They’ll tease their fans by waiting until the 3 p.m. Tuesday deadline before submitting their roster to the league.
“Based on all the injuries, I don’t think there’ll be a lot of decisions that have to be made,” head coach Paul Maurice said after off-ice workouts Monday at Air Canada Centre.
There were 28 names in play after journeyman defenceman Brad Brown was placed on waivers for the purpose of returning him to the AHL Marlies. Teams can carry a maximum of 23 players on their active NHL roster.
The number drops to 25 with Staffan Kronwall, Carlo Colaiacovo and Brendan Bell injured and unavailable for the season opener at home Wednesday against the Ottawa Senators.
It appears that farmhands Ian White, Jay Harrison and Andy Wozniewski will join Bryan McCabe, Tomas Kaberle, Hal Gill and Pavel Kubina on the big-league defence corps.
Harrison says he’d prefer being an extra defenceman getting sparse ice time with the Leafs than be back in the AHL playing 25 minutes a game.
“You have to start somewhere,” he says. “It’s very difficult to break into the best league in the world and get the same ice time you got at the league below.
“So, I’m willing to put in the time, no matter what it takes, to get my feet wet and to become experienced at this level. If it starts there, that’s where it starts, and you try to progress forward each and every day.”
Forward combinations used by Maurice in the last pre-season game had Mats Sundin between Kyle Wellwood and Alexei Ponikarovsky, Mike Peca centring Chad Kilger and Alex Steen, John Pohl between Darcy Tucker and Nik Antropov, and Matt Stajan centring Alexander Suglobov and Wade Belak.
Now it gets tricky.
Antropov injured his right ankle Sunday and Maurice is unsure if he’ll be fit to skate against the Senators.
Jeff O’Neill, Bates Battaglia and Ben Ondrus are extra bodies. One of them would take Antropov’s spot if he can’t suit up. Ondrus is an unlikely choice because he’s recovering from an injury.
GM John Ferguson is trying to trade either of the backup goalies, Mikael Tellqvist and J.S. Aubin, and there have been no takers. He doesn’t need two behind Andrew Raycroft on big-league contracts. If he could swing a deal, a skater stays.
While most camp observers concede Pohl a spot, he’s not taking anything for granted.
“I’ll lay low and hope my cell phone doesn’t ring,” he said.
He wouldn’t be heartbroken to be sent back to the Marlies to await another chance, he said.
“Kyle Wellwood didn’t make the team out of camp last year and look what happened with him,” said Pohl, alluding to Wellwood’s current status as a left-winger on the first line. “Making the team out of camp isn’t life or death.
“There are trades, injuries, callups, waivers . . . it’s important to be in the NHL but whatever happens (Tuesday) isn’t going to change my life dramatically.”
Sundin says the additions of Peca, Kubina, Gill and Raycroft patched holes Ferguson most needed to fill.
“We scored a lot of goals last year but we didn’t keep the puck out of our net,” says Sundin. “I think we addressed our weaknesses over the summer and I think that is going to make us a better team.
“Our penalty killing is definitely going to be better.”
Maurice is expected to up Sundin’s ice time but it’s not a pressing issue with the Swede.
“I’m at the stage of my career I want to be part of a winning team,” he says. “Whether I play 18 or 22 minutes, whatever, we’ll see how it goes.
“I’m just excited to get the season going.”
Toronto won only three of its eight pre-season games, but McCabe is optimistic.
“We’ve got a new look this year, a fresh start,” he says. “Paul has brought a different outlook to the team – a lot quicker pace, a lot harder practices, foot movement at all times.
“Paul is honest and straightforward, tells you exactly what he wants from you and he’s holding people accountable, which is a good thing. We do something wrong, we’re going to hear about it. That’s how you learn. That’s how you build trust in a group atmosphere, knowing everyone is going to do his job. It seems to be working.
“We’re starting to build some trust in the room. We’re working hard, doing the right things. I have a great outlook for this team this year.”