As Leafs head to camp, big questions remain
From first-line centre to Phaneuf’s new partner, key positions up for grabs
The Leafs open their training camp Thursday with a whole new look in the front office, and as much uncertainty with the makeup of the roster as there’s been in recent memory.
Here is a look at five questions surrounding the club as it opens camp with physicals before a three-day trip to Halifax.
Who will be on the top line?
The Leafs will open camp with two strong candidates for the first-line centre job — Nazem Kadri and Tyler Bozak — and could end up with 1A, 1B setup in which the top two lines will dictate the ice time by their play. Kadri will likely start with Joffrey Lupul, and Bozak with James van Riemsdyk. Those pairings had chemistry and success over the past three seasons.
What are William Nylander’s chances?
It should be difficult for Nylander to make the roster, unless, as coach Mike Babcock says, he “wins” a job out of camp. But the Leafs will be desperate for offence and Nylander certainly has potential for points. He progressed slowly but steadily in the AHL last year, and could be a player who simply develops better at the NHL level than the minors.
Who will be the top goalie?
Jonathan Bernier and James Reimer remain solid as friends and team- mates, but the battle for minutes could, and should, be more intense than at any other time during their respective tenures in Toronto. Both are playing for new contracts, and while Bernier still has a grip on the No. 1role, he will always have Reimer right in his rear-view mirror.
What will the defensive pairings be?
Team captain Dion Phaneuf is looking for a new partner — so do you break up Morgan Rielly and Jake Gardiner, and send one of them to play with Phaneuf? Stephane Robidas and Roman Polak should make a solid second or third pairing, but there definitely appears to be at least one opening in the top six. Interestingly, Mark Fraser, who was solid for the club two seasons ago, is in camp on a tryout.
What will the Babcock effect be?
Every player has long since known new coach Mike Babcock expects the team to be the “fittest” in the league, to work hard, and to compete at all times. But Babcock’s structure- and possession-based systems will be totally new to most players, including veterans of the past two to three seasons. The learning curve will need to be short and quick if Toronto wants to open the season strongly and keep things sane for their goalies.