Mark Bell’s career in Toronto seems to be all but over. The 28-year old from Ontario joined the Leafs along with Vesa Toskala at last year’s draft shrouded under the cloud of an impending DUI sentence. With that cleared up this past summer, many Leaf fans hoped for a revival of the Mark Bell that scored 25 goals in Chicago during the 2005-2006 season. However, it was quite evident that Bell never managed to put it together in training camp or in the exhibition games that the Leafs played. His apparent lethargy on ice (not necessarily reflective of his actual attitude) did not fit in with the speed and tenacity displayed by the other members of the forward corps-one of whom he would have been taking a roster spot from if he had stayed on. Simply put, while the unachieved upside is still tantalizing, one must put stock in the coaching staff’s choice in this matter and figure that Bell deserves to be exactly where he is-starting the year with the Marlies or on another team that claims him off waivers.
Management also got closer to their desired starting lineup by sending down Richard Petiot, Jamie Sifers, Robbie Earl, Kyle Rogers and Justin Pogge. Combined with the waiving of Mark Bell, this leaves the current roster at 27 players, with a NHL maximum of 23 once the season begins. That being said, injuries to players such as Jeff Finger and Nikolai Kulemin will open up (possibly) temporary spots in the lineup. Regardless, based on the final preseason games and interviews with the coaching staff, one would have to assume that the final lineup (after the return of the injured players) will look something like this:
Extras: Devereaux, Hollweg/Mitchell
Extras: Van Ryn/White
– Luke Schenn will likely start with the big club in lieu of the injured Jeff Finger (with different defense pairings), but will be sent down to Kelowna before or at the 9 games mark based on all the comments by Cliff Fletcher and Ron Wilson.
– Players such as Staffan Kronwall and Jeremy Williams will have to be sent down to the Marlies, but will definitely be first on the list of call-ups.
– While Ron Wilson has commented on the value of a player such as Hollweg (in terms of energy and a “spark-plug” nature), he has also crooned over the camp that Mitchell had. As such, one must think there will be a potential rotation depending on our opponents. Furthermore, Mitchell will apparently start on a line with Stajan and Steen in replacement of the injured Kulemin.
– Ian White was given the chance to show his versatility by playing on the wing on two occasions. It was far from a failed experiment, but his future is still in doubt in Toronto and one has to think that something will be done with either he or Van Ryn. This is simply due to the fact that Devereaux, Hollweg/Mitchell, White and Van Ryn is one warm body too many in the press box.
All in all, Leaf nation is really not sure what to expect from this 2008-2009 incarnation of their favourite team. A horrible preseason record notwithstanding, one must think that acclimation factors (Wilson’s system taking effect, chemistry developing amongst forwards and defense, Toskala getting used to his new blueline corps, etc.) will only slowly begin to take effect. We’ll see many tightly contested one-goal games and a hopeful reduction in the amount of blown leads. Either way, excitement overrides all the fearful anticipations for now as the hockey season is finally about to start.