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Spring training is for baseball

Spring time is not the traditional season for big hockey training camps full of draft picks and invitees all full of hopes and dreams and ready to work hard. Someone needs to tell the Toronto Marlies that.

Leafs draft pick Andrew Nielsen on an ATO with the Marlies
Leafs draft pick Andrew Nielsen on an ATO with the Marlies
Christian Bonin |

Last Wednesday, the Toronto Marlies played a school day game at eleven in the morning. The day before was their first practice with all the players who’d been enjoying life in the NHL back in the fold.

Press reports indicated that the 47-man roster of Marlies were split up into two groups; one with the players most likely to play in games down the short stretch of the season and into the playoffs, and one they are calling a reserve squad.

Sheldon Keefe spoke after that practice:

At 1:30 in the video he asserts that what the Marlies are doing isn’t strange, and everyone adds players at this time of year. It’s normal, and they’re just doing business as usual.

It’s totally normal. Every team has spring training. In baseball.

It is normal in form; signing undrafted college or junior players to Amateur Try Outs and having a look at them is something a lot of teams do. So is signing draft picks to ATOs now to decide if you want to commit an contract spot to them. With a possible expansion draft looming, teams are worried about how many years their players have technically played pro hockey too.

What isn’t normal? The scale.

Team Total Roster Forwards Defence Goaltenders NHL team ECHL team in playoffs?
Toronto Marlies 47 27 16 4 Maple Leafs No
Providence Bruins 33 19 11 3 Bruins No
Albany Devils 31 18 11 2 Devils N/A
Lake Erie Monsters 29 15 11 3 Blue Jackets Yes*
Utica Comets 30 19 9 2 Canucks Yes*
Ontario Reign 27 15 9 3 Kings Yes
Hershey Bears 25 15 7 3 Capitals Yes
Wilkes-Barre Penguins 27 16 9 2 Penguins Yes
Rockford Ice Hogs 32 17 11 4 Blackhawks No

Notes: These numbers are as accurate as the AHL website is, as of April 15. There’s been some call ups and demotions since then on some teams. The Marlies number includes Jared Cowen and Alex Stalock who are not with the team. There are injured players in there too on several teams. The Utica Comets and the Lake Erie Monsters Share an ECHL team. Albany doesn’t have one.

No one even comes close to the Marlies massive roster with enough guys on the reserve list to make up another team. The teams that come closest are in a similar situation with no playoffs either up or down the food chain to draw off players. But it’s interesting that the Blackhawks organization has a large roster too--so far; they will undoubtedly call up some Black Aces.

To say the Marlies head into the playoffs with enough options to cover more injuries than you can imagine is an understatement. The other thing they’re getting out of spring training is a good long look at a lot of top-quality players who may grace the ranks of the Orlando Solar Bears (or whichever ECHL team gets the affiliation) next year as well as the Marlies depth chart. Which is exactly what baseball uses it for.

This continues a trend from last summer, where the Leafs invited a lot of players to rookie camp--again, not an unusual thing, except for the scale. Imagine what this year’s will look like?

It’s too bad the Leafs can’t find a team to play scrimmage games against that reserve squad. It would be a fun game. We’ll have to settle for the actual Marlies instead. They hit the ice today at 5:00pm and tomorrow at 3:00pm to finish up the regular season at home against Rochester.

Go Marlies!