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Confetti from another Stanley Cup parade in another city not named Toronto has long since been swept off the streets, and the off-season adjustments are well underway.
Sheldon Keefe attended his first personal draft as Maple Leafs coach ahead of his first “normal” season in the position.
But, says Keepe, not much has changed.
Disappointment from another too-quick postseason, another squandered home-ice advantage, still swirling in his head with all those potential line combos.
But the positives gleaned from his group’s record-breaking regular season and nail-biting playoff tests from the two-time champions haven’t changed either.
Keefe threw himself into the Leafs summer improvement project with optimism, driven by “the belief we have in our group and how close we feel we are to beating a very, very good team.” But motivated because, well, “we failed to finish it once again.”
The hope is that a combination of bitterness, narrow defeat and the sweet and infectious belief that the hockey club is on the brink of breaking through has led to minimal changes to the roster.
Outside of the new guys on the pad, most of the players who report to the Ford Performance Center for Wednesday’s medical will be familiar with each other because of their long summer.
Keefe is right. No, not much has changed.
Some tinkering here and there, starting this week at camp, and maybe the results will be.
Current salary limit space:$0
General manager:Kyle Dubas
Head coach:Sheldon Keefe
Assistant coach:Spencer Carbery, Dean Chynoweth, Manny Malhotra, Curtis Sanford (scores)
Unsigned players:Rasmus Sandin (RFA), Zach Aston-Reese (PTO), Dylan Ferguson (PTO)
URGENT QUESTIONS: Where—and when—Rasmus Sandin fits in?
As the other Leafs reported for the medical and prepared to pick up the ice, Sandin was still sitting and waiting.
One of the few outstanding NHL limited free agents to dig into contract deadlocks, the 22-year-old defender is incredibly confident and promising. But his resume and leverage are short.
If the left-hand shot isn’t interested in signing a similar two-year, $2.8 million pact from pal Timothy Liljegren, perhaps a one-year proof paper is the simplest way to put this annoyance behind the stove. (Mikey Anderson’s recent one-year, $1 million agreement with Los Angeles can provide the template.)
How Sandin’s story rocked will have a ripple effect on the list.
If the Swede signs for decent money, does another paycheck need to be put out in the trade so the Leafs can be a major gripe for Opening Night? (The true Justin Holl is the rumored pass.) And which left-hander moves to the right so that Sandin can get more turns? (Mark Giordano feels like the only candidate.)
However, if Sandin and Dubas can’t find common ground, the seventh defensive slot opens up opportunities for cheap free agent recruits like Jordie Benn or Victor Mete to impress in pre-season. The flexibility of that list could save tweens from the October abandonment wire.
In contrast, with Liljegren out of camp due to injury (as first reported by Chris Johnston), Sandin can find herself with increased leverage — and ice time.
(The Leafs will comment on the nature of Liljegren’s injury on Wednesday.)
We were fascinated to see how everything worked out.
TRAINING CAMP BATTLE TO WATCH: Puzzle-put the bottom six
Keepe will once again be blessed with an elite game-breaker in its top ranks. Further down the bench, however, intrigue – and competition – must heat up.
For now, we’ll put unsung 50-point utility player Alexander Kerfoot on the left flank with John Tavares and William Nylander in the top six, knowing full well that coaches are content with throwing Kerfoot everywhere and will likely leave gaps for other attackers to find their way. produce in such a premium place.
(Calle “Four More Years” Järnkrok, Pierre “I Think I Can Score 20” Engvall, Nick “Time to Pop” Robertson, and Adam “Did You See Me at the Worlds?” Gaudette are candidates to take the offensive step and could get several runs higher in the lineup.)
The bottom six configurations, in particular, will be interesting, and there’s no shortage of options.
We see Stanley Cup winner Nicolas Aubé-Kubel as the only key to the fourth line.
If true, that leaves two spots open for Gaudette, surprising PTO Zach Aston-Reese, respectable veterans Wayne Simmonds and Kyle Clifford, and Marlies like Robertson, Joey Anderson and Curtis Douglas to be eliminated.
Like many overworked teams, the final cut may not be entirely based on merit.
Boundary considerations, waiver eligibility, experience, injuries (Engvall has already taken care of something), and roles will all come into play.
LINEUP PROJECTION OUT CAMP
Michael Bunting–Auston Matthews–Mitchell Marner
Alexander Kerfoot–John Tavares–William Nylander
Pierre Engvall–David Kämpf–Calle Järnkrok
Zach Aston-Reese–Adam Gaudette–Nicolas Aubé-Kubel
Morgan Rielly–TJ Brodie
Jake Muzzin–Justin Holl
Rasmus Sandin–Mark Giordano
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Maple Leafs Training Camp Preview post: Battles, questions, roster picks – Sportsnet.ca first appeared on Canada News Media.