For those counting down, there are 54 days until NHL Training Camps open for physicals on September 11th. Exactly one month later, on October 11 the regular season opens in North America. Technically the regular season begins on October 7 when the Nashville Predators take on the San Jose Sharks in Prague, Czech Republic, but only for those two teams.
While we are sure the Maple Leafs aren’t done dealing yet, we decided to look at how we see the lines looking if the season were to start today. For this exercise, we have two qualifications. First, the roster must consist of only signed players, so a player like Rasmus Sandin, who is not signed, is not on the roster. Second, the roster has to fit under the salary cap.
The Forward Lines
Line #1: Michael Bunting-Auston Matthews-Mitch Marner
This line was one of the best, if not the best line in the NHL in the regular season in 2021-22. We don’t expect them to be broken up.
Line #2: Alex Kerfoot-John Tavares-William Nylander
This line had no trouble scoring goals last season. However, they did have problems keeping the puck out of their own net. If Kerfoot is not traded, and we look at all the other options available to head coach Sheldon Keefe, Kerfoot is still the best fit for this line.
Line #3: Calle Jarnkrok-David Kampf-Pierre Engvall
With two-thirds of this line returning and the addition of Jarnkrok, we expect this line to be just as good defensively as it was in 2021-22.
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Line #4: Nick Robertson-Adam Gaudette-Nicolas Aube-Kubel
There are many options for the fourth line, some of which will be sorted out in training camp. As a result, it’s difficult to know exactly who will be on the line come game one of the regular season. We came up with this option because we feel Gaudette is a decently strong defensive player; and, Nick Robertson needs to play in the NHL, even if it is only on the fourth line. The Maple Leafs need to see what they have in him. The one thing working against Robertson is that he’s waiver exempt. Aube-Kubel is a prototypical fourth-line player that provides grit and a strong work ethic.
Wayne Simmonds or Kyle Clifford could also be on this line. Simmonds does have a modified No-Trade-Claus where he submits a 10-team list of places he won’t play. We believe the Maple Leafs might deal him if they don’t think they have a roster spot for him. Clifford, is well, Clifford. If the team feels they need a bigger physical presence on that line he could find his way there. Denis Malgin could also end up on this line if he has a good training camp.
The Defensive Pairings
Pair #1: Morgan Rielly-T.J. Brodie
This is our idea of the best first pair that Keefe could put together. Each of these players is capable of playing 25 minutes a game against other teams’ top players.
Pair #2: Jake Muzzin-Timothy Liljegren
The only possible weakness we see with this pair is Liljegren. We aren’t sure he is ready for top-four minutes. Another option would be to swap Liljegren and Holl, reunite the Muzzin/Holl pairing, and hope they don’t struggle like they did playing together in 2021-22.
Pair #3: Mark Giordano-Justin Holl
This is actually a very strong third pair in our view. To be honest, after the success they had playing together last season, we would rather see Liljegren paired with Giordano on the third pair. But, that would leave Muzzin and Holl together on the second line which, as we stated above, would not be ideal.
Matt Murray-Ilya Samsonov
The Maple Leafs will have to treat Murray’s usage with kid gloves and try to figure out how to manage his physical load. We don’t think Samsonov is 100% guaranteed a spot on the roster; but, because of his $1.8 million salay-cap hit, we feel he has the inside track on the job.
We could see a scenario where if Samsonov struggles in training camp and either Erik Kallgren or Joseph Woll has an excellent camp that one of them could win the spot. We can see Keefe relying heavily on Samsonov, or whomever, in the early going while they work out Murray’s load management.
The Salary-Cap Hit
This lineup gives the Maple Leafs the minimum 20-player roster and comes with a cap hit of $82,377,283, leaving them with $122,717 in cap space.
It doesn’t matter how many times we look at this roster and try to figure out possible line combinations and defensive pairings, we still think something needs to happen and will happen on the trade front.
We guess we will just have to wait and see.
[Note: I want to thank long-time Maple Leafs’ fan Stan Smith for collaborating with me on this post. Stan’s Facebook profile can be found here.]
The Old Prof (Jim Parsons, Sr.) taught for more than 40 years in the Faculty of Education at the University of Alberta. He’s a Canadian boy, who has two degrees from the University of Kentucky and a doctorate from the University of Texas. He is now retired on Vancouver Island, where he lives with his family. His hobbies include playing with his hockey cards and simply being a sports fan – hockey, the Toronto Raptors, and CFL football (thinks Ricky Ray personifies how a professional athlete should act).
If you wonder why he doesn’t use his real name, it’s because his son – who’s also Jim Parsons – wrote for The Hockey Writers first and asked Jim Sr. to use another name so readers wouldn’t confuse their work.
Because Jim Sr. had worked in China, he adopted the Mandarin word for teacher (老師). The first character lǎo (老) means “old,” and the second character shī (師) means “teacher.” The literal translation of lǎoshī is “old teacher.” That became his pen name. Today, other than writing for The Hockey Writers, he teaches graduate students research design at several Canadian universities.
He looks forward to sharing his insights about the Toronto Maple Leafs and about how sports engages life more fully. His Twitter address is https://twitter.com/TheOldProf