Despite dramatic changes in the offseason, I can assure you that the Leafs will start the preseason with a fortified bench. The current roster on Mapleleafs.com consists of 24 forwards and 10 defensemen, however, only 12 forwards and six defensemen can play.
First off, there is a handful of forwards that we know are going to be in the lineup for sure. Those are Antropov, Blake, Devereaux, Moore, Ponikarovsky, Stajan, and Steen.
Then come those forwards like Bell, Tlusty, and Williams, who all managed to play some games last season, and will probably be sitting on the bench ready to play in game one against the Red Wings. That's 10 forwards right there.
With Mats's and Darcy's absence, there's room for two more forwards. Instead of picking the top two forwards from the remaining roster, I'll figure out how the lines are going to work and what type of forwards are needed.
First off, we know Antropov and Blake are going to be on the first line, and that Matt Stajan (who will most likely also be the team's captain) would make a nice center for that line.
That leaves us with Devereaux, Moore, Ponikarovsky, Steen, Bell, Tlusty, and Williams. Devereaux, Moore, and Williams are all centers, so it fits nicely. Moore would be the second line center and Devereaux would lead the third line. Williams, who would be playing his 21st NHL game against the Red Wings, would make a nice fourth line center.
Now we hit a bump. Bell, Ponikarovsky, Steen, and Tlusty are all left wingers. With Jason Blake occupying one of the spaces, there are only three spaces available at left wing. I think Jiri Tlusty would be able to take this opportunity to step up, and get more ice time, even if it meant playing to the right of Dominic Moore.
That leaves us with Ponikarovsky, Steen, and Bell. Alex Steen seems to improve every year, and even got to play on the top line last season. I believe he's earned a good reputation with the Leafs (and the hockey world) and deserves to play on line two.
Ponikarovsky wins, no-contest, for the third line. I don't mean to show disrespect toward Mark Bell, but Alexi Ponikarovsky has proved over time that he is a strong forward and can really contribute to the team. This leaves Bell on the fourth line.
Ok, so our current lines look like this:
Now let's look back at some of the changes made by Cliff Fletcher. Niklas Hagman stands out of the crowd, so he will most likely be placed on the starting roster. Seeing Hagman play in Dallas, I believe he has the ability to play as a right winger, so I will move him to a right wing spot.
This is where a change can be made. We can bump Tlusty down, and insert Hagman into the second line. Jiri Tlusty is no doubt a great player, but I think Hagman would be a better add to the second line. This would leave us with this:
For the remaining spot, the Leafs could call up a player from the minors, or they could play the newly acquired Mikhail Grabovski. He plays center, so I'm sure he could play as a right winger. If not, then he can play in the minors for a while, and the Leafs can call up a right winger or a left winger who's willing to switch up. However, for my lineup, we'll pretend he doesn't mind, just like we did for Hagman and Tlusty.
To me, the roster looks pretty good, but it's not completely done. We still need defensive pairs.
According to Mapleleafs.com, the current roster has 10 defensemen. I'll just use the same method I used for the forwards. First off, we know Anton Stralman and Jonas Frogren are going to be together, so we have one pair right there.
I can see Kaberle working together with Kubina. They're both from the same country and they seem to have good chemistry, so I think they'll make a nice pair. Next, I want to have Carlo Colaiacovo paired with Jeff Finger. Colaiacovo seems to always get in trouble when a little physical play is needed, and I think Finger can provide that support and let Colaiacovo play some hockey.
The rest of the defensemen, such as Van Ryn, are new to the Leafs, and I haven't seen many of them play, so I'm unsure about their chemistry with other players and their style of play. Ian White can rotate with Colaiacovo if needed.
First we did forwards, which were probably the most complicated to sort. Next we did defensemen, who were easier, but not necessarily easy. Now we have goalies.
Vesa Toskala will probably be the starter, with Curtis Joseph backing him up. However, CuJo will probably get to play more games than Andrew Raycroft did last season. In accordance to the Mapleleafs.com roster, James Reimer will be playing if needed.
I think the Leafs can have a good season, probably a better one than last year, seeing how they have improved in all areas. This is what my finished lineup looks like:
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