MARKHAM -- It was a beautiful sun-splashed September morning and Staffan Kronwall was running behind.
His teammates already were stuffed into their golf carts in preparation for the annual LeafsFund Golf Classic at Angus Glen yesterday when Kronwall came scurrying down a large embankment to join them.
Too late. Busted.
"Kronwall's already in trouble," coach Paul Maurice, tongue planted firmly in cheek, said as he watched the young defenceman scramble to join the rest of the players in time for the tournament. "He's late for the tournament. Maybe we'll just leave him behind when we head out west."
Maurice was joking, of course, and for Kronwall, that's a good thing. Missing the impending trip, after all, would be a blow to his NHL aspirations.
The next five nights -- in which the Leafs play four exhibition games -- will go a long way in determining whether wannabes such as Kronwall have the right stuff to wriggle their way on to the NHL roster.
Kronwall is among a group making up the Bubble Boys, players on the outside who hope to impress management enough to earn one of the precious few jobs for opening night Oct. 3.
The auditions kick into high gear tonight when the Leafs raise the curtain on their exhibition season against the Oilers in Edmonton. Then it's off to Winnipeg for a game against the Phoenix Coyotes tomorrow, another date with the Coyotes at the Air Canada Centre Thursday and, finally, a visit to Boston for an encounter with the Bruins Saturday.
"By the time the Boston game is over, I'd like to pretty much have in place the team we hope to start the season with," Maurice said.
"No one could have made this team during the first three days of camp, but you very easily could have cut yourself. The next few days will be the opportunity for all these guys to make it up. We feel we have good young players at all positions."
The Leafs will take 39 players on their brief western Canadian trip including defenceman AntonStralman, one of the Bubble Boys who has been sidelined at camp with bronchitis.
Maurice hopes to see Stralman skate a couple of times in the coming days as the young Swede tries to make up for lost time.
Forward Boyd Devereaux, on the other hand, remains behind to rehabilitate the foot infection that has hampered him the past five days.
Unfortunately for the Bubble Boys, jobs are few and far between.
Up front, the Leafs might be looking for a candidate to fill in while forward Mark Bell serves his 15-game suspension. If Bell is cleared to return against Ottawa Nov. 6, someone might be sent to the farm to make room.
The blue line seems all but set too, with Tomas Kaberle, Bryan McCabe, Pavel Kubina, Hal Gill, Ian White and Carlo Colaiacovo occupying the top six spots.
Between the pipes, Vesa Toskala and Andrew Raycroft are shoo-ins to handle the goaltending duties, barring a trade.