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.

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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

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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.

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