Thursday Morning Leafs Round Table: Early Preseason Reflections

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Phil Kessel doesn't take shit from no one.

The preseason edition of the Battle of Ontario kicks-off tonight and there is a considerable amount of buzz surrounding both teams. The Leafs and Sens were both very active over the summer and, depending on who you spoke to, became more competitive through their roster moves and acquisitions.  As it stands, the Senators are sort of a fashionable/dark-horse pick to claim the Atlantic Division title.  Although I wouldn’t go as far as to call them a favorite, they do have a talented crop of forwards, one of the top-5 defensemen in the league, and a solid goaltending tandem.  Oh, and let’s not forget about their Jack Adams-winning, bug-eyed walrus of a coach. It should be a good one tonight.

Talking Points

On Tuesday morning, James Mirtle joined TSN 1050 and spoke on several topics. One of the interesting things they touched on was the litany of PTO’s that were handed out this off-season and how it may change the dynamics of next year’s free agency period.  Mirtle believes that next year,  players will be vying to sign earlier into the free agency period and attempt to avoid the possibility of not having a contract in hand as teams enter training camp. The situation has a lot to do with the falling cap and is further compounded by the long-running trend of filling out your roster with younger, cheaper options, which makes perfect sense in a salary cap environment. In many instances, these veterans who are receiving PTO’s are fairly useful players – Raymond and Morrow immediately come to mind – and should be able to find a spot on an NHL squad.  Age is not the only factor either, as Raymond’s injury history probably played a part in Vancouver’s aversion to re-signing the speedy left-winger. However, as much as I hate to see character, hard-working veterans struggling to find employment in the NHL, it also presents some interesting opportunities for teams to acquire veteran players at basement prices. Lupul’s penchant for injuries or at least freak accidents should give pause to any runaway Leafs fan, but the thought of Mason Raymond at the ready to step in on the second line, while getting paid less than $1 million, sounds like a pretty good deal to me. If this PTO trend continues, I could see such contracts becoming a source of great bargains.

– –

What are your thoughts on the latest round of roster cuts?

“Most of the players cut by the Leafs this week had no real chance to make an NHL impact this season, save possibly for Jerry D’Amigo.  But to me, the most notable cut is also one of the most positive stories of the young Leafs season.  Zachary Yuen, a fourth round draft pick in 2011 that the Winnipeg Jets chose not to sign, came to the Leafs to help fill out the rookie tournament roster.   He parlayed a terrific defensive performance in London all the way to the Leafs training camp.  While cut from the big camp, he’s now looking to find a job with the Marlies.  His future in Toronto is uncertain, but he’s been a bright spot already in his brief tenure.” –Michael Stephens (@MLHS_Mike)

“For the most part, the players that stayed are guys on one way NHL contracts and 1st round picks that warrant a longer look. The guys sent to the Marlies are the players who will make up the core of the team. Broll is a surprise, because he’s a project who could benefit from a full camp with Steve Spott. Andrew MacWilliam is a pleasant surprise that he’s hung in this far, but again will likely be a core Marlies player. Kevin Marshall is a surprise just because I keep on forgetting that he’s under contract with the Leafs. I can’t imagine he’s there for any reason other than giving him one exhibition game. I guess Devane is a surprise, too, but he’s a place holder with McLaren out hurt and I actually do believe it makes sense to dress an enforcer in exhibition games.”  –Jon Steitzer (@YakovMironov)

“The only real surprise to me was Granberg. Seems the Leafs have had enough of an initial look and established that St. Petter will need some more time adjusting to the North American game before he’s ready to make an impact that reflects his potential, and they don’t believe the NHL level is where that will be happening. I thought they might give him some more time at the main camp, though. Pushing the boundary for ‘surprise’ is Leivo – but after an impressive showing at the rookie tourney, he quieted down a bit in this past week.” –Matt Mistele (@TOTruculent)

Frazer McLaren, or preferably FML, broken finger has opened up a roster spot in the short term. Who do you see taking advantage of this opening?

