There is obviously a lot on the line tonight.
The Wings, fighting to keep respect they deserve.
The Leafs, fighting to jump on board that same ship.
Tonight, they should be able to do it.
Almost more important than a win, and let’s point out that it is still, if fact, a pre-season game.
I don’t know what the Wings’ situation is like in terms of players fighting for spot, but there are at least a couple Leafs fighting to show they belong at this level.
Possibly the biggest is Morgan Reilly.
The issue of the salary cap most likely means that the WHL star is
probably unlikely to stay with the Leafs.
According to the authoritative capgeek.com, minor-leaguers Joe Colborne and Trevor Smith are to make the final cut. Colborne ($600,000) and Smith ($550,000) have cap-friendly contracts, so that more than anything could determine their fates.
That would also allow Nonis to carry one more player as insurance, at least in the short term.
This also means that prize defence prospect Rielly, 19, is unlikely to get even a brief look at life in the NHL. The cap problem means he will have to go back to junior.
Leafs Assistant General Manager Claude Loiselle said Thursday the management team is “still evaluating” its next move.
The problem is the 10-game suspension new Leafs forward David Clarkson blundered his way into in that brawl with the Buffalo Sabres (nobody wants to talk about that again). He stays on the roster during the suspension, and so does his $5.25-million salary. Plus, the Leafs have to add another body and a salary to replace him on the ice (presumably Smith).
Also not to be forgotten is an injury to forward Frazer McLaren (this is one man that you want on the ice).
He’s out with a broken finger, but he stays on the roster, too. This puts the Leafs at 22 players, one under the NHL’s limit, and it also prevents Nonis from following his earlier plan of carrying just 21 or 22 active players to create enough cap room once Cody Franson signed.
In the meantime, Franson has to be happy to be back with the Leafs, even if he took less than market value.
The key for him is the one-year term, which means he can cash in next summer on a long-term, rich contract if he has another season to match his last one, in which he posted 29 points in 45 games.
Franson, 26, said he is not looking forward to another round of contract negotiations, but that he does want to remain a Maple Leaf.
“At the end of it, you sit back and look at it and you realize it’s just business,” he said. “[Nonis and Loiselle] have a job to do, to try and make everything work, and I understand that. This is my dream place to play. I’m hopeful there’s a long-term deal coming up after this.”
As for Nonis, he could have five of his defencemen become restricted (Franson) or unrestricted free agents next summer. Also up are Dion Phaneuf, Mark Fraser, Paul Ranger and Jake Gardiner, plus scoring star Phil Kessel.