Could JVR play centre?

Philadelphia Flyers winger James van Riemsdyk celebrates the game winning goal between the New...

Philadelphia Flyers winger James van Riemsdyk celebrates the game winning goal between the New Jersey Devils goalie Martin Brodeur during the overtime period in Game 1 of their NHL Eastern Conference semifinal playoff hockey series in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, April 29, 2012. (REUTERS)

LANCE HORNBY, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 9:54 AM ET

TORONTO - The countdown to Sunday’s start of free agency for the Maple Leafs begins in earnest early Monday when Toronto is allowed to join the rest of the NHL bidding for Justin Schultz.

At the stroke of midnight, the Anaheim Ducks lost exclusive negotiating rights to the 2008 second-rounder, a talented defenceman chosen by Brian Burke before he departed for Toronto. Anaheim’s current general manager, Bob Murray, met Schultz’s agent Wade Arnott at the draft in Pittsburgh without progress, though the GM promised he’d make another attempt before Sunday.

Schultz has been targeted by various teams, mostly in the Western Conference, including his home-province Canucks and the Oilers, who need a stud on the backline to augment their young forwards. Detroit, with age catching up to it, is also in the running. The Leafs have two small advantages, the Burke umbilical and the presence of Schultz’s University of Wisconsin teammate Jake Gardiner. The Leafs could also offer Schultz a faster track to a starting role.

Middle re-Leaf

Did the Leafs kill two birds with one van Riemsdyk?

When they acquired James van Riemsdyk from the Flyers, the vision was how the 6-foot-3 winger would bolster the left side on the second line, challenge the smaller Clarke MacArthur and be a first or second-unit power-play presence on the wall.

But those who’ve seen van Riemsdyk play in the middle in an earlier hockey life, wonder if he’ll audition at centre where the Leafs will be trying for the fifth straight year to get an impact No. 1 pivot. Unless they upgrade via trade, Tyler Bozak would likely have the job again entering camp. Burke is at least entertaining the idea on moving van Riemsdyk around.

“He has played a fair amount of centre in his career, until he turned pro,” Burke said of the ex-Flyer’s days in the U.S. national development team and the University of New Hampshire.

Burke, who also considered trying Kris Versteeg at centre on the top line when he was brought in from Chicago a couple of years ago, might have to look to the Marlies.

“We’re very happy with the progress of a couple of the centres in the system. Joe Colborne had a phenomenal first half, (but) production fell off in the second. We think Joe is going to come in and make a push to stick on the team.

“Nazem Kadri is going to get a good look. It may be the coaches in training camp want to try JVR up the middle, (but) I think of him as a winger.”

Dandy for Randy

After almost seven seasons of arduous road trips from the farthest NHL pocket in California, coach Randy Carlyle is delighted with playing most of his schedule in one time zone.

“It’s so much different,” Carlyle said. “I think after January, we go to Phoenix and after that it’s 27 straight games against Eastern teams. That’s a huge change from where I’ve been.”

The Ducks, who fired him in November, are at the Air Canada Centre on Oct. 30.

“It’s always intriguing to play against your former employers and obviously my emotions will be running high,” Carlyle said of that game. “But it’s a long way away right now.”

He believes the 2012-13 schedule won’t be a drawback to the Leafs, at least as far as awkward road trips are laid out.

“We cut down on the number of back-to-back games (from 17 to 14), which is always something coaches look for.

There are always quirks, areas you like and areas you don’t. I don’t like that we have nine out of the last 15 on the road at the end of the season. Those are tough stretches.

“You’re never going to be really happy with what you get (but) the points are as important at the beginning of the year as at the end.”

Loose Leafs

The passing of ex-Leaf defenceman Fernie Flaman was announced prior to Saturday’s second round of the draft. Flaman was 85. Flaman was a young teen called up by the Bruins during the Second World War and later played on Toronto’s 1951 Stanley Cup team ... Carlyle met briefly with No. 1 draft pick Morgan Rielly on Friday night. He leaves the scouting to the scouts and doesn’t like to put pressure on teens, but said: “You’re picking in the top five, you expect a player of impact.” ... Flyers GM Paul Holmgren on van Riemsdyk: “I believe he will become a very good player in our league. Unfortunately for us, I think it’s going to be for Toronto now.”


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