I woke up this morning and the Leafs were still in third place.
They lost last night, while some segments of the team played well and others didn’t, and they likely played well enough overall to win the game, but you don’t always get the wins you deserve. It didn’t really matter to anyone but disappointed viewers because no one is catching the Leafs for third place in the Atlantic.
This was how I was telling myself that it was okay for the team to be trying out rookies mid-season, either through necessity with the injuries to Nikita Zaitsev and Morgan Rielly, or design with the Frederik Gauthier experiment.
The Leafs have decided to experiment a little more, and despite how Gauthier played last night — not well, he has played okay — against even weaker teams like Ottawa. But the tinkering isn’t a short game, it’s much more of a long game, for this year and beyond.
Gauthier wasn’t ever on the team to win games right now. Your fourth line centre doesn’t actually win you a lot of games. He was there to play some NHL hockey again, show how he’d progressed — he has; he was much worse last year — and give the Leafs firmer opinions about him and other players for the trade deadline and this summer when contracts are due.
No one seems to have doubts that Kasperi Kapanen is ready now, and if that was enough of a trial of Gauthier to see if he’s a player or not, perhaps this is the time to put Kapanen on the roster and keep him there.
That will require helpful timing from Nikita Soshnikov’s injuries, and he was reported to be healthy and ready to return, and then no, not so much. He seems to always have the timing down; he’s the jazz drummer of IR.
With Morgan Rielly and both Nikitas on IR, the Leafs don’t have to think about their roster until after the All-Star Break. But then, once players turn healthy, first Rinat Valiev, who was called up yesterday, and then Kapanen could be the first cuts just because of waiver rules.
Unless some other thing happens to ease the glut of players before the 23-man limit is gone on trade deadline day, there might be some other moves. But if we’re lucky, they might be more about the short game — winning now, and less about the long game.
I had enough of the long game with one year of tanking. Can we go back to tryouts are for training camp again?
#Leafs lines at practice:— Kristen Shilton (@kristen_shilton) January 23, 2018
That looks like a lot more like a serious business Leafs lineup than we’ve seen in a while, at least for a pair of road games where trying to have a checking line doesn’t work much.
Fool me once, though, Mr Babcock, we’ll just wait and see who is where come tomorrow night.