TORONTO - The Maple Leafs shaved their training camp roster down further on Sunday.
Fourteen players were cut - none unexpected - leaving the roster at 29 players (17 forwards, nine defencemen, and three goaltenders) with three exhibition games to play. The biggest surprise of training camp, Jake Gardiner, not surprisingly remained; set to continue his rapid ascent up the Leafs depth chart.
"Some people are making decisions very difficult for us right now which is the beauty of depth in an organization," said Dave Poulin, Vice-President of Hockey Operations. "This is what we want. We want it to be really, really difficult to decide who gets to be on the Toronto Maple Leafs. That means we're a better hockey club."
A long-shot to make the NHL club when camp began just over a week ago, Gardiner has demonstrated the potential to play right away, with his swift stride and keen knack for jumping into the play. The former 17th overall pick (2008) logged a game-high 26 minutes against the Sabres on Saturday night, picking up his third assist in four exhibition games. Whether he's ready defensively will be put to the test this week with games on tap against more NHL-laden rosters from Ottawa and Detroit.
"Everybody's watching the same thing here," said Poulin. "He's played very, very well which has prompted the next opportunity to play well which he's answered which has prompted the next opportunity to play well. He's the one that's decided that he's gotten the number of games he's gotten. We're all just watching and it'll play out."
Along with Gardiner - who is pushing the likes of Mike Komisarek, Carl Gunnarsson and Cody Franson for a job - Matt Frattin and Nazem Kadri continue their push to make roster decisions a difficult task for Poulin and rest of the Leafs brass. Frattin has tallied two goals and two assists in four games, while Kadri has notched just one assist so far. With Matthew Lombardi now in the mix to play on opening night - he's been cleared for full contact - the challenge of earning a spot has become that much tougher for the two young wingers.
"That battle is playing itself out," said Poulin. "We're not making that [decision]. They've played with different players, they've played in different situations and they've got another week and a half for it to finish off. And even at that point, whatever happens at that point it's not permanent."
It's not inconceivable that one or both could wind up with the Marlies when the season begins on October 6th.
Poulin joined Ron Wilson at the Mastercard Centre on Sunday morning, meeting with players who had been cut, helping them to assess strengths, weaknesses and areas for improvement. Joe Colborne joined Luca Caputi, Jerry D'Amigo, Ryan Hamilton, Marcel Mueller, Kenny Ryan, Greg Scott, Mike Zigomanis, Korbinian Holzer, Jeff Finger, Jesse Blacker, Simon Gysbers, Juraj Mikus and Mark Owuya on the list of deductions. Greg McKegg was previously assigned back to Erie and Jussi Rynnas was sent back to the Marlies.
Finger, Zigomanis, Hamilton, and Caputi all require a 48-hour waiver period to join the American League farm club.