Well, the Leafs have finally wrapped up the longest preseason schedule in the league with a split against the Red Wings this weekend, and things are finally starting to take shape. First, a quick recap of what’s gone on – I’ve had a couple different posts half-ready, but I’d rather just jump right into the upcoming season than spend too much time looking back at preseason play that may or may not mean all that much:
- Nazem Kadri, albeit in a futile effort, improved his bid to make the Leafs with a 2 goal, game-winning assist performance against the Senators on Wednesday, while JS Giguere made 22 saves.
- After a couple days off, the Leafs came out and got shelled in Detroit. Jussi Rynnas played all sixty minutes, despite giving up 7 goals (check out an interesting piece here on how Friday’s game was more of a learning experience for Rynnas than anything else)
- Thankfully, Toronto’s powerplay bounced back the next night, scoring 3 goals on 6 tries to down the Wings 4-2. In an interesting wrinkle, Dion Phaneuf was used in front of the net on the man advantage, so it should be interesting to see how that plays out. Either way, the unit of Versteeg-Bozak-Kessel/Phaneuf-Kaberle looks very solid at the moment (Even Howard Berger isn’t entirely depressed).
All of that brings us to today, when Burke trimmed the Leafs’ roster to just 13 forwards, 9 defensemen and 2 goalies. I can’t believe that both Luca Caputi and Christian Hanson were sent down, especially since John Mitchell, aka Rickard Wallin, was kept on the squad. I thought both youngsters showed much more than Mitchell did, but according to Burke, “He got a call from the governor on this one. He got a reprieve. He’s going to get a chance to show us what he can do. He hasn’t earned that this time around, but he earned it with his past contributions.”
I’m not entirely sure what those contributions are, but they better start happening again soon, or he should be in the AHL real quick. Hanson looked bigger, stronger and tougher this year, more than ready to play an energy role on the 4th line alongside billy badass Colton Orr. If Burke likes toughness so much, I don’t quite get what he sees in Mitchell, who’s never had more than 60 penalty minutes in a season, even in the rough-and-tumble OHL.
Nazem Kadri will join Hanson and Caputi on the AHL bus circuit to start the year, but to be honest, I think we all saw it coming. He had to come into camp and wow people into believing that he could be a legitimate top-six forward right away, and not many kids really do that. An interesting point I read somewhere in my travels around the blogosphere today was that Burke prospects Corey Perry, Bobby Ryan and Ryan Getzlaf all followed the same path to the NHL, spending significant portions of their first real season of potential NHL duty in the minors.
Keeping Kadri in the minors is a win-win, either way. Now there’s absolutely no pressure on him to perform up to any expectations, really, until next season, though if he puts it off til then, Toronto will not be a fun place to be for the youngster. If the Leafs come out of the gate and the offense somehow clicks and Kadri’s not really needed, he gets a year to get bigger and improve his game. If the offense is stumbling a third of the way through the season, and Kadri’s tearing up the AHL, he could be a real shot in the arm, but if he comes up and can’t be the hero, the expectation has already been taken off of him. Keeping him on the Leafs when he’s not ready would do nothing more than set the kid up for epic failure on a huge stage, and we don’t need our top prospect self-combusting.
Danny Richmond, Jussi Rynnas, Matt Lashoff, Jay Rosehill and Mike Zigomanis were also cut, although Burke said Zigomanis would stay on the Leafs and not be sent to the Marlies if he clears waivers. Tim Brent, who made his NHL debut against the Habs in the last game of the year last season after six years in the AHL, was not cut after an impressive preseason and will probably have a spot on the 3rd line with Colby Armstrong and either Mike Brown or Freddie Sjostrom.
This round of cuts brings the Leafs’ roster to 24, with Jeff Finger and his $3.5 million salary still on board. With a few other teams still looking to clear cap space before the deadline, the inevitable chatter has sprung up around the Leafs on the trade rumor mills, so we’ll keep you posted on that if anything happens. If not, I’m assuming Finger will be demoted to the Marlies by the October 6th deadline.
As always, you can follow me on Twitter at twitter.com/editorinleaf.