Same old Leafs returning

Darcy Tucker adjusts his contact lenses during pre-season action on Friday. (Sun Media/Dave Abel)

Darcy Tucker adjusts his contact lenses during pre-season action on Friday. (Sun Media/Dave Abel)

LANCE HORNBY -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 10:32 AM ET

The Maple Leafs either are going green by recycling last year's game programs or mistakenly starting the 2007-08 regular season with much the same lineup that missed the 2007 playoffs.

When the final roster of 23 is confirmed today or tomorrow, as many as 21 players around the team last year will return or start on injured reserve. That includes 15 players who were in the lineup of Game 82.

At this stage, goalie Vesa Toskala and forward Jason Blake are the only newcomers bound to be in uniform Wednesday against the Ottawa Senators, with general manager John Ferguson and his staff discussing the merits of defencemen Staffan Kronwall, Anton Stralman, Jay Harrison and Bryan Muir much of yesterday.

That's assuming the Leafs carry two extra defencemen at the start as coach Paul Maurice hinted last week. After starters Bryan McCabe, Tomas Kaberle, Ian White, Pavel Kubina, Hal Gill and Andy Wozniewski, the Leafs will hang on to two of Kronwall, Stralman, Harrison and Muir.

Mitigating circumstances include the risk of losing Harrison on waivers should they demote him, Stralman's reluctance to play in the AHL as opposed to returning to Sweden, Kronwall needing a regular shift to develop and walk-on Muir not yet under a firm contract.

To be fair, camp would have had a different look had centre/winger Mark Bell been able to play. The Leafs talked of him challenging as high as the second line before he was slapped with a 15-game NHL suspension related to his off-ice legal woes.

Centre Kyle Wellwood needed corrective surgery for a sports hernia and after two starts, defenceman Carlo Colaiacovo was experiencing knee pain from a summer arthroscope.

Both will be sidelined for the first few games and possibly put on injured reserve. Fourth-liner Boyd Devereaux had a foot infection early in camp and looked rusty in two games.

Forwards who made a strong bid for jobs early in camp were journeymen Simon Gamache, Tony Salmalainen and junior Jiri Tlusty. But based on all of them not appearing in the final two exhibition games, they likely will start the year with the AHL Marlies.

The Leafs completed eight pre-season games by splitting a weekend series with Detroit for a record of 3-3-2. Some nights were punctuated by spotty goaltending from Toskala and Raycroft, the last thing Ferguson needed to see after last year.

The Leafs scored some nifty goals, but blundered into turnovers and spent valuable assessment time trying to kill penalties, nine of 10 on Sunday in a 4-0 loss to the Wings. They now have two days to work on systems before the difficult home and home against Ottawa.

It wasn't until Friday's win over Detroit that the top three lines emerged.

Nik Antropov won the right-wing sweepstakes to partner Mats Sundin and Jason Blake. Gambling that Chad Kilger will be in 20-to-30 goal territory, Maurice put him on a line with Darcy Tucker, while John Pohl replaces Wellwood as the line's centre. The success of Alexei Ponikarovsky, centre Matt Stajan and Alex Steen hinges on Stajan maturing to scorer from checker, Steen continuing last year's second-half surge and Ponikarovsky showing he can produce.

One or both of Kris Newbury or Ben Ondrus likely will play on the fourth line in rotation with Wade Belak, Bates Battaglia and Devereaux.


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