Preview and GDT: Preseason Game #4 – Maple Leafs at Sabres (7 p.m., CBC)

(Bill Wippert/NHLI via Getty Images)

The first Hockey Night in Canada of the season. Feels good man.

Here’s the rundown of the storylines going into tonight’s matchup vs. the Sabres:

– Riding in on a hot streak of 2 goals and 4 points in his first two preseason appearances, Mason Raymond will play beside Tyler Bozak and Phil Kessel. Even though it won’t stick past this game, Raymond and Kessel’s skating abilities sharing the ice together should be fun to watch. Doug McLean’s report of an all-but-signed $925,000 one-year contract are apparently less than accurate according to the more reliable insiders, but the two sides are said to be talking. Darren Dreger has suggested Raymond could command “well over a million,” but I’ve developed a Dreger rule for projected salary whereby I reduce his predicted amount by at least 25%. If true, though, Raymond would probably be signing with a different team. It would be a clever move by Raymond to sign this PTO if he can parlay it into a better deal than he was being offered in the off season, after tearing up the preseason as the most motivated proven NHLer on the ice.

– Big night for the bubble boys. David Broll will play alongside Trevor Smith and Nikolai Kulemin. The Leafs are evaluating some cheap depth options here with Broll (590k) Trevor Smith (550k), Troy Bodie (600k) all in the lineup. All are options available for filling out a 22-man roster. Bodie will play alongside Joe Colborne and Carter Ashton while Smith will play with Jamie Devane and McClement.

– Colborne has looked a bit quicker, which is promising, but needs to make more of an impact. I don’t think he showed much in his opportunity beside Clarkson and JvR to start last game. Due to his cheap contract (600K) and waiver eligibility, Colborne has some leash here that he needs to take advantage of.

– The Leafs defence has five of the 6 regulars expected to be on the blueline come opening night on October (depends if you’re considering Fraser a lock or not). Whether the 6th defenceman is Franson, Liles, Rielly, MacWilliam or tonight’s incumbent – Stuart Percy – remains to be seen. Even if the group seems light on proven top 4 D, this type of depth in options is a pretty nice thing to have and suggests there is potential for internal improvement on the backend this season. Expected top pairing Dion Phaneuf and Carl Gunnarsson will play together while Paul Ranger will be playing beside Jake Gardiner on the second tandem. Mark Fraser will line up beside Percy.

– Percy will have a tough time cracking the opening night roster due to waiver status and the numbers game, but he seems to have climbed the depth chart this training camp and could have himself in line for an NHL stint at some point this season should injuries arise. I’ve been pretty encouraged by what I’ve seen from game one of the rookie tournament onwards from Percy; he’ll have a long career in this league thanks to his ability to consistently make the right play. He’s not flashy, but his smarts and ability to limit mistakes should allow his simple-but-effective game to take him where he needs to go.

– James Reimer is expected to play the full 60 minutes tonight. James Mirtle said on TSN 1050 this afternoon that he expects Jonathan Bernier to start on opening night; if the inference from the media as to the strong likelihood of Bernier starting game #1 matches the organization’s opinion at this stage of the proceedings, it’s more than a little ridiculous. I would hope that the organization is waiting to evaluate full game performances from these goalies while playing behind something closer to the real lineup before making the decision.

– Joffrey Lupul practiced at full contact on a line with Nazem Kadri and David Clarkson yesterday, but will sit this one out. In terms of discovering their timing while avoiding injury risk, the right number of warmup games for established pros like Lupul is probably 2 or 3 games anyway. There’s a lot of sense in being extra careful.

Maple Leafs Pre-Season Lines

Maple Leafs Pre-Season Lines vs Buffalo Sabres