TORONTO – Dave Nonis has a few important decisions to make with the start of the NHL regular season less than a week away.
The new Leafs general manager is challenged to determine the strength of his roster and its worth in the Eastern Conference before the regular season kicks off in Montreal on Saturday. Without a single exhibition game at his disposal, Nonis, along with his management team and coaching staff, must assess concerns in the crease, challenges on the blueline and whether or not the roster is suited to play Randy Carlyle's style.
With no time to spare, Nonis has no choice but to be pro-active.
"I don't think you can just sit back and see how these guys turn out," said Nonis of evaluating the 31-man training camp roster. "We're going to have to beat the bushes.
"It doesn't mean that something's going to happen ... I think there's probably a better chance of us starting with the players we have or by in large the players we have. [But] we'll talk to everybody and see what movement is possibly available to us."
The trade landscape is expected to gain steam over the course of this hasty one-week training camp. Future cap implications and the ability to retain salary – a new tweak to the CBA – offers the potential for a fruitful market and waiver wire. Like Nonis and his management group, most teams would like the opportunity to assess the health and strength of their respective rosters before delving into any trade activity. They will not have the benefit of much evaluation. In the Leafs case, just six days before the season opens against the Canadiens.
"It'll be an interesting week, there's no question," said Nonis.
Roberto Luongo speculation continues to hover uncertainly over the Toronto crease with incumbents James Reimer and Ben Scrivens currently occupying the void. Nonis defended the quality of the two goaltenders, citing their inexperience as "the only fly in the ointment". Stressing that his club did not need to trade for a veteran goaltender, Nonis nonetheless indicated the qualifications for making such a move.
"There's only going to be a change in goal if we can upgrade at that position without severely hampering the ability to play in front of that goaltender, without taking away very good young players from our reserve list," he explained. "If we can add a veteran, if we can add a goaltender to help these guys along, we think that would be helpful, but if we can't, then it's up to our whole group to play in front of them and to put wins on the board in front of them."
Lending to such a theory and the need to upgrade is the uncertain composition on defence.
The Leafs were second-last as a group defensively last season with no significant additions to the blueline. Beyond Dion Phaneuf and Carl Gunnarsson, the make-up of the blueline is uncertain at best, with a mix of John-Michael Liles, Mike Komisarek, Cody Franson (agreed to a one-year deal), Korbinian Holzer, Mark Fraser, Mike Mottau (agreed to a one-year, two-way deal), Mike Kostka and Morgan Rielly all vying for positions. Jake Gardiner remains out with a concussion, his timeline for a return still uncertain. Liles, Komisarek and Franson figure to land three spots with two more up for grabs.
"I like our depth at D," said Nonis. "We've got some players that can play in the league."
If there is one point of immediate concern for Nonis, it's the style of the roster in connection to Randy Carlyle, who favours a bigger, brawnier composition.
"We need to alter that a little bit," Nonis said, noting that many players will be forced to play out of position. "If they don't do that then we're going to have to make changes quicker."
The Leafs added size this summer with Jay McClement and James Van Riemsdyk, but neither plays a physical brand, a definite toughness element still lacking on the roster. Leo Komarov, a 2006 draft pick, figures to help with Mike Brown and even Colton Orr other options in that respect. The roster remains light, however, in its ability to battle the likes of Philadelphia and Boston, two conference foes that have battered Toronto in recent years.
"I think we have a number of players that you could say are more on the skill side," said Nonis, noting the need for a higher compete level. "It doesn't mean you need players that can only bang, but when we look at some of the teams that we have to play against and how their roster is constructed it makes it more difficult."
Nonis could also opt to stand still, leaving a young roster more or less intact, free to develop under Carlyle's direction.
With sizeable cap space on the horizon and a potentially enticing 2013 free agent class, the Leafs could let the year play out and address any gaping holes in the summer.