TORONTO – The Maple Leafs intend to fill what remaining holes they have on their roster through internal competition. That was the pledge, at least, of team president Brendan Shanahan from the club's annual prospect camp.
“We want our young players to have job opportunities,” Shanahan said. “We want to have competition. We want to create that internal pressure, that there are jobs to be had here.”
Unraveling toward another playoff miss last year, Toronto did some roster restructuring this offseason through trade and a prudent first week of free agency. And although much of the lineup can be jotted down in pen for returning head coach Randy Carlyle, there are gaps that will be left in pencil, to be decided in competition at training camp.
“You've got to have a few holes with the big club so that not only these guys,” said Shanahan, referring to the 29 prospects on hand for the week-long camp, “but our Marlie guys who are in the gym in the mornings know that there's a reason to be working out this summer, that there's an opportunity and a job to be won possibly.”
A glut of departing free agents left most of the openings at forward.
At centre, the third and fourth-line positions are there to be had for a combination of Mike Santorelli, Petri Kontiola, Peter Holland and perhaps even Sam Carrick and Greg McKegg. Further jostling on the wing will come down to who shows best amongst a group that includes Matt Frattin, Carter Ashton, Josh Leivo, Troy Bodie and William Nylander, the eighth overall pick in the draft this past June.
At least one spot – and maybe two, depending on Cody Franson's future – will be up for grabs on defence, there for Petter Granberg, Stuart Percy, Korbinian Holzer or Andrew MacWilliam to snatch.
Carlyle, who received a two-year extension in early May after a trio of his assistant coaches were fired, had been reluctant to lean in that younger direction in the past, preferring the veterans at his disposal. But at the urging of management it appears he'll no longer have much of a choice. The club had no talks, for instance, with Jay McClement, the coach's most trusted crutch, opting to let him walk via free agency this summer.
Tragically collapsing for the second time in three seasons, Toronto did however, look to inject some leadership and veteran know-how in their roster remake this summer; Roman Polak, a feisty sort long of St. Louis, was added in a trade for Carl Gunnarsson; 37-year-old Stephane Robidas and returning Leaf Leo Komarov were signed to multiyear deals on July 1st.
Upside bids like Santorelli and Kontiola were added from the free agent market in the days that followed.
“These were not plan B's,” Shanahan said. “These were guys that we had targeted.
“With all due respect to the players that were signed for big dollars and big term, we looked at July 1st this year and decided that we didn't want to be too involved with some of those big signings … It's a bad habit to try and build your team on July 1st year after year after year.”
Instead, it appears the Leafs will start the prudent trend of building internally, improved draft and development key in the still-to-be-sorted Shanahan platform.