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Depth brings roster ripples for Maple Leafs

Toronto Maple Leafs defenceman Cody Franson, left, gets taken out by Buffalo Sabres Forward Paul Gaustad, right, during second period pre-season NHL hockey action in Toronto on Friday, Sept. 23, 2011. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette

Nathan Denette/CP

Ask the players, and they'll grumble about taking one for the team.

Ask the head coach, and he's happy to finally have some options.

Not only are the Toronto Maple Leafs 2-0 out of the gate, they're also starting to get a few bodies back – which may create a situation where more and more veterans are forced out of the lineup.

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They don't like it, but Ron Wilson certainly does.

"It's kind of a juggling act right now," the coach said Tuesday, after the Leafs finished Day 2 of practice at Canadian Forces Base Trenton as part of an early season retreat.

"If we're going to go anywhere [we need depth] Look at last year: When Dion [Phaneuf]got hurt, we went for a big swoon because we didn't really have the depth that we have now."

Depth means different things to different teams, but for a middling one such as the Leafs what it means is having a defenceman like Cody Franson – who played meaningful minutes on a good Nashville Predators team last season – sitting glumly in the press box as he waits to get into a game.

It also means that when winger Clarke MacArthur returns from a suspension Saturday against the Calgary Flames, many players are bumped down the roster and someone like Nazem Kadri will head to the minors when he returns from a knee sprain in the next few days.

"I don't want to lose my job," MacArthur said jokingly. "That's why I'm hustling to get back.

"I like the well-rounded [group of]forwards we've got now. I think one of the big lines is going to be [the third line]when everyone's healthy," he added, rhyming off the various nicknames for teammates Matt Frattin, Kadri, Colby Armstrong, Tyler Bozak and Matt Lombardi. "You've got so many guys now. You've got a lot of depth and it's a positive thing."

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That depth is part of the reason why the Maple Leafs are undefeated in 2011-12, despite starting the NHL regular season without key cogs Tim Connolly and MacArthur up front.

In addition to Phil Kessel's hat trick last Saturday against the Ottawa Senators, four other forwards on three different lines have chipped in with a combined four goals – including two from those playing on the fourth line.

It's a welcome change for a team that generated almost zero offence from its third and fourth lines a year ago, something that contributed greatly to the Leafs finishing tied for 21st in the NHL in goals for.

Toronto needed only another 0.2 goals per game – or 16 goals over the course of the season – to creep into the top five in scoring in the Eastern Conference, which is about the boost it may get from deep in the roster this time around.

Wilson also believes same sort of depth on the blueline will come in handy, and he plans on getting Franson into his first game in a Leafs jersey against Calgary.

That will put another player into his spot in the press box and, presumably, keep the blueline competition going at least another few weeks.

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Finally having a healthy Connolly – as rare a bird as that may be – could then make for another tough decision among the forwards early next week, as a busier stretch of the schedule begins.

"A real team, I won't have to worry about [hurting anyone's feelings]" Wilson said. "When we're consistently winning and it's all about the team winning, the players don't worry about what happens to them as individuals."

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About the Author
Hockey Reporter

James joined The Globe as an editor and reporter in the sports department in 2005 and now covers the NHL and the Toronto Maple Leafs. More

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