Puck Set to Drop on Maple Leafs Training Camp
TORONTO — – The Toronto franchise’s 100th anniversary regular season is sure to be a huge production, with 24/7 media coverage, multiple story lines and plenty of self-aggrandizing bells and whistles along the way.
Training camp? Not so much.
The Maple Leafs begin their centennial on Thursday, with camp medicals eclipsed by the World Cup, which has taken away their building, their head coach and players such as No. 1 overall pick Auston Matthews. The Leafs will be in town less than a day before flying to Halifax for five days of workouts, concluding with their exhibition schedule opener against Ottawa there on Monday.
Despite the absentees, there’ll be some compelling issues to deal with in the short term:
1. What’s going on with Joffrey Lupul?
The team has added one more day of intrigue by not releasing the camp roster until Thursday morning.
Lupul departed the lineup in February for sports hernia surgery, his latest medical mishap. With two years at $5.25 million US still to run on his deal, the 32-year-old winger (33 on Friday) is too expensive for cap purposes and perceived to be too broken down to be part of the ‘Shanaplan’.
But he’s also a proud man who loves being part of the Leaf/Toronto vibe and worked hard through the off-season to come back. While general manager Lou Lamoriello has so far stick-handled around Lupul’s status, if the latter passes his physical, the team will either have to use him or come up with a creative way to trade or bury the contract, with or without his co-operation.
Defenceman Stephane Robidas, who can’t be bought out because of his lingering leg injury, will not be dry-docked all season again. The 39-year-old is now a part-time player development consultant.
2. Who is injured heading into camp?
The biggest concern is with new projected No. 1 goalie Frederik Andersen’s upper body injury, stemming from a collision in Denmark’s pre-Olympic qualifying game against Slovenia on Sept. 2. The Leafs said at the time that their $25 million stopper could be out up to a month, but should be ready for opening night Oct. 12 in Ottawa. Not a serious injury. but what would a Toronto training camp be without some kind of net intrigue?
The Leafs signed Jhonas Enroth as back-up, but he’s currently with Sweden as a spare behind Henrik Lundqvist and Jacob Markstrom. The Leafs were talking to KHLer Jeff Glass about coming on a PTO to main camp. Marlie hopefuls Garret Sparks, Antoine Bibeau and Kasimir Kaskisuo round out the goalies in Andersen’s absence.
Nathan Horton (degenerative back condition) and his salary come off the books again when the season starts and defenceman Jared Cowen has an October grievance hearing, arguing his hip issue was not healed when the Leafs initiated a buyout.
3. Who’s not coming to camp at the start?
As mentioned the World Cup is occupying Babcock and assistant Andrew Brewer (Team Canada’s video coach) so Jim Hiller will handle the Halifax portion.
With the U.S. eliminated from the Cup, winger James van Riemsdyk shouldn’t be far away once the Americans play their third game, ditto for Leo Komarov unless Finland defies the mathematical odds against it.
The wait might be longer for Matthews and defenceman Morgan Rielly, who are with Team North America. There is plenty of interest now in defenceman Nikita Zaitsev, who is helping the Russians stay alive in the Cup, while defenceman Roman Polak remains with the Czech Republic.
It’s expected any breather offered the World Cup Leafs between the end of tourney and the workouts in Halifax will be addressed later this week.
4. When all players report, which newcomers will contend for jobs?
Matthews immediately is in the conversation at centre with Nazem Kadri and Tyler Bozak. Babcock’s plan was to move William Nylander from centre to Matthews’ wing to start.
Mitch Marner will fight for a right wing spot, with the complication of being unable to play with the Marlies if he needs more seasoning. Most expect the Leafs will find a way to keep him.
Zaitsev’s play at the Cup and good schooling in the KHL has already created buzz that he won’t just make the team, but figure in the top group with Morgan Rielly, Matt Hunwick, Roman Polak and Jake Gardiner. But don’t count out Connor Carrick and Frank Corrado, who put in weeks of work at the MCC and many hours with skating instructor Barb Underhill.
Winger Matt Martin has added some bottom six muscle and will ride shotgun for the kids if things get rough. Veteran Brandon Prust would be looking for the same role, but is on a PTO and trying to come back from an ankle injury.
5. Which Leafs impressed at the three-game NHL rookie tournament last week?
Just as Matthews didn’t light it up at development camp because of bad puck luck, Marner was held to an assist in his two starts. But he showed plenty of creativity, especially on what looked like dead-end rushes to excite the Leafs further about the CHL player of the year.
Winger Tobias Lindberg tantalized the Senators and now it’s the Leafs who are looking for him to make the jump. But there are young forwards such as Connor Brown, Nikita Soshnikov and Zach Hyman who got a head start with the Leafs late last year. Defenders Andrew Nielsen and Travis Dermott, playing together and then apart, showed lots of maturity for 2015 draft picks and should at least be an important part of the Marlies. Two dark horses with speed in the rookie tourney were 2015 forwards Dmytro Timashov and Nikita Korostelev.