A few things to consider this afternoon. One is that the NHL lockout has yet to be lifted, so teams can not communicate with players, nor can teams move players around. There appears to be no timeline yet on when any of this changes, but several observers expect camps to start up some time next week and the season on January 19, which is a Saturday and will feature a slate of rivalry games.
Leafs coach Randy Carlyle had a press conference today, addressing what some of the housekeeping issues will be when the collective bargaining agreement is ratified, player movement begins and training camps start. The biggest two issues for me in regards to the Leafs is goaltending and defence. We can talk about Roberto Luongo trade possibilities later.
1 – Who will tend goal?
The options here appear to be quite slim. James Reimer has played very well at even strength since he broke in to the league, but as many have pointed out, it’s way too early to tell which way he’ll go from here. He’s the Leafs best option in goal if they stand pat. Randy Carlyle said the team has “NHL calibre goaltending” with Reimer and Ben Scrivens.
Who else is available? Naturally, everybody wants to talk about Roberto Luongo, but given the unpredictability of an NHL goaltender’s ageing curve, adding a 33-year old contract who will be good for four of the next six years, but signed for ten, doesn’t seem like a good risk a team with otherwise very little talent should make. If the roster was a little more complete, it may be a wise move.
I’ll point to the summer when the Toronto Blue Jays traded away much of their farm for MLB talent. But they were a team who were two starting pitchers away from competing, and spent three Top Five prospects (and five Top Ten prospects) to round out a roster that was otherwise close rather than try to build one from scratch. My belief is that if the Leafs give up Nazem Kadri in a deal for Luongo, things could go south. Good puck-possession forwards are both more important and more consistent in today’s NHL than goaltenders on the wrong side of 33.
There’s talk (and it isn’t substantiated but simple speculation) of the Ottawa Senators possibly going with a goaltender duo of Robin Lehner and Ben Bishop. Conceivably, that could push Craig Anderson into available territory, who is signed for through the 2015 season at $3.187M per, and is an adequately consistent goaltender who is prone to periods of unflappability. I think before the Leafs make a move on a goalie they ought to wait to see what the Senators do with theirs, and if there’s a trade to be made.
2 – Who will play defence?
We knew back in September that the Toronto Maple Leafs were going to bring two junior players to camp. They will be David Broll of the Sault. Ste-Marie Greyhounds and Morgan Rielly of the Moose Jaw Warriors. Rielly is the sexier prospect, the most exciting name the team has had in quite some time. Unlike Luke Schenn, also picked at No. 5 overall, Rielly’s talents are his speed, passing, vision and offensive awareness, which result in plays more prone to getting on the highlight reel.
Randy Carlyle today said that Morgan Rielly would get a chance to make the team, that “we’re not afraid to play an 18-year-old in the NHL.” The only 18-year-old defenceman I can find since the start of the advanced stats era is Zach Bogosian, who played a little under 15 minutes a night at 5-on-5, took a bunch of minor penalties, and had fairly good possession numbers resulting from playing against generally third line talent. Another defenceman to shelter doesn’t seems like it would cure what ails the Leafs on the back-end.
So which Marlie, likely, will be put on that Top Four to improve the “D” this year? They could have quite a showcase, bringing up Jesse Blacker, Korbinian Holzer and Mike Kostka, and, if he feels like it, Paul Ranger. The Leafs and Marlies practice at the same Etobicoke facility, and it will benefit Toronto come training camp, allowing the Leafs to, presumably, have a larger camp roster than most teams. Carlyle pegged it around 30. Fights for defensive ice time could be key. I do have a hard time believing six defencemen will be more impressive than Morgan Rielly, but I am hopeful, since it would be better asset management to keep Rielly in the WHL for his first entry-level year.