BUFFALO – Maple Leafs general manager Dave Nonis has a pretty good understanding of all that Mason Raymond can offer. But when it comes to determining if Raymond will find a place on the Leafs roster when training camp concludes in a week, well, that decision will ultimately fall to the head coach.
“It's not really me,” Nonis said, minutes before the Leafs and Sabres squared off at First Niagara Center on Saturday. “I'm comfortable with Mason. I know what he's like as a person and I think everyone is comfortable with him as a player. It's where Randy sees him. Where does he fit in the lineup?”
Nonis and his management team will certainly have their input in the series of roster decisions still looming for the Leafs, but according to Nonis, Carlyle will have the final say.
“I can't tell him to put someone into the lineup that he doesn't want in the lineup,” Nonis opined of the decision-making process. “He has full control over who makes this team and who doesn't. But we all spend a lot of time discussing the benefits of certain people and their strengths and weaknesses. I think it's a pretty healthy relationship and open dialogue both ways to make sure that we're all on the same page and we're all pushing toward the same goal with the same pieces.”
Signed to a professional tryout on the eve of training camp and a second round selection of Nonis in Vancouver, Raymond is among the more intriguing pieces vying for a place on the Toronto roster. With loads of speed and a fair amount of skill, the now 27-year-old offers Carlyle the prospect of depth and versatility in the forward ranks. Scoring twice in his first two exhibition matches, he has made an immediate impression.
Surely a more complex case for the head coach is 19-year-old Morgan Rielly, whom the Leafs can either keep in the NHL or return to the junior circuit in Moose Jaw.
“He's making it as hard as I thought he'd make it,” Nonis said of Rielly, who suited up for the first three exhibition games, sitting out in Buffalo.
Carlyle suggested at the outset of camp that the determination process with Rielly would lie in whether he could capably contribute 12-15 minutes a night or was better off dominating with the Warriors, conceding the value of both options.
“Randy knows what he's looking for,” Nonis continued. “He had a different player but a pretty good example of that in Cam Fowler. I think he was always looking for [Fowler] to falter and he never did and Randy used him more and more. And if he would've faltered I'm sure Randy would've pulled him out. That's the same kind of scenario here with Morgan. If he's ready then he'll go in.”
Though Nonis stated explicitly that Carlyle has final say on roster decisions, the coach, for one, seems to value the opinions of those around him, taking stock of a range of voices across the organization before settling on a decision.
“We converse daily, sometimes two or three times a day,” Carlyle said of his conversations with management after a lengthy 3-2 shootout victory. “If it's not [Dave Nonis], it's [Dave Poulin], it's Claude Loiselle, Cliff Fletcher, Bobby Carpenter's here, Steve Kasper's around; there's an armada of management that we make sure that we all have a voice and an opinion. We as a coaching staff talk behind closed doors quite a bit ourselves about what our feelings are and we want to make sure we're consistent with what we see and we voice our opinion to the management staff.
“When you're in the situation we're in I think that you try to take everybody's opinion.”
“We'll have long discussions about it,” Nonis concluded. “It's probably the same way that I use Randy when we're trying to make a trade, I seek his opinion. And at the end of the day we do what we need to do as a staff. I think it's the same way from his standpoint; he'll seek our opinion, but he's picking the team.”
1. Ranger's shootout attempt
The shootout lasted 15 rounds and exactly 30 shooters on Saturday, capped by Jay McClement's eventual winner. But the highlight of the exhibition proceeding had to have been Paul Ranger, who offered a truly creative attempt against the Sabres goaltender. “It's a kick-shot,” Ranger said afterward of his failed effort on Jhonas Enroth. “I don't know how else to describe. I learned it when I was probably 10 or 11 years old.” With the shootout dragging with no end apparently in sight, shot after shot turned aside, Ranger decided that when his name was eventually called he would attempt the unusual and unpredictable. “That's the cool part of it is that I have no idea where it's going and the goalie doesn't either ‘cause I sure don't,” he grinned.
2. Reimer's second effort
James Reimer made his first full outing of the exhibition season, stopping 38 of the 40 shots he saw from the Sabres before adding 15 more in the shootout. “I felt a lot better today compared to London,” Reimer said, referring to his first start a week earlier, which lasted about half the game. “I'm feeling better every day on the ice, really seeing the puck better, reading situations and plays better. In the game I felt a lot more comfortable today than I did in London. But having said there's still some situations where you weren't as sharp as you'd like to be.”
Though just an exhibition game, Reimer was pleased with his perfect performance in the shootout, a source of some struggle last season and throughout his career. “We've been working on some stuff,” he said. “Not going to give away my secrets or anything, but it is something obviously I worked on a bit this summer and tried to really improve on.”
Reimer is 0-5 career in the shootout with a .625 save percentage.
3. Lupul nearing exhibition debut
The exhibition debut is drawing near for Joffrey Lupul. Returning to practice earlier this week following a bout with back spasms, Lupul remained out against the Sabres on Saturday, but projects to play when the two teams meet again in Toronto on Sunday.
“What's 24 more hours?” Leafs coach Randy Carlyle asked rhetorically before the game. “Well, 24 more hours is a practice underneath [him], an opportunity to stretch, an opportunity for more rest and for his body to tell him that he's 110 per cent, ready to go.” Lupul began experiencing trouble with his back in the days leading up to training camp, remaining off the ice for the first week of camp.
Troubled by injuries over the course of his career, including last season when he played in just 16 games, Lupul appeared to have put his most recent back difficulties behind him with four consecutive days of practice. “We'd love to see him in our lineup on a regular basis,” Carlyle said of Lupul. “We've tried to maintain that he has to change some of the things that he does from a standpoint of maybe being less reckless. I commented on it last week, I thought it was more not being so much reckless, but I think he was just dying to make a contribution.” Lupul fractured his right forearm in the third game of 2013, the victim of a flailing Dion Phaneuf point shot. He returned to the lineup 25 games later, offering two weeks of mesmerizing hockey before suffering a concussion, crunched by Jay Rosehill and Adam Hall.
4. More Rielly Watch
Questioned further on the junior option for Rielly, Nonis said the coaching staff in Moose Jaw certainly factored into the Leafs equation. “If he does go back he has a good coach there,” Nonis said of Warriors head coach Mike Stothers. “I think that's one area you look at and say is he being coached by a quality staff and the answer is yes. Would he have a major impact on the World Junior team? I think the answer there is yes. There's some things that could happen to him that would be good for him. That doesn't mean that he should go back. If he really is ready to play here and he can play a significant role then there's nothing wrong with keeping him at 19.”
5. Smith's dream
Vying for a job with the Leafs in a depth capacity, Trevor Smith was born in Ottawa, spent a few years of his youth in Thornhill, Ontario, before finally settling in Vancouver. And he grew up a Leafs fan. “A lot of my buddies were giving me some cr**,” he said of signing with the organization this summer, “but for me personally this is a huge opportunity and something I've dreamed of as a kid. I'm really excited to be here.” Smith spent last season in the Pittsburgh organization – he dressed for one game with the Penguins – a member of the Lightning organization the year prior to that. The 28-year-old has played in 24 career NHL games, his AHL resume chalk full of gaudy offensive stats. Smith has the ability to play both centre and the wing, realizing that his versatility is perhaps the best asset to finding a job with the Leafs at this point. “I think if I'm going to play in this league I need to be able to kill penalties and be really good at it,” he explained, “be able to block shots and be versatile, not only five-on-five defensively but on the PK as well.”