With a bit of a chill in the air, the NFL season underway, Toronto Maple Leafs rookies on the ice in Traverse City, MI this weekend, and the start of training camp just four days away, it is a good time to field some questions from my followers on Twitter to see what is on their mind.
How short of a leash does Babcock have if the Leafs have a slow start?
A - Leafs GM Kyle Dubas indicated earlier this week that he is not holding Babcock’s feet to the fire and expecting a certain number of victories, but that he is looking for the team to be consistent and play well.
It is hard to fathom Toronto firing Babcock (even if they struggle) during the year and the potential absence of Mitch Marner and injuries to Zach Hyman and Travis Dermott to start the season makes a slow start a distinct possibility. My belief is that Babcock will get the full season and that his fate will depend on the Leafs success in the playoffs.
How do you see the power play changing under McFarland? Who do you see on the first and second units?
A - Paul McFarland had a great deal of success with Florida by adjusting their power play tactics based on the strengths and weaknesses of the penalty-killing units the Panthers were facing. That goes counter to most clubs, who usually employ the same strategy against every team.
The first power play will likely be similar to the unit used by the Leafs after Nazem Kadri was suspended, with John Tavares, Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner and Andreas Johnsson making up the four forwards.
It is very possible that Babcock/McFarland will use newly acquired Tyson Barrie to quarterback the top unit, choosing to allocate Morgan Rielly’s minutes more towards five-on-five responsibilities. William Nylander or veteran Jason Spezza could take Marner’s place if he has not signed, and both will likely slot in on the second unit with Alex Kerfoot and Ilya Mikheyev and either Rielly or Jake Muzzin at the point.
With Dermott out till Nov, rank the 5-6 candidates from most likely to least that you think will fill out 5, 6 and 7 D slots.
A - After the top two pairings of Morgan Rielly - Cody Ceci and Jake Muzzin - Tyson Barrie, the candidates for the bottom pairing in order of likelihood of starting the season are:
Martin Marincin (Babcock familiarity and can kill penalties)
Ben Harpur (big defenseman, but has not shown much at the NHL level)
Teemu Kivihalme (likely starts in AHL, but impressing in Traverse City)
Kevin Gravel (veteran with NHL experience)
Rasmus Sandin (Leafs love him, but do not want to rush him)
Jordan Schmaltz (played for Dave Hakstol at North Dakota)
Timothy Liljegren (could make the roster with a good camp)
Justin Holl (will go on waivers instead of being the designated healthy scratch)
Who do you project will populate the two PK Units? Assume Marner is also not signed
A - Besides Marner, other factors to the penalty-killing units will be the absence of Zach Hyman to start the season and the trade of Connor Brown. Pure guesswork here, but Kasperi Kapanen and Trevor Moore at forward, with Marincin and Muzzin on defense.
Johnsson could be in the mix with his speed. Dermott killed penalties at times last season, so he could be utilized once he returns, as could Ceci.
A - It is probably time for the Leafs to name a captain and if they do, it could happen at the opening of training camp on Thursday. The three leading candidates are Matthews, Tavares, and Rielly. All three are qualified and have positives that would make them a good choice, but my suspicion is that with Matthews signing a new five-year deal, the 21-year-old will be the choice.
Thoughts/chances on Ilya spezza korshkov fourth line? That's some size
A - The chances are unlikely for a couple reasons. Mikheyev is likely to start in the top nine at left wing with Hyman out to start the season. Trevor Moore is going to be in the mix, but could also be placed higher in the lineup. Spezza should be the fourth-line center, but if he shows that he too slow to play up the middle, the veteran could be shifted to wing in favor of Nick Shore or Frederik Gauthier. Korshkov will have to impress at training camp to be in the conversation, but with his being waiver exempt, he could be a candidate to shuttle between the Marlies and Leafs when needed.
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