“Most favourable for me is getting Mason Raymond under contract, but giving D’Amigo, Ashton, or Smith some ice time makes sense to me as well. I fall asleep at night dreaming about a Kulemin-Bolland-Raymond, and McClement-Colborne-D’Amigo bottom six. That being said, it’s not up to me, and with a cheap contract and replacement level punching abilities, it may be Bodie getting the job.” –Jon

“Ashton’s playing like he wants it. Nasty slashes and the awkward irony aside, he’s improved by leaps and bounds since the last time I saw him play. He’s a big man and he used to move like one – but Ashton now seems more mobile, and it’s translated into more authority when he’s carrying or moving the puck. Showing a few signs of the true power forward we hoped he might be when the Leafs dealt Aulie for him. Broll may be another contender for the spot, but Ashton ultimately has a higher ceiling. I say give him a shot.” –Matt

“I’d suggest that David Broll could make the leap.  The Leafs will need a fighter, and Broll isn’t afraid to drop the gloves or lay a big hit.  He’s also built more sturdily than most bomb shelters, tipping the scales at 6’3” and 235 pounds.  And he’s shown more offensive pedigree in junior than any of the now-injured enforcers.  His skating needs work, but it’s at least equal to his pugilistic peers.  He carries a cheap cap hit and is waiver exempt.  So don’t be shocked to see the Brolldozer on opening night.” –Michael

So far, Mason Raymond has made a positive impression in the early goings of the preseason. How do his prospects affect the likelihood of Franson re-signing?

“The two should be independent. Raymond’s playing like a discount Clarke MacArthur, and I love it so far. It won’t do wonders for Franson’s leverage if more of the Leafs’ scarce cap room disappears, but let’s be honest – the Franson holdup isn’t about establishing his dollar value as a player, it’s about the term on the deal. If he’ll accept the one-year proposal, he’s too good for the Leafs not to make room for him. I’ve said it before, and I stand by it – the way these depth and dollar issues are shaking out, I just don’t see a place for John-Michael Liles on this roster come October 1st.: – Matt

“I can’t imagine how Franson fits in without a trade or player going on long term injured reserve, and that’s really unfortunate because the Leafs had several opportunities to avoid this situation. Since Raymond looks like a solid addition to the bottom six, I’d add him and then deal with the Franson fall out. Assuming Raymond signs a Paul Ranger-type deal and Franson signs for $3,250,000 or less, you can technically bury Orr, McLaren, Fraser, and Liles and replace them with Smith, Bodie, and Brennan. Of course this is just wishful thinking on my part.” –Jon

“Raymond’s signing will undoubtedly have an impact on Franson, if only because they are both fighting for an NHL paycheque and the Leafs have little room under the cap to pay them.  But to say that the Leafs can only sign one or the other is foolish.  I was playing around on capgeek earlier this week and crafted a 22-man roster that included Raymond ($925,000 cap hit) and Franson ($2.85-million cap hit).  Both players can be fit in under the cap, though the Leafs would be playing without a full roster, and it would require several Leafs from last season to be shipped down to the Marlies.” –Michael

Who has surprised you the most so far this preseason?

“It’s a toss-up between Carter Ashton and Andrew MacWilliam.  For Ashton, it’s been 18 months since his last NHL call up, and he’s been doing everything to force his way into the lineup.  He’s been a bull on skates in the preseason, engaging the opposition physically.  For MacWilliam, he’s been solid on the backend.  Most defense-minded defensemen are supposed to play a ‘quiet’ positional game.  You’re not supposed to notice them.  But MacWilliam has popped up on everybody’s radar with his bone-crushing hits and snarl in the D zone. Depending on how injuries and trades shake out, it’s not out of the realm of possibility that MacWilliam sees time with the Leafs this season.  But with minimal cap space and a long list of contenders for the bottom 2-3 spots on the blueline, he’ll most likely start the year in the Ricoh.” –Michael

“I’ll go off the board and say TJ Brennan. He’s active offensively, mobile, shoots hard – one of those offhanded summer acquisitions that might actually pan out. I’ll put one foot on the MacWilliam bandwagon, too. He’s been great. My god, how refreshing is it to finally have so many young players with both potential and a hunger for opportunity in this organization? Far too long a time coming.” –Matt

“I can’t say I’ve watched a single minute of the Leafs preseason. The weather is still nice and I can’t bring myself to watch meaningless hockey. I think Jonas Gustavsson ruined the preseason for me since he’s the one who taught me that performance in September doesn’t translate to performance during the regular season. You’ve got a handful of junior players fighting for a regular season tryout and they almost always stand out, you’ve got a couple of AHLers who might make the NHL press box instead of the Marlies first line, and overall it’s not that exciting. From what I’ve read it sounds like Andrew MacWilliam is a pleasant surprise, but I’m pretty sure I saw that coming.” –Jon

Who has impressed you the least, or failed to live up to the hype/expectations?

