It’s Roundtable Friday, and since it’ll be the last one before the regular season starts, the question to our writers is simple: As training camp and the exhibition schedule comes to a close this weekend, right now is there really anything left to be determined for this lineup?
If you take a look at the lineup tonight you’d have to imagine that this is pretty much what Babcock wants to go with next week, with the possible exception of the bottom pairing of Rosen and Borgman. It seems odd that both Marincin and Carrick would be bounced, but there is no doubt that the Leafs have been left satisfied by their young Swedish D.
The rest of the questions remaining are probably do you waive Leivo? Do you send Soshnikov and Kapanen down because you can? Who gets to be the day one backup goaltender? None of these are likely as important as we want them to be when the top nine forwards (really top 11), and top 4 defenseman (probably top 5) have already been established and we’re left wondering about who sits in the pressbox and who gets the eight minutes a night role.
Personally, I’d rather give the bubble players ice time in on the Marlies and take advantage of the proximity to the Ricoh by not carrying any spares and if you’re on the fence about a player because of the preseason, remember it’s the preseason and send them down. The neat thing is they can always be recalled later.
Projected Leafs lineup tonight in Detroit: pic.twitter.com/CGAzBcCtd4
— Jonas Siegel (@jonassiegel) September 29, 2017
While the 4th line centre and 3rd pairing left defence are still a little bit up in the air, everything seems to be set in stone. Even then, it doesn’t really matter. Last year, Milan Michalek made the opening night roster. 5 games later, he was sent down, and Soshnikov came up. Not to mention that the Leafs will probably suffer a few more injuries this season compared to last year, so all of these fringe players that may miss out on the opening day roster will still probably end up with 20-30 games over the course of the season. So, while there might still be a couple roster battles, in the big picture, it doesn’t really make a difference
I’m going to focus on Kasperi Kapanen, or at least the idea of a hypothetical “Kasperi Kapanen” – a player who probably should be on the NHL roster next Wednesday, but probably also won’t be. I’ve never quite understood why fans and media obsess over opening day rosters so much. 82 games is a long time and no team in modern NHL history has ever started their playoff run with the exact same lineup they started the season with. Talk all you want about roster optimization, squeezing the most out of your whole season, making every game count and getting the extra 2%, I subscribe more to the “give Babcock and the management some MF leniency” approach. We don’t know exactly what player X or player Y did. Maybe it’s not the 100% perfect algorithm’d out roster. But hockey isn’t an exact science.
There’s tons left to settle, but we don’t have to do it today. The season’s going until June- we’ve got plenty of time to figure everything out.
As far as forwards go, I’m making the somewhat unsafe assumption that Moore and Leivo are going to be the extra forwards, although players like Kapanen and Fehr seem like vague possibilities. That said, the team liked Moore enough to sign him, and I think if nothing else his veteran presence and the fact that he’s a center makes him an ideal extra forward. And of course, Leivo has always played well for the Leafs, just not well enough to become a regular, and it looks like he’ll continue that status with the team heading into the season.
But I’m a little less certain of how things will shake up on defense. Initially, it looked like Rosen had locked up the open spot on the bottom pair alongside Carrick. However, it sounds like Marincin has made a push, so it could be his job as well. Of course, Borgman also started camp well, though it seems he’s been put on the backburner a bit. And then you have Dermott, who I think has continued to provide some optimism for his future, though it looks like he’s likely Marlie-bound. This is a long-winded version of me saying I think the Leafs still need to settle out their defense, specifically who the 6th and 7th defensemen will be, and in what order. I’d put my money on Rosen and Marincin, though in which I’m order I’m not sure. But I think Borgman is at least a little in the mix as well. Of course, they could also keep 8 defensemen and 13 forwards, though I don’t think that makes sense given just how ready a guy like Leivo seems to be compared to Borgman.
I think the forward group is more-or-less set, with just Moore and Aaltonen basically being a coin flip for the 4C spot. The question now is what the Leafs do with guys like Rychel and Leivo, and who they carry with the big club outside their main 12.
It seems there is still a small battle ongoing for the ‘final’ spot on the blue line – the left side of the bottom pairing. We’ll assume the other side of that pairing is Connor Carrick, but honestly I haven’t been impressed with him this preseason. Borgman and Rosen have been paired together for tonight’s game, in what’s being sort of billed as a duo that one needs to emerge from to grab the final LHD spot, but perhaps if they both continue to make things interesting for Babcock, it’s Carrick that starts to see his place on the roster in question.