LGD: Earn The Part

The preseason rolls on today, with the Leafs playing their 5th out of 8 exhibition hockey games.  Last Tuesday the Leafs went to war played a pretty bogged down hockey game with the Montreal Canadiens and were able to pull off a comeback win, with Jake Gardiner scoring in overtime to keep the Leafs at 3-0 in the preseason.  But the Leafs lost to Buffalo yesterday, and will now look to bounce back against their long-time preseason rivals in their final game against the red, white, and blue before opening up the regular season against them in a week-and-a-half’s time.

I guess this is the part where the analysis goes, but I don’t really have a whole lot for you.  I think everybody’s starting to get a little bit tired out of the preseason now and is looking forward to the regular season actually starting (or maybe I’m just projecting).  Thanks for giving us our much-needed hockey fix, preseason, but it’s time to move on to bigger and brighter things.

I guess somewhat unfortunately for us, the Leafs are a revenue powerhouse in the NHL, and that includes generating revenue through meaningless hockey.  So the Leafs (along with the Habs) play 8 preseason games annually, 2-3 more games than almost any other NHL team, and as such we’ve only gotten through half of their exhibition season.  My advice to you is if you don’t think you can wait all the way until October 7th to see the Leafs play again, you may as well watch tonight’s game, because once we get into games 7 and 8 of the preseason you can bet the team will be dressing a lineup full of as many spare parts as you can imagine.  The Leafs are dressing a reasonably good lineup tonight (by preseason standards), so enjoy it while it lasts.  Because if you’re not tired of the preseason already, you will be pretty soon.

THE LEAFS

Via TSN’s Jonas Siegel, the Leafs lineup tonight is:

Van Riemsdyk-Bozak-Setoguchi
Matthias-Holland-Boyes
Komarov-Nylander-Hyman
Glencross-Froese-Kapanen

Gardiner-Robidas
Marincin-Polak
Fraser-Brennan

Reimer
Sparks

Van Riemsdyk and Bozak have been a duo all through camp, and it looks like Babock and Co. are willing and ready to roll with that as one of the Leafs key pairs offensively heading into the regular season.  Marincin and Polak have been another pair kept together through camp, and that could make a very solid 2nd or 3rd pairing on the Leafs blueline come regular season time, and in fact, might even be the Leafs go-to shutdown pairing for large stretches over the course of the year.

THE HABS

I haven’t been able to track down any Habs lines for you, but based on what has already happened in their camp, it looks like they might be going with a top line of Max Pacioretty, Tomas Plekanec, and Brendan Gallagher to start the season.  No real surprises there.
Lars Eller, Alex Galchenyuk, and Alexander Semin seems to be a tentative second line for the team.  I’m particularly interested in this one, as Galchenyuk hasn’t really broken out yet in the NHL, but there’s no denying he’s got high upside.  Semin is also interesting as he was pretty miserable last year, but has obviously been pretty dynamic in year’s past.  Galchenyuk and Semin seems like a pair that could be a major disappointment for the Habs this year, or their two highest-scoring forwards.  Yeah, it’ll be interesting to see how that turns out.
Another name to keep an eye on is Tomas Fleischmann, the skilled veteran forward whose career has really come to a halt in the last year or two.  I’m not sure if he’s playing tonight, but he’s on a PTO with the team, and it’ll be interesting to see if he can crack their roster, and if so, in what capacity.

WHAT TO WATCH FOR

I kind of ripped this game to shreds to start the post, but it actually is a pretty important game for the Leafs as far as some of the internal battles for roster spots go.  That’s really what you should be keeping your eye on tonight:

