The season has not even started and another kid that was being counted upon is struggling to return from an injury. First it was Wellwood's surgically repaird groin and now Carlo Colaiacovo's knee is acting up and he likely will not start another pre-season game.
Last year, his troubles recuperating from a concussion suffered against the sens kept him from making his debut until December 12th. He formed a nascent partnership with Bryan McCabe which actually seemed to rein in the veteran a bit. This year the pairing was being counted upon to provide solid second pairing minutes behind the Kaberle-Kubina duo.
Luckily the Leafs have at least two young defencemen that can step in to cover his spot. Staffan Kronwall was sidelined after a solid camp last year with a high ankle sprain. He ended up spending the season with the Marlies where he was voted their top defenceman despite only playing in 47 games. He played 34 games in 2005-2006 with the Leafs and showed that he was ready for the NHL so he'll most likely already have a top-six spot.
Kronwall's inclusion was likely to have been at the expense of Ian White. Last year White played in 76 games as a rookie and posted totals of 3-23-26 and a +8 rating. He played almost exclusively with Hal Gill on the third pairing. He complemented Gill well with his speed but his size played a large part in his difficulties. He frequently heard footsteps and developed a tendency to make panic clearances on his backhand which inevitably were intercepted. White's strong passing game did help Gill a lot as he was able to dish the puck to his partner who would then move it up ice. It certainly saved the Leafs a lot of icings. I don't really rate him and hopefully he will not darken the doorway to the Leafs' dressing room unless he is visiting friends after being traded for a draft pick or two.
The Swedish Sensation Anton Stralman has also been making a case for his inclusion in the big clubs lineup. He was named one of Sweden's top 3 players at last year's World Championships and the limited viewing of him that I have had has shown why he came so highly touted. He reminds me of a Tomas Kaberle with size. He seems to have the same patience with the puck and ability to put himself in a strong defensive position with the added benefit of being able to control players physically. On the powerplay time he has had he has moved the puck well and has a good shot from the point.
Maybe I am blinded by my dislike of Woz as I am with White (not true because at least I can see some of White's strengths) but I have no idea why everyone is convinced that he should make the starting roster. He is a jack of all trades and master of none. His offensive potential lies in his strong shot but he does not play the powerplay so he does not get the chance to use it. Andy is also not strong enough defensively to make up for his lack of offense. For all of his size (6'4", 220lbs) he is not particularly physical.
Jay is a defenceman that could take over Hal Gill's role as a third line defensive specialist after this season. If he is willing to stick around for one more year I could see a move being made. Jay had a good tryout with the Leafs during late January and early February of the 2005-2006 season. Unfortunately, last year saw him play only 5 games (-5) before breaking his hand which left him down on the Marlies for the rest of the year. He has had back-to-back strong seasons with the Marlies although they have both been injury-shortened. He is similar in size to Andy Wozniewski but with a much better pedigree from his time with the Marlies and in the NHL.
Who Makes It?
The difficulty in figuring out who sticks with the Leafs and who gets to play in the far less glamorous Ricoh Coliseum lies with the waiver system. From my understanding of the CBA all but Stralman will have to clear waivers to get to the Marlies. Ultimately, that will most likely be the factor that ensures that he goes down to the AHL.
If Carlo is not in the lineup at the start of the season the Leafs will probably keep Kronwall and White in the top 6 with one of Harrison or Wozniewski in the press box. Once Carlo returns the Leafs will have to clear space on the roster which means that another one of the quartet will have to move down to the Marlies.
Mirtle notes that close to 300 players will be going through waivers before the 23 man roster limit is reached. Hopefully we won't see the Leafs losing any defencemen without compensation.
Which Defencemen should round out the top 6?
This poll is closed