In case you’ve missed it (you probably haven’t), the Toronto Maple Leafs announced their 23-man roster this afternoon. The moves, in essence, involved making four team decisions, which were as follows:
- Assigning Calle Rosen to the Toronto Marlies, instead of Andreas Borgman
- Releasing Roman Polak from his PTO, though he’ll continue training with the team
- Assigning Timothy Liljegren to the Toronto Marlies, instead of loaning him back to Rogle BK of the SHL
- Keeping Martin Marincin up with the Leafs as the seventh defenceman, rather than waiving him
There’s a lot to unpack here, but to start it off simply, I think Toronto did pretty well for themselves with this group of decisions.
Battle of the Sixes
For what it’s worth, I thought that both Rosen and Borgman looked excellent in the preseason, with all factors considered. After all, these are players coming from years of playing in Sweden, with no real North American experience, and they’re battling to win third pairing roles, not Norris Trophies.
Despite that, we saw them both put up above water possession numbers, and more importantly (given that these are exhibition games and we only had two a limited sample of data to work with given the venues), we saw bits of what makes each player so unique.
Rosen showed off exemplary skating ability and offensive awareness:
— Jeff Veillette (@JeffVeillette) September 24, 2017
While Borgman showed off his edge:
Here's the full Borgman/Blunden sequence pic.twitter.com/3z5H6UHCLQ
— Jeff Veillette (@JeffVeillette) September 20, 2017
While Rosen gave it a tough fight, I’m not shocked that Borgman got the final nod. Mike Babcock’s end reasoning was a long-winded analogy about heavy players and big vehicles, which is typical of him and a bit of an odd justification, but I think there’s always room for a physical player that can also play, and he certainly has the skating ability, first pass, and shot to keep up.
Picking between Rosen and Marincin to be the #7 was probably the tougher of the two battles. Rosen is the player who’s skating ability best suits Toronto’s style of play, and he’s spent more time on his off-side in the past year and change than Marincin has, but ultimately, he’ll probably benefit more from being an elite AHLer learning all the tricks of the small ice than he will from sitting in the press box.
This also shields Marincin from waivers, and while he likely had a shot of clearing, perhaps teams have kicked tires on him recently enough to believe that he’d get claimed. Marincin is very polarizing, putting up very good defensive results on the stat sheet while looking like a bit of an unconfident, wounded gazelle while watching him, but it’s always good to have bodies on the point as available options, and no matter which way you slice it, getting rid of him gives you one fewer.
I’m somewhere in the middle on him; a solid player that needs a jolt of confidence, but not someone I’d worry about long-term, but odds are that if a struggling or close to the cap team takes a look at him and puts him in a position to succeed, he’ll play well enough to make us second guess, even if we knew it would never work here (think Richard Panik with Chicago). Heaven forbid that happens in the division, so you’re probably better of with him as a sparing option here than as an everyday option in a place that better suits him.
The Fall of Rome
Polak tonight! pic.twitter.com/jlwpcx5TKO
— Darryl Keeping (@dkeeping) October 1, 2017
I don’t think the Polak news should be of a surprise to anyone. His months of rehab led him to just one preseason game, and in it, he didn’t really make a particularly positive impact. He showed his usual, aggressive near the net playstyle that has endeared him to fans, but part of the reason he had the opportunity to do that is that he struggled super, super hard to get the puck out of harm’s reach.
Even in the post-game scrums, you could tell that the first game was just another step in the recovery process for Polak, aware as anyone that he still has some time to go before he can play a regular shift. As expected, the Leafs are doing what they can to help him recover, but short of a big wave of injuries hitting them the moment he gets to 100%, I still doubt he’s signing.
All the same, I’d be more than happy to have him around until then. He’s clearly well liked and he’s an extra body to do drills with. It worked out just fine with Brandon Prust last year, as well as with Kari Ramo (until they put in games with the Marlies and realized he wasn’t up to speed, that is).
The Rise of Timoth
Lastly, we find ourselves talking about Toronto’s 2017 first round pick. Liljegren’s fate was a hot-button topic discussion over the past few months. Four options had been presented; making the Leafs, being sent to the Niagara IceDogs, being loaned back to the SHL, or playing for the Marlies.
On the surface, the Marlies seemed to be the most intriguing option. It would allow for him to get used to North American hockey, it would mean he’d get to be tutored by an in-house coaching staff instead of leaving someone else to take care of him, and it would mean that he could get a head start on getting used to the city he will eventually call home as an NHLer.
Timothy Liljegren doing Timoth Linegren things pic.twitter.com/x9th91ixGV
— Jeff Veillette (@JeffVeillette) September 19, 2017
That’s not to say that Sweden would have absolutely the wrong choice for him. In fact, it was my original suggestion, something that I had held confidence in until just a few weeks ago. The quality of competition there is higher, he has unfinished business after last season, it would’ve allowed him some familiarity after a stretch of rockiness, and with the Leafs having so many of their current young players scrunched up in their North American affiliates, it would’ve maximized the minutes of both himself and his peers.
But the key word there is “Sweden”. The key word isn’t “Rogle”. Rogle, the team that owns his rights at the moment, is having an absolutely disastrous season, particularly on the point. In their first four games, they’ve lost 5-0, lost 5-1, lost 7-2, and won 8-7. One can say that this would give Liljegren a defensive challenge, but really, that’s closer to throwing him to the wolves. If Toronto were able to facilitate a trade, perhaps the SHL would’ve been the place to be, but if the choices are a deep Marlies team (which we’ll talk about very soon) that can nurture him and slide him between sheltering and spotlight depending on how he’s playing, and an SHL team that looks like they’d need multiple Liljegrens to avoid relegation, I think he’s best off staying here.
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