  • Devin Setoguchi, Curtis Glencross, and Brad Boyes, the three forwards on PTOs for the Leafs this preseason, are all playing tonight.  None of them have been particularly impressive, although if you’d have to give an edge to someone at this point it would probably be Boyes.  I would argue that JVR, Bozak, Parenteau, Lupul, Kadri, Grabner, Winnik, Holland, Matthias, Komarov, Arcobello, and Spaling are all pretty much locks to start the season on the big club.  That’s 12 forwards right there.  Maybe a guy like Arcobello isn’t completely locked into place yet, but I like his chances.  We also haven’t mentioned Richard Panik, who figures to be more likely than less to make the team.  Realistically, we’re looking at three NHL veterans fighting for one roster spot, two at max.  Needless to say this is a huge game for these three guys as they try and earn an NHL contract.
  • Because the Leafs have so many “big name” forwards, I’m making the lazy assumption that the team will carry 14 forwards into the regular season, meaning there’s likely to be 7 defensemen on the team.  Rielly, Gardiner, Marincin, Phaneuf, Polak, and Hunwick are all going to be on the 23-man roster to start the season.  That leaves one spot to fight for (or again, two at max).  Stephane Robidas seems like a relatively safe bet to earn that 7th spot given his contract, his lengthy resume, and yes, even his veteran leadership.  But if the Leafs think they have someone better than him, I don’t think they would hesitate very much to cut him.  No, Robidas hasn’t made the team yet, and the likes of Scott Harrington, Stuart Percy, and Viktor Loov are all vying for that spot.  Mark Fraser and T.J. Brennan, both of whom are playing tonight, are also vying for that spot.  I’d argue Harrington, Percy, and Loov are all on the outside looking in as they seem relatively likely to be press box material to start the year and I don’t think the team has any interest in sitting young guys in the press box anymore.  Mark Fraser also seems highly unlikely just based on pure ability, and I’d argue he’s more fighting for a spot with the Marlies.  T.J. Brennan, though, is a good mix of being a good hockey player as well as not being a young prospect.  He has a real shot at making this team.  At the end of the day I’ll tentatively say I think Robidas gets the job, but there’s definitely a battle going on on the Leafs blueline.
  • Yes, Mike Babcock has said he wants to pick a #1 guy out of camp and roll with them.  That means this is a pretty important game for James Reimer.  Bernier looked fantastic in the Leafs’ preseason opener last Monday, but really stunk it up yesterday against Buffalo.  I still think Bernier likely wins the job and he would probably be my choice, but a strong performance by Reimer today would go a long way towards putting doubt in the minds of the coaching staff.  Yeah, this is a pretty important game for Reimer.

Tonight’s game is in Toronto and can be seen at 7:30PM Eastern on Sportsnet.

  • giproc

    The Leafs currently have about 30 players from which to pick 23. The makeup and quality of the team won’t change one way or the other regardless of which they choose out of that pool. Guys like Arcobello, Spaling, Panik etc are interchangeable in the bottom 6.

    I think it will come down to two factors, A) which players Babcock thinks he can squeeze something special from and B) which players Lou and Shanny believe will hold the most value at trade deadline.

    Picking the best 23 players to start the year clearly isn’t the goal. Barely being considered are ALL of their best prospects who will start with the Marlies or slide back to junior. I’d love to see a mid-season series between the Leafs and Marlies: winner goes up, loser to the AHL. That would probably be the only meaningful hockey most of the vets would play this year.

    Prepare for a long season of generic bodies in Leaf jerseys. Next important date is the trade deadline.

  • Jeremy Ian

    “I think everybody’s starting to get a little bit tired out of the preseason now…” Yes, that is what Freud would call projecting.

    Weird post. Sure, this isn’t the regular season, but the coaches and management have some big decisions to make. I’d rather they made them based on their play in real games than hunches.

    I am actually intrigued by these games for this reason. The choices that Babcock and the brass make will tell us a lot about the model of transition.

  • Jeremy Ian

    i guess there’s a fine line between colorful entertaining writing, and being a smartass.
    ‘geriatrics’? make that singular, geriatric, assuming robidas plays.
    not field/ice the best team, the best players? and whom might the omitted ‘best payer’ be, that you think is going to be left off the team, so that the leafs can get one more 4th round draft choice?
    and ‘meaningless’ hockey? if you don’t find a red-wings/babcock brand of hockey entertaining, then go watch another sport.