TORONTO – Decisions, decisions.
Plenty still await the Toronto Maple Leafs before they open the regular season Tuesday night in Montreal. How the roster comes together by then is the $64.3-million question.
Paramount to everything is the matter of getting under that limit by Monday’s 5 p.m. roster deadline. They took steps toward that Sunday by placing defenceman John-Michael Liles and five other players on waivers Sunday.
Those moves, which included T.J. Brennan and Korbinian Holzer being waived with the purpose of sending them to the AHL’s Toronto Marlies, seem to make it more likely that 19-year-old defenceman Morgan Rielly will start the season with the Leafs.
He doesn’t doubt being ready to play at this level.
“I feel like I am there, but that’s up to the coaches if they want me to play this year or not,” Rielly said Saturday night. “They have a goal to reach, which is to play in the playoffs again. That’s what they ultimately want. If they choose to keep me or to put me back to junior, obviously I’ll understand. I’ll have to wait and see, though.”
It was Liles’ plan to wait and see about his future, given that he can’t control much beyond his play. The 32-year-old has a cap hit of US$3.875-million, $925,000 of which would come off the Leafs’ books if he cleared waivers.
Toronto has a bevy of NHL defencemen ahead of Liles: captain Dion Phaneuf, Carl Gunnarsson, Cody Franson, Jake Gardiner, Mark Fraser, Paul Ranger and potentially Rielly. He conceded this was a very competitive training camp.
“There hasn’t been a camp in my NHL career where it’s your position set in stone,” Liles said. “It just makes it even tougher when you’ve got kids pushing you. You’ve got some great, young blue-liners in this organization, and they should be proud of the camp they had.”
Rielly had one assist in six pre-season games and did not look out of place.
Asked if he thought Rielly was NHL-ready, coach Randy Carlyle said he was “very close.” Yet unlike the Montreal Canadiens, who announced that rookies Michael Bournival and Jarred Tinordi made the team, Carlyle didn’t make it clear one way or the other.
“To say that, unequivocally, he’s ready to play in the NHL is a tough question to ask and a tougher question to answer at this point,” he said.
Pressed more on Rielly’s immediate future, Carlyle said: “You’re trying to bleed something out of me that I’m not going to bleed to you.”
Nor was Carlyle going to bleed out any information as to who’s going to start in goal for Tuesday’s season opener at the Canadiens. James Reimer and Jonathan Bernier are expected to split back-to-back games out of the gate, though Carlyle called choosing his opening-night starter probably the “toughest decision” that still must be made.
Reimer went 2-1 with a 2.56 goals-against average and a .923 save percentage in the pre-season, while Bernier went 1-1 with a 3.75 GAA and an .891 save percentage.
“I feel like I’ve accomplished what I wanted to accomplish, and I feel pretty good,” Reimer said. “It is obviously a tryout, but you want to be ready.”