“If you have no expectations of preseason, I guess you can’t really be disappointed. I guess if I’m naming one it would be Greg McKegg. I really like the guy and want to believe we’ll see him breakout at some point. Unfortunately it hasn’t happened yet, but my fingers are crossed that he’ll find his scoring touch on a Marlies team which lacks offense.” –Jon

“Jesse Blacker is entering his third season of professional hockey, and still doesn’t appear ready to ascend to the NHL ranks.  Drafted in the second round in 2009 for his two-way acumen, Blacker has displayed little of either quality for me thus far.” –Michael

“Since it’s only the damn preseason – and I don’t want to further worsen the “Leaf fan” stereotype – I respectfully refuse to answer this question. But Tyler Bozak.” –Matt

– – –

Morning Links

National Post : Leafs’ Colborne must learn to play fourth-line role to earn NHL job – It may be time to put up, or shut up, with Joe Colborne.

Yahoo Sports: Bobby Ryan acknowledges that Randy Carlyle made him better“I get sometimes he was a little too hard on me and that was just being young and not taking things the right way that’s all it was”.

VLM: Leafs training camp presents opportunity for bubble guys like Carter AshtonIf he doesn’t make the team, Michael thinks that Ashton is likely the next forward Nonis and Co. would call up.

HIBS: Ball Washing – Some good points here on how all the praise being directed towards Clarkson is an indirect criticism of Phaneuf. Dion doesn’t get enough respect for what he does.

– – – –

  • Conis

    Bring on the ‘turds tonight!
    Goddamn I love waking up to game days

  • mcloki

    Morning gents. Tonight should be a decent game.

  • Knights2Leafs

    Thanks Aaron.  Nice read.  
    I was very excited last year when the season finally started. I had great expectations which were largely met.  This year I’m pretty blah.  From an intellectual point of view, I see this team as being improved over last years.  From an intuition point of view, I’m really concerned that we could see a big step backwards.  I just don’t have that good of a feeling.
    If and when Franson signs, we may have to go with a reduced roster.  End of the world? No, but concerning how we lost our cap advantage.
    I pointed out yesterday that there are still 13 defensemen in camp; 12 left hand shooters and 1 right handed shooter.  Holzer, the only RH guy has a grand total of 2 NHL games.  Considering how much Carlyle likes to play dmen on their strong side, this just sticks out like a sore thumb.
    I’m torn between wanting Raymond as a depth top 9 guy and allowing the young guys like Ashton to get a shot.  I understand they are not mutually exclusive.
    Interesting that two of last year’s players, Frattin and MacA, struggled to stay in the lineup or at least the top 6, and both appear poised to be top 6 guys on their new teams.  I’m not being critical of the moves that caused them to not be here but I just have this feeling that these guys are going to have big years.
    That all being said, if we come out of the gates and play over .500 hockey, I’m sure I’ll get pretty pumped in a hurry.

  • Wilbur

    Knights2Leafs Holzer has played 24 NHL games not 2. Not that it really makes a difference to your point or the grand scheme of things…

  • Uncle Otis

    ” I can’t say I’ve watched a single minute of the Leafs preseason”
    Jon (Cox) :)
    Maybe it’s time to get Phook on the roundtable !

  • wendelsway1

    Morning All….can’t wait to see the line up for tonight’s game.  Lots of hockey this weekend….looking forward to it.  :)

  • Dink

    wendelsway1 morning

  • Cameron19

    -Keon- We also need to acknowledge that inconsistencies are a part of the game when you’re dealing with injuries, and also the possibility that they were simply being used inappropriately by the coach.  It’s not always a character flaw that causes it, even though a lot of us jump there for some reason.  I’m sure the guy that put Danny Briere on waivers isn’t still trying to convince himself that Briere was just too inconsistent for him.  Having said that, I’m not very concerned with what we “lost” this summer.  Far more concerned with what we can’t get signed. 

    If the Leafs don’t bring back Franson, they pretty much gave up their cap advantage.  The team isn’t improved unless he’s back on the roster. Minor upgrades (Bolland over Grabo, Clarkson over MacA, Bernier over Scrivens), but at the expense of Franson (and depth) pretty much negates the improvement.  Need to find a way to move Liles to get it back.

