Everyone else is getting in on the fun, so why not? If I were the coach of the Toronto Maple Leafs, this would be my opening night lineup:
James Van Riemsdyk-Nazem Kadri-P.A. Parenteau
Joffrey Lupul-Tyler Bozak-Michael Grabner
Daniel Winnik-Peter Holland-Brad Boyes
Leo Komarov-Mark Arcobello-Shawn Matthias
Richard Panik-Nick Spaling
Jake Gardiner-Morgan Rielly
Matt Hunwick-Dion Phaneuf
Martin Marincin-Roman Polak
Van Riemsdyk is the clear-cut #1 left-winger on this team. And while the coaches haven’t thought as much in recent years (hopefully this changes under Mike Babcock), Nazem Kadri is obviously the best center on this team. That’s why those two are on the top line, plain and simple.
The top-line right wing job is up for debate, but I went with Parenteau because I’ve liked what I’ve seen from him in camp, I think his playing style can mesh well with JVR and Kadri, and because he has the best underlying numbers of any other forward that could logically take this job.
I’m reluctantly making this my second line, although really you can switch this with my third line. To me, these two lines are either 2A and 2B, or maybe more appropriately, 3A and 3B. I put these three together because I think all of these guys excel on the rush and could have good chemistry together. To me this is a line that could put up some good point totals, but I also expect they would be something of a defensive mess. I don’t love this line, but I think it has some offensive potential.
You can make a strong argument that these three players are better than each of the three players on my “second line”. This line is again a reflection of a mixture of what I think could work as far as chemistry goes, what I think could produce a decent amount of offense, and which players are plain and simple most deserving of playing higher up in the lineup.
Whereas Lupul-Bozak-Grabner would be a line that generates a lot off the rush, I think this line has some real potential as a grind-it-out line that generates their offense on the cycle. I also think they could be good defensively and boast good puck possession numbers.
Will Mark Arcobello make the final roster? Does he deserve to? In my mind he does, yeah, even despite his lackluster preseason performance thus far. He’s hardly proven to be a steady NHLer over the last couple of years, moving from team to team without end, but I still like him enough as a hockey player to put him on this team as the 4C. Arcobello is particularly good at generating puck possession, and this is an important part of why I put him here with Komarov and Matthias. Without Arcobello, this line could be a defensive sinkhole. Nick Spaling has his uses too so he gets some consideration, but I like the potential flash Arcobello adds to the depth of this lineup.
Extras: Richard Panik, Nick Spaling
I think these guys are the 13th and 14th best forwards on the team. Panik is an NHLer but no more than a fourth-liner in my mind. Same goes for Spaling. Both add depth to the team and can be called upon when needed.
The likes of Connor Brown and William Nylander didn’t make my team because I don’t think either of them are NHL-ready and I also think they should be getting big minutes in the AHL, which I’d suggest is best for their development right now.
For my money, these are the two best defensemen the Leafs have. They also have played together before, and done pretty well when doing so. And they fit the style the Leafs will look to play under Babcock. A factor here is I also consider Rielly, Phaneuf, and Polak to be the main RDs on this team. I packed everything in around that idea, as you’ll see as we go further down the lineup.
I debated this one a bit, especially putting Hunwick on the second-pairing, but I like his ability to generate shot attempts enough that I thought he would be a good fit with Phaneuf, who historically hasn’t been a great puck possession player. It’s a bit of a gamble going with a guy like Hunwick on the second-pairing (and Phaneuf off of the top-pairing for that matter), but I think it’s for the best, and the numbers seem to back this idea up.
Martin Marincin has had an up-and-down camp, but he’s a good player, and deserves to be in the lineup. Him and Polak have both shown a tendency to eat up tough minutes in the past, and these two can do that again here paired together. Marincin’s ability to generate good puck possession numbers should help the lesser Polak, and balance this pairing out.
Extra: T.J. Brennan
I want the six guys I already mentioned in the starting lineup, and I don’t want a young guy like Harrington or Percy sitting in the press box. That pretty much leaves two “veterans” – T.J. Brennan and Stephane Robidas – vying for my final spot. At this point, I just think Brennan is a better player and deserves to be given the chance to prove he can play in the NHL in some capacity. This is why I went with Brennan, and why I would waive Robidas. That said, I do like Harrington, and would strongly consider him for a spot in the opening night lineup if he can crack the top 6, perhaps taking Matt Hunwick’s job for the time being. In any event, I expect we’ll see the likes of Harrington and Percy in the NHL with the big club this season.
I went with Jonathan Bernier as my starter because I think he’s better than Reimer, simple as that. But I’m also not entirely sure of that. I mean, I think both are good goalies. I really do. So if Reimer is outplaying Bernier early in the season, I don’t hesitate at all to go with him. Babcock wants to pick a guy and run with him, but I’m not sure that’s practical with this duo in net, and I expect both to get a fair share of the crease this season, and play well doing so.