Few Leafs jobs up for grabs

LANCE HORNBY -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 9:07 AM ET

Carlo Colaiacovo was the unwilling media star of the opening of training camp last year when the assembled cameras caught his bout of dizziness on the first day of workouts.

It was the start of a three-month hiatus for the injury-cursed Maple Leafs defencemen, who was not seen again in uniform until Dec. 12. But thanks to a strong second half, Colaiacovo will be the object of attention again tomorrow when 54 Toronto players begin their 2007-08 camp at Ricoh Coliseum.

Colaiacovo fought his way into the top six defencemen last season, but will be chased by the likes of Andy Wozniewski, Staffan Kronwall and Anton Stralman.

"I'm not here to think about last year," Colaiacovo said yesterday at Lakeshore Lions Arena. "I've come through (minor) off-season knee surgery and I'm very excited to get going."

Here's what the battle for positions looks like entering camp:

FORWARDS

CENTRE

BEST BETS: Mats Sundin, Kyle Wellwood, Matt Stajan, John Pohl.

FIGHTING FOR WORK: Kris Newbury, Jiri Tlusty

LEFT WING

BEST BETS: Jason Blake, Nik Antropov, Mark Bell, Chad Kilger

FIGHTING FOR WORK: Boyd Devereaux, Bates Battaglia, Tony Salmelainen

RIGHT WING

BEST BETS: Darcy Tucker, Alexei Ponikarovsky, Alex Steen, Wade Belak

FIGHTING FOR WORK: Ben Ondrus, Jeremy Williams

How the actual lines shake out is the big question. Put Sundin, Blake, Ponikarovsky, Antropov, Tucker and Wellwood are the top six to start.

"Jason has been here working out with the team for weeks and he'll fit right in," general manager John Ferguson said. "The expectation is that he's a speed guy who can finish, but like Darcy, he can jump into the power play on his off side."

Though Sundin left the first unit's composition in coach Paul Maurice's hands, expect the latter to let Sundin have a big say. So expect the Sky Line back together, with Antropov and Ponikarovsky doing spade work, or distracting foes for Sundin to get free for wraparounds. Wellwood's creativity and Blake's speed should be a good match, but Blake likely won't attain last year's career-best 40 goals, unless he solely is with Sundin.

With the departure of centres Travis Green, Yanic Perreault and Mike Peca, the depth chart opened for Stajan and Pohl. But for all their defensive smarts, they and their wingers need to finish offensive chances.

Steen will be lost in the shuffle if he has another slump. Kilger also dropped off from a career-high 17 goals, but with his size, combined with Bell, Battaglia, Devereaux and the snarly Ondrus and Newbury, the Leafs can create a nasty fourth line.

DEFENCE

BEST BETS: Bryan McCabe, Tomas Kaberle, Hal Gill, Pavel Kubina, Ian White, Carlo Colaiacovo

FIGHTING FOR WORK: Andy Wozniewski, Staffan Kronwall, Bryan Muir, Jay Harrison, Anton Stralman

If Kubina finds his comfort level and chips in on power plays, team fortunes will improve. McCabe must continue to pass the puck if teams keep taking away his big shot, while the pass-happy Kaberle is not about to change what has made him a star.

Gill is a 5-on-3 defensive specialist, while White and Colaiacovo improved their two-way games. Wozniewski will give the other big men a run. Muir played 25 games for Washington last year. Stralman has clarified that he'll go to the minors if need be.

GOAL

BEST BETS: Vesa Toskala, Andrew Raycroft

FIGHTING FOR WORK: Scott Clemmensen, Justin Pogge

Most believe the Leafs have made Toskala No. 1 by signing him to a long-term deal and that Raycroft is trade bait. But teams likely won't deal until November. That gives Raycroft time to win his job back or impress another club.


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