Thursday, September 12, 2013
It also means there is plenty to write about, unless you're super lazy, in which case you can dust off your notebook and pick from one of the tried and true cliché storylines that comes up every training camp. Just add in different names from this year's roster like a Mad Libs story and you're set.
Stick tap to this Bill Simmons article for the inspiration.
The looming contract
Contract negotiations with Phil Kessel apparently haven't started, and Dave Nonis isn't concerned, even though Kessel has said he doesn't want to negotiate a contract during the year and made vague, awkward comments about the merits of unrestricted free agency. So, his contract status is definitely going to be a distraction. But it's also a goldmine for sports writers. Expect a few articles every month about whether the Leafs should trade Kessel before the deadline. And then plenty after about whether the Leafs made the right move holding onto him. And then plenty more about how the Leafs are screwed if Kessel bolts at the first chance.
Poor Cody Franson. He barely received any ice time under Ron Wilson and then was one of the few Leafs without a contract during the lockout. That experience would be needed, however, as the Leafs apparently have no intention of signing Franson well into this season either. Well, unless he decides to take a below-market deal for two years, ensuring he can't file for arbitration next year and get paid when the Leafs have a bit more cap room either.
The guy in the best shape of his life
Anyone who is not described as being in the best shape of his life is a lazy, out-of-shape turd.
The injury-riddled star
In his last 82 games as a Maple Leaf, Lupul has scored 85 points. Too bad that's over two seasons. His first full season as a Leaf ended prematurely thanks to a separated shoulder, and last year Lupul only played in 16 games because of a broken forearm and a concussion. He has only surpassed 70 games in a season once since 2007-08, and is averaging only 55 games played a year over the last five non-lockout-shortened seasons. But this year is different! He's definitely in the best shape of his life. Just ignore the back spasms that are already afflicting him.
The career revival
After walking away from the game for three years, Ranger is back in the NHL after proving to himself he could still play after a season with the Toronto Marlies in 2012-13. He's a bit of a wildcard for the Leafs as he's a former top-pairing defenceman who was big, mobile, and could move the puck well. Granted, that was back in 2009. Dave Nonis thinks he can play be a top-4 defenceman this year, and the possibility is more than a long shot.
The star free agent acquisition AND AS A BONUS The hometown boy
Columnists are going to get a lot out of Clarkson. Not only is he the Leafs' star free agent acquisition, but he's also a Toronto boy who grew up idolizing the Leafs. Throw Wendel Clark's name into any article beside Clarkson's name and you have yourself some major click-bait. This narrative just writes itself. It can also go the other way. You know there are already articles waiting to be published claiming that Clarkson's slow start to his Leafs career is because he can't handle the pressure of his big contract and playing in Toronto. Build them up to tear them down. Lather, rinse, repeat. Toronto, man.
The make or break year
The time is now for 23-year-old Joe Colborne. He signed a one-way contract with the Leafs and would have to pass through waivers to be sent down to the AHL. Once upon a time he was drafted 16th overall, and it's about time he starts to make good on some of that promise, even if it's just in a bottom-6 role. Oh, and please prove you're an NHLer with Colton Orr strapped to your back. Too tough a task? Here, take Frazer McLaren too.
The guy run out of town
He's no longer a part of the Maple Leafs, but Mikhail Grabovski figures to be a prominent storyline this season. With the way he left Toronto ("I don't feel any support from this [expletive] idiot.") and the potential to easily compare his production to that of Tyler Bozak, the centre who took his money, or Dave Bolland, the centre who took his role, there are plenty of opportunities for Grabovski's name to be dragged back in the papers. I can see the headlines now: "Grabovski scores shootout winner, blows Randy Carlyle a kiss."
The franchise saviour
Any Leafs prospect taken in the first round is automatically anointed the saviour of the franchise, at least until a higher pick comes along, at which point everyone else is on their way to bust status. For Morgan Rielly, taken fifth overall in 2012, he is the future of the Leafs blueline and will get a long look in training camp. That look might just be wistful staring from Randy Carlyle, however, because the Leafs are in a pretty tight cap crunch and keeping Rielly would definitely spell the end of Cody Franson, unless John-Michael Liles is somehow moved for less than a bag of magic beans. Rielly also is stuck at the awkward age where he's too young to play in the AHL, even though he's probably too good for the WHL.
Every year there's at least someone invited to camp on a tryout basis. Usually they don't really have a hope of making the team and take camp as the final shot to save their career before heading to Europe or retiring. It's kind of a bittersweet story. This year, however, is different. Mason Raymond has a realistic chance of making the Leafs as a bottom six forward. He could also replace Nikolai Kulemin if Dave Nonis deems moving his most defensively responsible winger the only way to fit Franson in under the cap.
The guy with something to prove
In Randy Carlye's dog house for much of the time he wasn't concussed last year, Gardiner was great in the playoffs. Thanks to his elevated play, he erased a frustrating season and should get plenty of minutes in the top four this year. He makes his share of mistakes, however, which could put him right back in Carlyle's bad books, even though he most often out-skates his mistakes and minimizes any damage done. He's the Leaf with the biggest opportunity to dramatically alter the quality of the team, but he's also the Leaf with the biggest opportunity to be mismanaged by Carlyle. Better get those pithy, scathing tweets and #FreeGardiner hashtags ready.
The goaltending battle
James Reimer and Jonathan Bernier
There's only one net and both guys are going to fight hard to be the one to lead the team on most nights. This has the potential to be an epic saga, a mini version of the Roberto Luongo-Cory Schneider tale that launched a thousand writing careers and kept many families fed. Win and you're in. Play and get paid. Make a catchy saying, make some t-shirts (Team Reimer!), and choose your side.