Toronto Maple Leafs at Detroit Red Wings: Preseason Game #8

When: 7:00 p.m.

Where: Detroit

Why: $$$$$

How to watch: Sportsnet main channel, and Fox Sports Detroit

By about mid-point of the first preseason game every year, I’m tired of two things: preseason hockey and people carrying on about how meaningless those games are. Too many people utter the words small sample size in ways that annoy me when talking about exhibition play. The gist seems to be that if the player you like is good, then his results are valid, but if the player you like is bad, then it’s a small sample size and it means nothing.

It’s not true that these games mean nothing. They just mean different things to different players. In last night’s thumping of the semi-real Red Wings, I had a strong sense of déjà vu while being really underwhelmed by Morgan Rielly. I’m pretty sure I was underwhelmed by him last year in training camp.

And Ron Hainsey is so, so bad. Well, no. He’s been okay most of the time, but Ron Hainsey, I feel safe in saying, does not care about preseason hockey other than to get a look at any new forwards to see their quirks.

For the wingers playing musical chairs this season for one less regular lineup spot than there are bodies, this preseason is very important. William Nylander is going to bust in and kick one of them into the press box, and I can’t tell you who I’d pick as the loser right now.

Josh Leivo has impressed in two games and looked competent, but not thrilling in the others, and that’s his issue to overcome. Don’t look at his points. I assure you, the process-oriented coaching staff aren’t. Look at what level of play he sustains over the course of all the games.

I cracked a joke last night about somebody else that goes like this: If you take his peak and pretend that’s his average, he’s way better. That’s a perfect description of Kerby Rychel. If you watched him in the AHL, on his hot days, man, was he something. All you had to do was pretend he’d do that all the time, and you had an NHLer. He passed waivers to the AHL early this preseason by the way.

I don’t know if that’s also Josh Leivo. But if you think what he’s been doing on the ice in this preseason is remotely similar to his play last season, I don’t know what to tell you. And while he’s done things that are exciting at times, I still keep coming back to that small sample of Corsi results that had him the worst offensive pace on the team for forwards. He’s a more worthy winger than Frederik Gauthier, at any rate. Nearly anyone is. But I’m not at all sure when the music stops, he won’t be the guy back in the press box.

I can’t avoid it any longer, speaking of Gauthier, how about this lineup?

Gauthier is the only player from last night’s game on this roster. If last night was meant to be his last chance to impress. He didn’t. This has to be his last, last, last chance before the Leafs decide what to do with him. Wow, it’s amazing what being a first round draft pick who can take faceoffs gets you.

If you watch this game, and at this point, this game is a write off by the Leafs who have carefully stocked their team with AHLers who meet the minimum veteran rule, so I don’t know why you would, the only real question is are you seeing the last game in a Leafs jersey for Connor Carrick.

A rumour by a source who is a little bit unproven, but might be connected, stated the Leafs are shopping Carrick. They’d be silly not to be if they really have decided Igor Ozhiganov and Justin Holl are better bets. Right-shooting defenders with NHL experience aren’t freely available, but the thing the Leafs did was pay Carrick like he was more than just a depth extra, and that makes him harder to trade.

Corsi aside, he hasn’t made a case for that depth job on the Leafs, and if Borgman and Rosen hadn’t flamed out harder, he’d really look bad. He’s a third-rate PP shooter who can’t PK.  He has no offensive upside, and he has one skill. That skill is puck carrying, and people love that, so he passes a lot of eye-tests, and he helps the transition which is important. And is anyone else reminded of Martin Marincin here? They’re very different players, but their results tick the same sorts of boxes and leave too many others empty. Marincin seems to know his offensive limitations, and he dishes the puck off fast, whereas Carrick, who has a good hockey brain, seems to think he can execute whatever plan he thinks up. His body disagrees, it seems.

At $1.3 million and an RFA with arbitration rights next summer, Carrick is not a bargain third-pairing guy. The Leafs did make $200,000 of that signing bonuses, so he’s not as cash expensive, but he is cap hit expensive. If they waived him, Ottawa would snap him up in a heartbeat, so I don’t think he’s going that route. But I’m having trouble imagining why anyone benefits form him sitting in the press box again all season.

No matter which winger ends up where or who makes the Leafs third pair on opening night, there is no guarantee that that roster will be the same as the roster come game #11. One thing the Leafs and Babcock are very consistent on is that training camp is only stage one of evaluation for the season. Changes can happen. And it will be interesting to see if players who came out hot can keep that up. Tyler Ennis is laying down some physically demanding play, and he hasn’t played a full season in a while. Kasperi Kapanen looked super in one game on the top line, but what happens when he hits the fourth line again?

Tonight, Brooks and Bracco will be fun to watch in their last NHL game before their AHL season begins. The fact that they are split into what might be their AHL lines is interesting for Marlies fans. Other than that, this game exists to prove that preseason needs to be six games at most.

Detroit’s lineup will come out of this roster:

That’s a lot more players from Friday’s game for Detroit, the Marlies will have their work cut out for them.