On the last day of preseason, a few hours before the waiver claims and clears are in and the cap-compliant roster has been made, the Leafs took to the ice:
Leafs lines at practice— Mark Masters (@markhmasters) October 10, 2022
Bunting - Matthews - Marner
Nylander - Tavares - Malgin
Engvall - Kerfoot - Jarnkrok
Aston-Reese - Kampf - Aube-Kubel
Rielly - Brodie
Muzzin - Holl
Giordano - Sandin
Kral - Villeneuve
This is an interesting lineup, and we should remember a few things about it: the Leafs play a back-to-back to open the season, and just because he’s taking line rushes in practice doesn’t mean John Tavares will play both of those games. Or either of them.
If he does, however, if he’s ready to go, this is the early season lineup, and Nick Robertson is the extra forward if he even stays on the roster. All four players listed as the extras are waivers exempt.
I was a little surprised on the weekend with some indication that William Nylander would play as the 2C if Tavares is out. And he may do that, with someone promoted up, possibly Robertson. It’s weirdly possible the either/or is not Robertson or Denis Malgin out of some theory that they play the same type of game, but Robertson/Tavares because cap and waiver considerations make your decisions for you sometimes.
I’m a little surprised now that Alexander Kerfoot is the 3C because Sheldon Keefe has shied hard away from Kerfoot at centre. That bottom six is rock solid, though. And, credit goes to Arvind for pointing this out to me, if you run a system with that bottom six while Tavares is out, you have William Nylander anchoring a scoring line as the most defensively responsible player on it. The option is there to play that line fewer minutes at five-on-five, and play the bottom six a little more.
I am of two minds about the wisdom of that clever scheme. As a temporary measure, sure, go for it. As a full-on plan for the season, playing a scoring line less to spend your time shutting down the opposition is planning to spend your time not scoring, and I think it’s unwise. It’s a good tool to have — so’s a pipe wrench, for example — but you don’t eat dinner with it every night.
But again, given the massive ? hanging over the net this year, that rock solid bottom six is very comforting.
I’ll make a bet, though: Before game 15, Calle Järnkrok is the 2RW, and the thing about Nylander we should have paid the most attention to this year is that he played LW all preseason.