The Toronto Maple Leafs’ preseason ended with a 4-2 loss to the Detroit Red Wings on Saturday, but they still have work to do before the season starts. Most precisely, the Leafs’ front office must cut its roster from 29 to 23 players by Wednesday, a process that will force GM Brian Burke & Co. to make some tough choices.
The hard deadline is on Wednesday, but James Mirtle explains that the team might be better off making its choices before their Monday morning practice.
Making final cuts is an inherently uncomfortable job, but the Maple Leafs’ situation is a little more complicated. As Mirtle explains, suspended winger Clarke MacArthur still counts as one of the team’s 23 players, so they won’t be able to keep an extra guy up for the two regular season games he’ll miss.
Injuries add enough wrinkle to the team’s decision making process as well. The team won’t get a break regarding players dealing with day-to-day issues, although the team could place budding prospect Nazem Kadri on the injured reserve to open up some room.
Mirtle explains that the team will need to cut five more players to get to the maximum allotment of 23 if Kadri is on the IR. First, let’s start with the guys who locked up their spots already, according to Mirtle.
Forwards: Colby Armstrong, Tyler Bozak, Mike Brown, Tim Connolly, Mikhail Grabovski, Kadri (IR), Phil Kessel, Nikolai Kulemin, Matthew Lombardi, Joffrey Lupul, MacArthur and Colton Orr.
Defense: Dion Phaneuf, Luke Schenn, John-Michael Liles, Cody Franson, Carl Gunnarsson and Mike Komisarek.
Goalies: James Reimer and Jonas Gustavsson.
While Mirtle believes the Leafs’ goalie duo is settled, here are Mirtle’s choices for defensemen and forwards who are “on the bubble.”
Bubble forwards: Darryl Boyce, Joey Crabb, Philippe Dupuis, Matt Frattin, Jay Rosehill and Michael Zigomanis.
Frontrunners for final spots: Mirtle opines that Boyce and Frattin are the frontrunners, going as far as to say that Boyce is a “lock.” Crabb, Rosehill and Zigomanis seem likely to head back down to the minors while Dupuis might be a wild card.
Bubble defensemen: Keith Aulie, Jake Gardiner and Matt Lashoff.
Frontrunners for final spots: Mirtle pegs Gardiner as the likely winner of that standoff, citing some positive feedback from Leafs head coach Ron Wilson.
“I’m confident that he’s ready to play,” Wilson said on Saturday. “But those are things that we’re going to discuss later.”
If Mirtle’s viewpoint is correct, then Lashoff, Crabb and Rosehill seem like near-certain cuts while Aulie and Dupuis should also fall short of the opening day roster. It might not seem like a big deal, but depth players can make a difference in tight races, whether they provide timely goals, useful defense or a vague sense of “energy” during their limited ice time. Making the right choices could help Toronto end their lengthy playoff drought.