The Defence and the Goaltending Sep 28, 2014; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Toronto Maple Leafs defenseman Cody Franson (4) is assisted from the ice by team mates Morgan Rielly (44) and Peter Holland (24) after he goes down heavily following a hit in the third period at Air Canada Centre. Maple Leafs won 3-2. Mandatory Credit: Peter Llewellyn-USA TODAY Sports
We know who will be patrolling the blueline this year but the uncertainty lies with the pairings. Who is going to play with Dion Phaneuf? Is it Stephane Robidas? Jake Gardiner? Morgan Rielly? Cody Franson? Roman Polak? This is a big problem for Randy Carlyle for one major reason. For years Phaneuf has been used to playing with Carl Gunnarsson and it would have been a good idea to give him a chance to get accustomed to his new partner. The issue was that the partner that they had for Phaneuf was not available to play yet. Stephane Robidas had not been cleared to play in the preseason until this week and he will make his preseason debut against the Detroit Red Wings as Phaneuf’s partner on the top pairing. If Phaneuf and Robidas are not a good match together this will leave a big question for Randy Carlyle to figure out and unfortunately he does not have many options. Cody Franson is dealing with an injury at the moment and I would not trust him to handle top defensive minutes full time. Roman Polak has not played enough as a top player so it is unlikely that the Leafs want to play him in that role and play on the penalty kill. Morgan Rielly may develop into that player but it is too early to tell whether or not he is ready for that role.
Sep 24, 2014; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Toronto Maple Leafs defenceman Cody Franson (4) congratulates defenceman Jake Gardiner (51) on his goal against the Ottawa Senators during the second period at the Air Canada Centre. Mandatory Credit: John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports
That leaves only Jake Gardiner and with the way he has played the last two years it might be time to let this young player play a bigger role. Both Dave Nonis and Randy Carlyle have said that Rielly and Gardiner will have to pick up their game and play a bigger role. This could be the best chance to let Gardiner show us what he is truly capable of. His time on ice (TOI) have increased which shows that Carlyle is willing to play him but he will have to limit his mistakes in the defensive zone especially against the opponents top lines.
Sep 28, 2014; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Toronto Maple Leafs defenceman Korbinian Holzer (55) reaches to shut down attack by Buffalo Sabres Cody Hodgson (19) in the third period at Air Canada Centre. Maple Leafs won 3-2. Mandatory Credit: Peter Llewellyn-USA TODAY Sports
It will be interesting to see if a player from the Marlies gets a chance to play on defence this year. The top three players from the Marlies that come to mind are Stuart Percy, Korbinian Holzer and Petter Granberg. If Franson is still out on opening night one of these players could be given some playing time but in the mean time Franson anticipates on playing on opening night.
Dec 27, 2013; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Toronto Maple Leafs goalie James Reimer congratulates goalie Jonathan Bernier (45) after defeating the Buffalo Sabres at Air Canada Centre. The Maple Leafs beat the Sabres 4-3. Mandatory Credit: Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sports
The goaltending situation is a no brainer. Jonathan Bernier will start and James Reimer will back him up or be the 1B goalie. Hopefully Bernier is able to remain healthy because the goaltending in the Marlies is very inexperienced at the NHL level so hopefully the Leafs do not deal with any injuries in net. If Reimer is traded then hopefully the Leafs either get a goalie in return or sign a veteran goalie during the year.
My prediction for this season is uncertain because the Leafs have a lot of unknowns. They could make the playoffs or be in a top 10 draft situation again. If it comes down to the team being in a position to get a decent draft pick I will not complain. I just do not want the team be in the ninth spot and pick in the mid rounds when they could have had a better pick. Hopefully Brendan Shanahan will be monitoring this and make sure the teams future is in good hands.
This is my opening night lineup prediction:
Holzer/Percy (depending on injury to Franson)
Let me know what you think about the lineup and how it stacks to your predictions.