Goalie guessing games

STEVE SIMMONS -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 1:41 PM ET

Let the guessing games begin.

Vesa Toskala says he doesn't know. Andrew Raycroft says he doesn't know. Paul Maurice says he knows -- but he's not telling.

Welcome to the 90th Maple Leafs season, where the newest game in town is musical goaltenders. Somebody will be starting in goal for the Leafs as they kick off another season tomorrow night against the Ottawa Senators, we just don't know who.

This isn't only about tomorrow's game. This dance may well go on for 82 games, or as long as it takes for Maurice to determine who is No. 1.

"I'll make the decision (on who's starting)," said Maurice, the Leafs coach. "I'll tell the goaltenders. I won't announce it."

This wasn't necessarily the plan. Somebody was supposed to win the starting goaltending job in training camp but nobody did.

Toskala, brought to Toronto for a king's ransom of future draft picks, was given the long-term money that meant he was supposed to be the guy.

He hasn't won anything yet.

Raycroft, brought to Toronto a year earlier on the cheap, was the goalie of choice last season, mostly because there was no second option. He either was supposed to settle in quietly as the No. 2 goalie or be traded.

Neither of those things happen.

In fact, when Toskala was booed by Leafs fans earlier in the pre-season, Raycroft, a victim himself, quipped knowingly: "I was starting to think it was personal. Turns out it wasn't."

When asked if he knew who could be pitching opening day for the Leafs, captain Mats Sundin stared straight into the television cameras and said: "I don't."

Oddly enough, a rather relaxed and certainly less tense Raycroft says he is more comfortable in his second season with the Leafs than he was at the beginning of the first. The strange part of that is he began last season as the definitive No. 1 goaltender and begins this season in a position of who knows.

"Last year I didn't know how I was going to play," Raycroft said. "After the year I had before (in Boston) and the lockout and I hadn't played a lot of games. I didn't know what to expect from the city, from playing in this organization, from myself.

"I'm a lot more comfortable this year knowing how it works and where my game is at."

This business of juggling goaltenders is nothing new to Maurice, although most coaches would prefer an insta-goalie like Roberto Luongo, where choice is unnecessary. Maurice never has been blessed with all-star goaltending in any of his coaching stops.

He took Carolina to the Stanley Cup final, starting with Kevin Weekes and finishing up with Arturs Irbe. He had Sean Burke for a short time, and Trevor Kidd and Eric Fichaud and Tyler Moss and what was left of Tom Barrasso.

Ask Maurice about the best goalie he ever coached and he'll probably answer Irbe, although none of the above is not an inappropriate answer.

As for a Leafs starter, he says the choice will be performance-based. If that is accurate, then Raycroft, not Toskala, should start the season at home. Toskala had a poor pre-season. Raycroft had a barely adequate pre-season. In boxing terms, the champion, however dubious, was not in any way defeated.

But if management factors in, having paid a hefty price for Toskala both in draft picks and future dollars, then Toskala gets the early push to start Game 1.

The choice to start the opening game will say much about who precisely is making the decisions -- although Maurice is absolutely insistent that these are coaches' decisions, and not made by the general manager.

"I have to prove to my teammates I can play," said Toskala, which is either a good sign or a bad sign after a month of camp, depending on your interpretation. "I know how I can play."

Raycroft, who ran the table in goal last year offering up some good, some bad and some ugly, shrugs when asked who should start.

"It has nothing to do with me," he said rather naively. "That's why Paul gets paid the big bucks."


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