At this point, if you haven't read the transcript of the Heatley call last week and the subsequent tongue-lashing he's taken in the press, then you are too classy for the Ottawa Sun. But seriously here, folks, I'm not going to take much time re-hashing what has already been said about Heatley. We know he wants options, even though Edmonton and Ottawa don't appear to count as options. I think we'd all have been better served if he'd just said, "I'd like to be traded to one of the following six teams, otherwise, I'll play my ass off in Ottawa this Fall until Murray gets a better offer and grants my wish." That's essentially what it is, right? I still have mixed feelings on whether or not these shenanigans have any effect on his standing on Team Canada. Some people think that Yzerman is into character players and Heatley isn't one of them. But at the end of the day, on a roster stacked with centres, he's still one of the best wingers out there and barring injury, he's a starter.
On to other important news, we're within three weeks of the opening training camp on September 12th (first game on the 15th). Outside of the Heatley trade saga, and I can honestly say that I think his return is still 50/50, we have a few other topics to discuss. We've already touched on Pascal and made the statement that playoffs depends entirely on his health and performance. At some point, we can start discussing linemates. Suffice it to say that the big three will start split up and we'll have two lines with two stars each. Where the role guys fit in after that is up for grabs. From Murray's last interview on Leafs Lunch last week, he said that Peter Regin and Zach Smith both have a legitimate shot at cracking the roster. And what about Cody Bass? We always forget about Bass because he hurts himself and misses seasons at a time. When you think about it, there are legitimate battles for those role positions at forward. In addition to the big four, Fisher will be there by default and I think Foligno is ready for a 45 point season in the top six. That leaves: Shannon, Winchester, Neil, Ruutu, Donovan, Kelly, Bass, Regin, Smith, and if you're being generous, Schubert and Zubov. Should I abandon my dream of re-signing Comrie at this point? Seriously, it isn't like contracts are moveable (I'm talking to you, Chris Kelly) and guys like Shannon and Winchester are on one-way deals. Maybe none of the young guys make it. Curious to see how this shakes out.
On defence, all eyes will be on Erik Karlsson and if he lives up to the billing. Obviously, there is no way he can match the hype that has preceded him, but the organization will work hard to protect him from big hits (see: Brian Rafalski's entire career). Murray has set the table for this kid to make the team and all Karlsson has to do is sit down and eat. But what does that mean for Brian Lee? I'm on Lee's side and think he's going to take some great strides. This is the first time that there's been other young defencemen breathing down his neck for roster spots and he'll rise to the occasion. When he first joined the team at the end of the 2007-08 season and our brief playoff run, he looked great. There was pressure on him to step in as a top ten pick and perform. Last year, nobody really improved. Foligno did a bit, Shannon was alright, and the rest took a step back. This year, with Karlsson coming in and Cowen and Wiercioch not far behind, Lee knows that this season will truly determine if he is signing an extension or if he becomes trade bait. My money is on Lee stepping up.
And like we said earlier, there is a tremendous amount of pressure on Cory Clouston. Even though we know the Heatley trade request isn't his fault, it still hangs on his shoulders to an extent. Sure, the burden will be shared across the organization, but if the team falters out of the gate, then everyone will be watching to see how Clouston responds with adapting the game plan and with his star scorer's role. Clouston and Murray have the year to make the playoffs, in my opinion, and we're going to really start noticing the coach's every move starting three weeks from now. We've focused on Heatley all summer, but some the 12th, this becomes a team game again.
Is anyone else going a bit crazy waiting for this to start? Damn these long off-seasons.
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