The kickoff to the season is a scant 2 days away. The Leafs have until noon tomorrow to set the roster but here is my guess at the lineup for the start of hte seson. I've managed to see most of the pre-season games including the competitive Sabres game. The forwards were covered mostly in previous entries but now I'll include how it looks like the defence will shake out.
Mid-Writing Update: Here's confirmation that these seem to be the lines. Damn MSM beat me to the punch.
N.B. Paul Maurice tends to like the blender approach to his lines. He also ran the top three lines ragged last year but after the Devereaux addition last year he seemed to place more confidence in the fourth unit. Whether he spreads the time out 5-0n-5 more equitably and if he keeps the lines as they stand will go a long way towards determining the accuracy of these predictions.
Scoring 1: Antropov / Sundin / Blake
Antropov's health is the key on this line. All three players have already shown that they have chemistry as evidenced by some dominating performances in the pre-season. Mats and Antro dominate along the boards and Blake throws some speed into the mix along with his pitbull play. Blake is supposedly the messiah winger that Sundin has waited his entire Leafs career for while dealing with players on the downside of their career or Jonas Hoglund. I think Blake is good for 30+ goals depending on how the PP time is spread out. Antro, if healthy, will have his massive breakout season that will make his $2M contract look like a bargain: 25-45-70.
As for Mats, that's a lot of points on his line plus his PP time means that I am predicting a statement season from Our Swedish Captain: 40-60-100. His statement? Forgot about Mats.
Scoring 2: Ponikarovsky / Stajan / Steen
This is where the Leafs' season will turn. This trio of homegrown players might be joined by Kyle Wellwood at some point if the Leafs' atrocious medical staff gets its act together but the pressure will be on them to show significant development. Ponikarovsky is coming off a career season in which he put up 21-24-45 in 71 GP. He will at least match that with at least a small improvement for inflation: 25-30-55. Steen and Stajan have shown some good chemistry and both are strong along the boards especially Steen who used his shock hit in the corners to great effect last year. Steen's numbers were a bit of a disappointment last year (15-20-35 in 82 GP)but he did start the year with Peca and Kilger who aren't exactly offensively skilled: 20-30-50. Stajan is the playmaker in the group by default (he ALWAYS passes) and will be the defensive conscience of the trio. The increase in ice-time and more skilled linemates positions him well to improve on his career high points total from last year (39): 15-35-50.
Checking 3: Kilger / Pohl / Tucker
This line may actually end up being the Leafs' second unit if pre-season form carries through. Pohl took advantage of the injury situation last season to display the hands that endeared him to the University of Minnesota faithful. He, along with Kilger, are proof that JFJ is not completely useless as a GM. With the promotion from the 4th line he'll get more opportunities to show off the other half of his skill set: 15-25-40. Kilger, who my friends and I joke could pot 60 goals if he had any hands, showed in the pre-season that he might have spent the summer softening up his pair of bricks. If he buries a tenth of the chances that his rambunctious play creates then he could crack the 20 goal plateau: 20-20-40. Darcy's totals will depend on the powerplay time that he gets. This trio will make a great momentum shifting line or at least it better because with Tucker's contract the decreased offensive production the intangibles will go a long way to determining whether he falls into whipping boy territory: 25-25-50.
Energy 4: Devereaux / Newbury / Battaglia
20 points each will be a minimum from this trio. They are a sandpaper line if I have ever seen one. Newbury, like Pohl, saw an opportunity with the Leafs and grabbed it with both hands. The veterans on his wing showed an ability to create chances on the cycle (in fact, so much of the Leafs' offence will come from the cycle) and their points totals will really depend on the whims of the hockey gods.
Possible Call Ups / Fill-ins / Injured / Suspended: Gamache / Tlusty / Wellwood / Ondrus / Bell
The lines will be completely blown up if Wellwood returns but that's a good problem to have. Gamache will most likely be the first call-up if anyone on the third line is hurt with Ondrus standing by in case anything happens to Newbury. Leaf Nation's long Belak nightmare may finally be over!
Offense 1: Kaberle / Kubina
You'll notice that the Leafs don't really have a shutdown pairing. Our defence are for getting points and they'll once again be among the best units in the league. They'll keep shots down but whether the ones given up are amazing chances or peripheral shots is an entirely different matter. Kaberle will be awesome as always. He's shooting more often and he still is the straw that stirs the drink on the PP: 15-50-65. Kubina is going to have an awesome year. He is big and rangy on defence and he has shown more confidence in his offensive abilities this pre-season. Last year with injuries and a new baby in Prague he had a lot of distractions. This year he will show his true abilities: 10-30-40.
Offense 2: McCabe / White
This pairing terrifies me. McCabe and White are good when paired with a defensively sound partner. This is like putting two sens fans in a field of sheep - there is not going to be anything but trouble. With PP time and Kaberle serving up goals on a platter the bane of my existence will probably get 15-40-55. White, with the increase in ice-time, will see his points total increase: 5-30-35. He makes a good first pass (ask Hal Gill) but the first time he shies away from contact and throws a weak backhand up the boards to the opposition I'll still be wondering if JFJ can get a 3rd rounder for him.
Third Pairing: Gill / Wozniewski
Gill doesn't do offense: 3-15-18. Woz, according to the media, is awesome. I have my doubts: 5-15-20. Woz won't see much ice and Gill's true value is his size on the PK.
Scratches / Call Ups / Injured : Colaiacovo / Stralman / Harrison / Kronwall
Again, when Carlo returns it'll throw the pairings into chaos. Stralman will get a taste of NHL life until then. He is exempt from waivers so no problem there. Kronwall is likely with the Leafs all year as he would have to clear waivers. Harrison is in the same boat so he might be lost to the Leafs on his way down which is a real shame.
Toskala / Raycroft
One tied the franchise record for wins but isn't the # 1 and the other has moved from one goaltending battle to another. Together they will form a strong platoon. Why? Because I said so. Raycroft started 41 of the last 42 games and made 70 starts. That's Luongo and Brodeur territory albeit, sadly, without the numbers. The decrease in workload will go a long way to keeping him sharp and fresh which, when he was both of those things in the first 15-20 games of last season, he was good.
As for Toskala, Eddie the Eagle had a crappy pre-season too and did pretty well. He showed the skillset to be a number 1 in SJ now it's just a matter of whether he can translate that success over 38 games (his career high of games played) to around 50-55.
The platooning should keep both goalies fresh and the competition can't hurt. I'll predict 28 wins for Toskala and about 17 for Raycroft based on 52 and 30 starts each respectively.
Overall: 45-27-10, 100 points, 7th in the East with a BoO First Round Matchup.