Thomas, Marchment have earned a shot

STEVE SIMMONS -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 8:19 AM ET

If training camp was fair -- and it never is and never will be -- then there would be no reason to assess the status of Steve Thomas and Bryan Marchment on the final days of Maple Leafs camp.

They both would have earned contracts by now.

But camp is rarely fair or simple and the Leafs find themselves in an uneasy position when it comes to the status of two veterans, hoping for one last shot.

By virtue of their play, Thomas and Marchment have done enough to earn spots on a 22 or 23-man Leafs roster. That is a credit to them and at the same time a condemnation of the apparent young talent the Leafs are bringing along.

But that doesn't mean either player is about to get the go-ahead to start the season.

This is the difficulty of the next few days of roster juggling and internal dissection. There are no clear cut answers for a Leafs team in need of them. There is barely any roster flexibility, unless the Leafs are interested in eating a one-way contract or two (which is hardly their style, considering John Ferguson wouldn't even let his marginal players walk away).

Which brings us back to Thomas, the new old hope of Leafs fans. He has been the story of a camp in need of a story. He has been among the 12 best Leafs forwards, which in Pat Quinn's world, should mean he has a job.

If you want to break it down even further, he has been among the nine best forwards in camp, which should assure him a place but doesn't.

The Leafs are in a quandary. If they sign Thomas and play him, what does it say about their younger players and even worse, why would they sacrifice ice time to a 42-year-old when a 20-something could be learning on the job?

On the flipside, how as a team and an organization can you prevent the best players from playing? If, as we suspect, Thomas deserves to play, he should play, no matter what his birth certificate says.

If everyone is healthy, that means Mats Sundin, Eric Lindros, Jeff O'Neill, Jason Allison, Darcy Tucker, Tie Domi and Quinn's twin towers -- Nik Antropov and Alexei Ponikarovsky -- will play regularly.

That's eight forward spots taken.

You assume Matt Stajan gets a free pass this camp, even if he hasn't done a thing. Clarke Wilm gets a spot because he can kill penalties and Alex Steen gets a place because he does one or two things every night that makes you take notice.

That's 11 forwards. Then there is Chad Kilger and Marius Czerkawski, two different players forever found wanting in other places, who have contracts. That's 13 before you even get to Thomas or Kyle Wellwood, the reluctant Maple Leaf.

Is that fair? It never has been. An early draft pick gets more of a look than a later pick. A signed player gets a better shot than an unsigned player. It never has been right, it's just the way it is.

It's the same story for Marchment, who probably came to camp as an even greater long shot than Thomas. He wasn't terrific in his first year with the Leafs. He was the kind of defenceman who was supposed to be rendered obsolete in the new stepped-up NHL.

Except he hasn't been. He has playing with guile. He has adjusted. Yeah, like Thomas, he may be 100 years old, but Marchment looks more comfortable than the kids or Wade Belak do on defence.

Maybe he can't be Top 6 on a team every night but he can pitch an inning or two when you need him.

Bryan McCabe, Tomas Kaberle, Aki Berg, Ken Klee and Sasha Khavanov are all guaranteed places to start the season, assuming health. If Belak is a defenceman, there is likely a roster spot for him for obvious reasons. That leaves maybe one or two spots for Marchment, Brad Brown, Andy Wozniewski, Staffan Kronwall or the diminishing asset, Carlo Colaiacovo.

It is nervous time for the kids as camp winds down, nervous time for Thomas and Marchment. At least the kids have a place to go if they don't make the Leafs: Thomas and Marchment just go home.


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