More than halfway through their pre-season schedule, the Toronto Maple Leafs are inching closer to piecing together their opening-night roster.
That won't happen for certain until all the exhibition games are over, according to general manager Dave Nonis, who plans on letting coach Randy Carlyle make the final calls.
"From his standpoint, he'll ask our opinion. But he's picking the team," Nonis said Saturday night in Buffalo. "I can't tell him to put someone in the lineup that he doesn't want in the lineup. It doesn't really work. He has full control over who makes this team and who doesn't."
The NHL is a salary-cap league, so it isn't entirely up to Carlyle. But with between $2 million and $3 million of breathing room, the Leafs can make decisions based on training camp and what makes sense and not because of dollars and cents.
Of course that's assuming defenceman Cody Franson remains unsigned. For now, Franson is out of sight and out of mind because, as Carlyle said last week, "you move on without people."
Toronto has eight other NHL defencemen under contract. And that's not even counting prospect Morgan Rielly, who merits consideration for a spot.
"He's making it as hard as we thought he'd make it," Nonis said. "He came in here with high expectations of himself. He knew he was prepared. Whether he can do it, it's still too early to say. We're happy with what he's done. He's shown flashes of definitely being ready."
Rielly can play up to nine regular-season games without burning a year of his entry-level contract. The Leafs could then keep the 19-year-old around or send him back to Moose Jaw of the WHL.
"He still has to contribute in those 12 to 15 minutes a game he does play in," Nonis said. "(Carlyle) has to be able to look at the end of the bench and he's not uncomfortable using him."
The same goes for veteran defenceman Paul Ranger, who hasn't been in the NHL since 2009, and veteran left-winger Mason Raymond, who's in camp on a professional tryout. Nonis knows Raymond from their time with the Vancouver Canucks and again put the decision on the forward's future in the hands of Carlyle and his staff.
From Nonis to vice president of hockey operations Dave Poulin and assistant GM Claude Loiselle down the chain, Carlyle said there's constant conversation going on when it comes to shaping the roster.
"There's an armada of management that we (can) make sure that we all have a voice or an opinion," Carlyle said. "We as a coaching staff talk behind closed doors quite a bit ourselves on what our feelings are, and we want to make sure we're consistent with what we see, and we voice our opinion to the management staff."
Lines and combinations are expected to change, but the majority of the roster is already set. Competition for the final few spots should heat up in the final week of pre-season games.
Joe Colborne and Trevor Smith, on one-way deals, and Troy Bodie figure to be in contention for depth-forward positions. Enforcer Frazer McLaren's broken right pinky finger and questionable status made for a more wide-open competition.
Colborne's case is the most intriguing, as the 2008 first-round pick has played just 16 career NHL games but should finally be ready for a full-time job.
"The way this thing works is the bus only goes by so many times, and you want to be on that bus," Carlyle said last week. "You're going to get so many opportunities, and who knows when the last one is. Other people are going to make that decision (that) it's the last opportunity. I'm not saying that's what's happening, but the bus is going by and there's another opportunity, so you want to be on it."
Before the bus leaves for the airport Sept. 30 prior to the Leafs' season opener at the Montreal Canadiens, decisions will be made based on countless plays and conversations. Carlyle said the coaching staff and management are a "unified group."
"When you're in the situation we're in, I think that you try to take everybody's opinion," he said. "That's been our motto, that's the way we were brought up and understand our position is that you have a vote and then when the people that are in the position to make the decision (make it), then we all live with that decision and we go forward."
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