Notes: Leafs looking thin up front headed into opener

Notes: Leafs looking thin up front headed into opener

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In an hour-long lunchtime appearance on CP24 earlier this afternoon, Brian Burke spoke on a few immediate lineup concerns heading into the season opener, as well as some broader issues pertaining to the 2011-12 season, the future of Ron Wilson, and the concussion/headshot debate. A few notes after the jump:

Thin Up Front

Brian Burke put the chances of Connolly playing Thursday night at 50/50, and it’s since been tweeted by Jonas Siegel that Connolly has told Ron Wilson he’s doubtful for the opener. Putting aside the terribly un-ironic fact that Connolly will miss the season opener due to an injury sustained in an intrasquad scrimmage, what shape does this put the lineup in for Thursday?

Unless Wilson felt based on his only preseason game Lombardi looked up to centering the top line, I expect Wilson will go with someone who is at least familiar with (though not ideal for) Kessel in Tyler Bozak, and we’ll be in a temporary situation where Bozak is back to centering Joffrey Lupul and Kessel.

Certainly, Connolly’s inability to participate in much preseason action makes the Lupul – Connolly – Kessel line an experiment that has undergone minimal testing, and when it reforms it is going to have to mesh in very short order.

Frattin has stepped into the suspended Clarke MacArthur’s void alongside Grabovski and Kulemin for the first two games it seems, leaving a third line comprised of Matthew Lombardi, Colby Armstrong and an unknown winger, perhaps Mike Brown.

The fourth line will be some combination of Jay Rosehill/Colton Orr, Philippe Dupuis and Joey Crabb.

Needless to say, a lineup that looked pretty complete on paper going into training camp suddenly looks rather ragtag just two days before the season opener. Burke said he didn’t like the way the schedule started for his Leafs (games this Thursday and Saturday before a week long break), but it certainly looks to be a blessing in disguise now.

Defence Pairings

While leaving it up to Wilson, Burke in his CP24 interview speculated the Leafs‘ pairings will look like so:

Dion Phaneuf – Carl Gunnarsson
John Michael Liles – Luke Schenn
Jake Gardiner – Mike Komisarek
Cody Franson

I didn’t think Gardiner and Komisarek showed enough defensive acumen between the two of them in either preseason game together (speaking more poorly of Komi than Gardiner). Gardiner’s room to grow defensively is still ample and Komisarek hasn’t exactly been the most sterling example of own zone excellence. Wilson was quoted today as saying Komisarek has been as good as any defenceman at Leafs camp. Wilson’s won 619 more NHL games more than I have but I have a hard time seeing it. I’m pulling for Komisarek to put together his first decent season in Toronto but you have to wonder how much Keith Aulie is paying for Brian Burke’s mistake on July 1st, 2009 (and I’m talking more about the NMC than the salary).

The PP pairings likely sit at Liles – Phaneuf and Gardiner – Franson, but with Franson sitting the first game, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Gunnarsson or Schenn tried alongside Gardiner or the second PP unit on Thursday.

Alec Brownscombe is the founder of MapleLeafsHotStove.com, where he has written daily about the Leafs since September of 2008. He was also the editor of the 2009-12 Maple Leafs Annuals. You can contact him at [email protected]