  • Burtonboy

    wendelsway1 Morning everyone . According to reports yesterday the Sens are icing pretty much their starting line up for Oct. 1st. Its gonna be interesting to see what Carlyle responds with .

  • Cameron19

    TheCanucksnaphook Morning Phook.

  • mcloki

    Burtonboy wendelsway1 Well they are almost down to 2 goalies. I could see Reimer getting the first start and Bernier the next. And I like th fact that Ottawa is going to bring their opening lineup. The Leafs aren’t taking anyone by surprise this year, other teams will be bringing their best.

  • mcloki

    TheCanucksnaphook morning Phook.

  • newkb

    Morning Phook. Great day for a Sens beatdown…

  • Cameron19

    TheCanucksnaphook Cameron19 Yep, I need my hour in the morning to drink coffee, talk hockey, and surf the net before I get going.

  • B_Leaf

    g’morning….call me grumpy but this is the worst article I have read on here.

  • Burtonboy

    All I’m gonna say is just wait till Oct. 1st . People are going to be in for big surprise. Its possible I’m overestimating just what kind of character we have on this team but I don’t think so . We saw the Leafs raise their level of compete in the playoffs last yr and dammed near pulled off a fantastic comeback. That series was huge character builder and should carry over into this season if I’m assessing this properly. I think the Leafs are going to surprise an awful lot of people this yr.

  • Cameron19

    Boone Jenner looking impressive for the Blue Jackets.  They should be pissing off some much richer and perceived to be far better teams in their division this year.

  • wendelsway1

    Burtonboy wendelsway1 Yep, read something about that yesterday….your move, Carlyle.

  • B_Leaf

    TheCanucksnaphook B_Leaf 
    you’ll have to try harder to beat this  :)

  • Cameron19

    TheCanucksnaphook Cameron19 lol, No. Humid and raining.

  • mcloki

    Burtonboy I’d like to be optimistic like you BB, I think it’ll rest a lot on goaltending. and how the D pan out. Getting Franson back in camp is a must.

  • mcloki

    TheCanucksnaphook Burtonboy And just the attitude keeps things in check.Don’t see too many teams rushing to the front of our net anymore. Where in the Wilson days they set up lemonade stands out front of the goalies..

  • B_Leaf

    TheCanucksnaphook Burtonboy 
    I hope you guys are right…I just hope the chemistry from last season hasn’t been broke up. I have to admit I am a little curious to see how things go. Our D is definitely better with Gards healthy and Ranger in there. I still am not sure about our forwards with Grabs, Komarov, Frattin, and MacA gone.

  • Burtonboy

    mcloki Burtonboy Not the slightest bit worried about it . Franson will play unless he wants to go overseas again . Goal tending should be the least of our problems barring injury. One will push the other so whats not to like about that . As for our d I bet there are plenty of teams who would love to have those kind of problems

  • newkb

    Not really caring about the score tonight…just wanting to see some physical engagement and some fisticuffs. If the Sens want to play their regular season lineup, make it a hard night at the office for them…

  • Cameron19

    -Keon- Cameron19 I’m sure you’ll manage to top it within the hour.  Let me know when you get a clue on the Franson front.

  • Cameron19

    TheCanucksnaphook Cameron19 Ha, yea, the myths are pretty inaccurate at times.  We usually have a pretty warm lead-up to Christmas.  Then, almost unfailingly, a snow storm before New Year’s, and then January is everything terrible you’ve heard about Winnipeg, and more.

  • wendelsway1

    Burtonboy Absolutely, Bboy.  Still people questioning whether Leafs can make playoffs in a regular season rather than a shortened one…..not only will we make playoffs, but we’re going to make some noise this season when we take our division.  Love it when the opposition underestimates our team……..’cause I love a good underdog story.  Character, heart, courage….the will to win…..we’ve got it in spades this season.  :)

  • wendelsway1

    newkb I’m thinking bone crushing hits tonight…..want to see a few of their key players pasted to the boards.

  • Cameron19

    TheCanucksnaphook Cameron19 Ha, nah, that’s a stretch. Mosquitoes aren’t really that much worse than anywhere else.  If you’re outside when the Sun is setting, they’ll be crazy for an hour.  Same as everywhere.  What I’m tired of is the fucking wasps in September.  They’re everywhere.

