The regular season is just a few short weeks ago but there are still 3 unanswered questions looming large in Maple Leaf land. Here’s my take on the big 3:
Q) Will Morgan Rielly crack the opening night line-up?
A) YES. Rielly is an extremely talented defenseman who will no doubt have a long and prosperous career in the NHL. The Leafs are in a difficult situation when it comes to Rielly for the upcoming season as he is ineligible to play in the minors. He will either play with the Maple Leafs or be sent back down to major junior. Toronto also has the option of keeping him with the Leafs for a 9-game trial period before ultimately making a decision on where he should play. Should they keep Rielly up for a 10th game it would kick-start his 3-year contract and march towards free agency. I expect Rielly to get a chance to prove himself this year with the 9-game try-out. Whether or not Rielly gets the chance to remain with the big club may depend on the result of question #2.
Q) Will restricted free agent Cody Franson agree to terms on a new contract in time for Game #1?
A) NO. Nazem Kadri has been locked up but the Maple Leafs still have yet to re-sign defenseman Cody Franson. The fact that Franson did not come to terms with the Leafs to start training camp proves he’s willing to play hardball. Toronto’s cards are on the table as there’s no secret how little available cap space they have to work with. Franson is in a different situation than Kadri in that he has 4 years of NHL experience, 243 career games, 100 career points and has proven he’s a capable producer over a number of seasons. Franson won’t be willing to sit out the entire season to make his point but I wouldn’t be surprised if he pulls a “Suban” and sits out a few games in hopes the Leafs will bend to his contract demands.
Q) Who will be Toronto’s opening night goaltender?
A) Jonathan Bernier. Barring an injury to Bernier, I would be shocked to see James Reimer start Game #1 for the Leafs. Bernier and Reimer will each see their share of game time this season but there’s no denying that Toronto made the move for Bernier to at least give him a shot as the team’s #1. Reimer has more NHL experience but that Game #7 collapse vs. the Bruins seems to have put some doubts in the minds of Leaf management. If Reimer was meant to be the #1 goalie to start the season (and start the majority of the games) there’s just no way the Leafs would have made the move for Bernier.
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