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Answers Will Come Starting Thursday

by Staff Writer / Toronto Maple Leafs

Jake Gardiner is in.

Keith Aulie is out.

That is the upshot of cut-down day as the Maple Leafs trimmed their roster to 24 players including injuries and suspensions.

That Gardiner made the team is hardly shocking. He was probably the team’s best rearguard in the preseason and his arrival as well as the presence of John-Michael Liles signals a more aggressive and mobile Leafs defence.

The team had some size to give on the blue line. Captain Dion Phaneuf plays a physical game and Mike Komisarek delivered an encouraging training camp after transforming his body and dropping at least 20 pounds. Off-season acquisition Cody Franson is six-foot-three and able to add a little muscle here and there.

While Gardiner plays an offence-first game, his extraordinary skating mitigates against some of the risk that comes with youthful exuberance. He sees the ice beautifully and has a terrific stick. He left the Leafs no choice.

The biggest loser in this, at least in the short term, is Aulie who played 40 games, almost exclusively with Phaneuf and scored twice while finishing minus 1.

The Leafs placed forwards Joey Crabb, Darryl Boyce and defenceman Matt Lashoff on waivers. If they clear waivers the three will be returned to the Toronto Marlies.

That isn’t a sure bet. Lashoff is a reasonable callup for the tail end of an NHL defence and Boyce and Crabb are indefatigable players forced off the roster in part by the presence of the one-dimensional Colton Orr and Jay Rosehill.

The Leafs are still missing forwards Clarke MacArthur, suspended for the first two regular season games, and Nazem Kadri who will be out until mid to late October because of a sprained left knee.  Unless rookie Matt Frattin stumbles, either Rosehill or Orr could be on the way down when both players return.

Frattin was among the club’s best forwards in the preseason. He scored twice, was conscientious defensively and showed he could play on both special teams.

Here is the team:

Forwards: Colby Armstrong, Tyler Bozak, Mike Brown, Tim Connolly, Philippe Dupuis, Matt Frattin, Mikhail Grabovski, Phil Kessel, Nikolai Kulemin, Matthew Lombardi, Joffrey Lupul,  Colton Orr, Jay Rosehill

Injured: Nazem Kadri.
Suspended: Clarke MacArthur.

Defence:  Cody Franson, Jake Gardiner, Carl Gunnarsson, Mike Komisarek, John-Michael Liles, Dion Phaneuf, Luke Schenn

Goalies: Jonas Gustavsson, James Reimer

The Leafs have two rookies in Frattin and Gardiner and two new defencemen in Franson and Liles.

Five major questions will begin to be answered when the Leafs open against Montreal on Thursday at Air Canada Centre.

1. Is James Reimer ready to be the starter after a season which he rocketed through the system? Preseason is just that but Reimer’s numbers, a 3.29 goals against and .880 save percentage were unimpressive.

2. The Leafs line of Tim Connolly, Joffrey Lupul and Phil Kessel produced one goal in the preseason and Connolly has an upper body injury that may or may not keep him out of the opener.

3. What impact will Aulie’s demotion have on Phaneuf?  The Leaf captain’s game accelerated when he was teamed with the defence-first Aulie.

4. Can Gardiner maintain his excellent calibre of play now that the games are for real?

5. Is Orr, who missed last season because of concussion, a viable fighter because of his injury? For that matter, do you need a fighter if you keep Rosehill to team with speedy but pugulistically inclined Mike Brown.
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