other squad but things are getting switched up goalie wise this time around. That’s probably a good thing as it allows a new set of defensemen to get comfortable playing in front of the NHL starter and Andersen gets a chance to know his new defensemen. That’s a smart play. It also lets Toronto fans see their goalie at home and that’s a nice thing to do.
3. Bottom Six Forward Shuffles
We’ll ignore the addition of Clune, Gaudet, and Conrad because why wouldn’t we? They are by definition Marlies bound. There are a few other interesting shuffles that occurred beyond what are probably the 5 roster locks in this group (seen below in Bold)
Mind you, those are just my projected lines, and Babcock may favour Gaudet or Shore, and want to see Agostino or Read with the Kerfoot line more than Aberg, but here’s how I roughed it out pre-coffee this morning.
The bottom six remains an interesting battle ground, especially with the one vacancy forced by Hyman’s absence.
4. Some acknowledgement of the opposition
The Sabres are saving their A squad for their Saturday night home game. That means it’s Scrubs on Skates tonight, but a first look at Dylan Cozens and Henri Jokiharju playing. Casey Middlestadt is also playing, but it feels like we’re nearing the point where any potential attached to him has vanished.
— Joe Yerdon (@JoeYerdon) September 20, 2019
If that doesn’t get you excited to watch hockey, what will?
5. Cut day is looming
This really needs to be a point hammered home and that this is likely a last chance for a lot of these guys to make their solid case for a further look. Some of these players are absolute locks for the Marlies, and with AHL camps opening next Monday, they are going to need bodies in that. History shows it’s likely just going to be trimming the fact, and getting the AHL contract guys out the door, consistently underwhelming performances might spell the end for some of the depth guys too. In short, the bottom six needs to play like they care this weekend, and it shouldn’t be the Auston Matthews show at this point.
The whole country can watch the game on Sportsnet One tonight at 7pm ET. Blessed are the Western Canadian Leafs fans tonight.