Well, they're back. Sort of.
The Toronto Maple Leafs were on the golf course today at Rattlesnake Point for their annual tournament, the first in a series of events this month that proves hockey season is almost underway.
GM Brian Burke, coach Ron Wilson and several players spoke with the media for a while today, with both pointing out that they feel their lineup is (a) better than last season and (b) essentially already filled out.
"We think we made some changes that have made our team dramatically better," Burke said. "We made some changes to the coaching staff, we made some changes on the blueline and we made some changes up front. And we think those things will put us in the position where we want to be which is in competition for a playoff spot."
As for battles for roster spots, they will probably be few and far between.
"If you notice, we've left one spot open," Burke said. "We want some competition for one of the forward spots. Whether that's Matt Frattin or Nazem Kadri or Joe Colborne or whomever, we do want to have some competition open for a spot. Other than that, we think we've filled the holes. But we're going to find that out."
Also of note:
- Burke says he still remains confident Luke Schenn will have a new contract when training camp opens on Sept. 16. Schenn, a restricted free agent, has been negotiating with the team all summer, but the two sides have had serious difficulty coming to an agreement. I still think it's unlikely he misses any time, but that'll be more in doubt if there's still no deal by mid-next week. (You'll recall that last year, New York Rangers defenceman Marc Staal signed on the day before camp opened. It does happen.)
- Wilson talked about how much better this team needs its special teams to be and sounded confident the new assistant coaches and some new personnel will help. Specifically, he mentioned using Mikhail Graboski and Nikolai Kulemin on the penalty kill and Tim Connolly on the point on the power play.
- Colton Orr and Matt Lombardi, who both had serious post-concussion issues last season, were at the event and feeling much better than during the season. Orr is expected to be ready to go when camp starts while Lombardi may still need more time. If Lombardi can play, the Leafs suddenly have a little depth at centre for the first time in a long time.
I'll have more from the event in tomorrow's paper. Here's audio from Burke and Wilson today:
As for what's next, the Leafs rookie camp gets going Saturday in Oshawa and then training camp will be underway with physicals six days later at the Air Canada Centre. This blog has been mothballed for most of the (long) off-season, but we'll have it up and running again here by Sunday.
As always, feel free to email me suggestions for our coverage this season.