And so it begins. The predictions on who will be suiting up for the Toronto Maple Leafs on opening night in Montreal against the Habs. I know there are going to be quite a few of these articles being posted across the internet over the course of the next month so I figured I would get the jump on some of the other bloggers in the world and make my thoughts known before camp even gets underway.
To be honest I was considering not writing this article because it seems like there isn't going to be a whole lot to even guess at here. The biggest question marks right now are whether Kadri and Franson will be in the line up. If that gets taken care of before training camp starts I have to be honest, there isn't much guesswork here.
I suppose there could be some line juggling and yes there are a decent amount of young players in the Leaf system that will be knocking on the door, but at the end of September I just don't see how there will be that many surprises barring and significant injuries.
Since I know all five of you are itching to know my arrogant thoughts I won't leave you hanging any longer. You're 2013-2014 Toronto Maple Leafs:
van Riemsdyk Bozak Kessel
Lupul Kadri Clarkson
Colborne Bolland Kulemin
McLaren McClement Orr
Now, I can already tell you want to say something about how you think McClement would work perfect on that third line as a dominant shut down line. Oh right. You wanna talk about the kid. Got it.
Ok so here is my explanation on Morgan Rielly. Do I think he will stick with the Leafs this year? No. Do I think the Nonis and the Leafs brass will keep him around for a few games? Yes. I mean they have 9 to burn. With the exception of Rielly showing up and having a sub-par camp, I management will look to give him a taste of some NHL action and what better way to do than on the road playing against a divisional opponent, let alone a fierce rival like the Habs (and probably again at home against Ottawa.)
I think having him stick around for at least the first three games is the right move for his development before shipping him off to dominate the WHL. Plus getting to see the previous two Norris trophy winners may not be the worst thing in the world either. The reason I have him with Phaneuf is because that is what Carlyle talked about last January during training camp. Randy thought it made sense to insulate him with the Leafs best defender. I agree. Especially if Phaneuf solely focuses on defense and leaves the puck rushing to the kid with wheels. Anywho, moving on.
Cody Franson? Never heard of him. Just kidding. I think he may hold out. Kadri knows he can't and is just stringing this out so he can't get the best offer right before camp starts (two year bridge.) I'm not sure how long Franson will wait, but if it is into mid-camp I can easily see him sitting the first game and getting in on the second night October 2 against Philly (Leafs open with back-to-back games.) I can't see him holding out longer than a week or two into the season and then sign a one year deal, but my bold prediction is that he will not be playing October 1, 2013.
Finishing up with the defense, I don't think we will see much of John-Michael Liles this season. As much as I like him as a player I think he will be placed on waivers at the end of training camp. I think there is a good chance he will be picked up by a team with some open cap space, however if not, he could provide some invaluable mentoring to some of the young players down with the Marlies.
As far as goaltending goes this may as well be a coin flip. And past that, unless someone has a shutout, I think we will be seeing both goaltenders the first two nights of the season. I'm going with Reimer to start the season though.
Now back to that point I was making earlier about having the best shutdown line in the NHL. The combination of Kulemin, Bolland, and McClement is extremely enticing and one I'm sure we will see rather regularly throughout the season. That being said I think if Colborne goes out and has a decent camp, he will have a chance to play third line wing for the first few games of the season, perhaps rotating back and forth with McClement depending on the match Carlyle wants at any given moment.
The top six can be flip flopped around anyway you might see fit and I'm sure a few more times this year than last year we will see Bozak and Kessel split up and Kadri tossed in there, but for the moment I'm not really too concerned about where those six land. I'm just happy that there is new season coming just over a month away.