  • dlb eh

    TheCanucksnaphook 
    get by?  yes.  team will be tough to beat still with good goaltending, good team speed, more experience and more talent than we’re used to.
    with Franson, he’s another weapon and another steady player who makes us better and deeper, of course.

  • dlb eh

    Cameron19 TheCanucksnaphook 
    i hope you’re rearing some good Leafs fans out there

  • Cameron19

    TheCanucksnaphook It will force us to keep Rielly and play people off their strong sides. I don’t like it. Only the Leafs would have a D put up points like Franson did and then just discard him.

  • Great Dane

    TheCanucksnaphook That depends on the alternative and the alternative I am afraid is Liles.
    Rielly is just too young to take on that role this season. Liles somehow has to be moved, if we could  pay a European team most of the salary to take him off the roster (don’t know if that is legal) it would  be a solution

  • Great Dane

    Cameron19 TheCanucksnaphook  That would indeed be crazy.

  • B_Leaf

    TheCanucksnaphook 
    Well yes, but why even bother. The fans here pay huge and deserve the best.
    With Franson in there we have a very deep and well balanced top six. Good size, good speed, plenty of offense, good shots, good D, and young and getting better. We probably don’t have a norris winner but we are solid everywhere.

  • Conis

    TheCanucksnaphook  
    I asked myself the same question as I have given up on Franson (unfortunately, I’m a big fan).  Perhaps Ranger can bring much of the same as Franson did?

  • dlb eh

    TheCanucksnaphook dlb eh 
    i think they were too, but i think everything has improved this year.
    consider no Ranger last year, no healthy Gunnarsson, and a marginal Gardiner, for instance.  each of these players make the entire group a little better if they are a hint as good as what they seem.

  • B_Leaf

    TheCanucksnaphook dlb eh 
    Fraser and Franson were a huge part of our success.

  • dlb eh

    TheCanucksnaphook dlb eh 
    Phaneuf and his partner still get the big assignment.
    Fraser and his partner still play key minutes and on the PK
    last year we didnt have another pair to squeeze between those two, this year it seems we might.
    Holzer wasn’t very good last year, but he’s a year older…you never know.  MacWilliam has outplayed Fraser so far in camp (yes he has) but Fraser has shown that physical side that will keep him relevant.

  • Cameron19

    dlb eh TheCanucksnaphook We still don’t know for sure what we have in Ranger though, and i don’t think we should just assume he jumps up into the top 4.  Is it likely? Many seem to think so, but to discard Franson on that possibility seems ill-advised.

    The Franson doubters love to point out that he didn’t play against top competition – and fair enough.  But you know what, in that role, he dominated.  Why would you take him out of it or assume someone else will dominate that role in the same way?

  • Great Dane

    TheCanucksnaphook and rightly so.
    Adding Ranger improves the defense, but missing Franson do not.
    The Liles contract was Burke mistake. Spending 3.875 million per year 4 years on a player that just had come back from a serious injury was not a wise move.

  • http://i.imgur.com/MyKj5C3.gif ingy56

    B_Leaf Morning Grumpy

  • wendelsway1

    Cameron19 -Keon- Hmmmm…….guess I need to get a clue as well…….IMO, Franson is not the be all and end all.  Be nice to have him on board but,  we will survive and will win our share of games without him.  One player does not a team make.

  • Burtonboy

    TheCanucksnaphook Great Dane After as far as I remember

  • http://i.imgur.com/MyKj5C3.gif ingy56

    TheCanucksnaphook …and how are the Ryerson Rams going to fit him in under their cap?

  • Cameron19

    wendelsway1 Cameron19 -Keon- Our team gets worse if we lose him for futures.  Hard to argue that.  If you take away a guy who scored top 6 points among defenders, you got worse.  That’s all I’m saying.  If you think losing him doesn’t effect us, you’re kidding yourself, in my opinion.

  • Great Dane

    Burtonboy TheCanucksnaphook Great Dane Liles got injured in December and the contract is from January if I am not mistaken.
    Cam would know for sure

  • Cameron19

    Great Dane TheCanucksnaphook The concussion is an over-stated part of the equation, in my opinion.  He worked his way out of his concussion funk before the end of the 2012 season.  Liles would be fine if Carlyle would give him the opportunity – but he won’t, so he has to go.

  • theacs1966

    Wilbur Knights2Leafs He has 2 NHL goals!