Maple Leafs and Sabres began on-ice practicing Thursday. Photo credit: Facebook/Buffalo Sabres
Physicals Wednesday, on-ice practicing Thursday.
NHL training camps are officially underway.
We’ll concentrate on the two closest teams to Niagara, of course the Buffalo Sabres and the Toronto Maple Leafs.
Of the two clubs, the Maple Leafs made the most significant changes to their line-up from a team that finally made it out of the first round of the playoffs last season for the first time since 2004.
Sure, the big three are still there – for now, at least – in Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner and William Nylander, but the Leafs did add some pieces upon the arrival of new general manager Brad Treliving.
And as former GM Brian Burke used to say ‘truculence’ is the word of the day.
The Blue and White added Tyler Bertuzzi, son of former NHLer and not afraid to mix it up Todd Bertuzzi, from Boston.
Max Domi, son of Maple Leafs all-time tough guy Tie Domi, landed in Toronto from Dallas.
Ryan Reaves, arguably pound for pound the best fighter in today’s NHL, from the Minnesota Wild.
And John Klingberg, easily a top-four defenceman, also via Minnesota.
“I’m excited about the additions that we’ve made, and it never hurts to have a little extra muscle in your lineup,” proclaimed Auston Matthews.
The two biggest question marks for the Maple Leafs are once again goaltending and the future of William Nylander.
Can the tandem of Ilya Samsanov and Joseph Woll put the Leafs over the top?
Nylander is in the final year of his six-year $41.4 million contract.
Treliving has said re-signing the Swedish forward is a priority, but a slow start by the player or team could all change that.
Let’s head down the QEW to the Queen City.
Quick, name the only NHL team with three drafted first overall defensemen on their roster?
You guessed it, the Buffalo Sabres.
With Rasmus Dahlin and Owen Power already in their fold, the Sabres added another former first overall pick in blueliner Erik Johnson, who arrived in Sabre land from the Colorado Avalanche.
Buffalo’s other key addition is another defenseman in Connor Clifton from the Boston Bruins.
The 28-year-old Clifton averaged 1:19 of shorthanded ice-time for the Bruins’ NHL’s top-ranked penalty kill, and will provide an upgrade to Buffalo’s own penalty kill which ranked 28th in the league during the 2022-23 campaign.
Interesting as well, Clifton also brings a physical presence to the ice, as the Sabres finished last in the NHL in total hits at (1,171) last season. Clifton averaged 8.96 hits per game, while Buffalo averaged just 14.12 over 60 minutes.
“I think my style fits really well with the guys,” Clifton said. “Obviously, I play a two-way, abrasive style and I think I’m really going to help on the defensive side of things.”
Up front the Sabres youth and speed, including Tage Thomson’s, whose 47-goal breakout 2022-23 campaign is still being marveled at, should be okay.
Buffalo’s biggest training camp question is that between the pipes.
With two youngsters in Devon Levi and Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen ready to fight for the crease, Eric Comrie returns from an injury plagued season and will surely do what he has to for one of the two starting roles with the Sabres.
Training camps continue with the puck set to drop on the NHL regular season on October 10.
Rod Mawhood is a lifelong Niagara native who has had the pleasure of working in all three mediums – Radio, Print and TV – for over 20 years. His first announcing gig was with the then St. Catharines Stompers. Since then he’s worked in radio and TV in Toronto, and currently is the announcer for the Niagara IceDogs and Niagara River Lions.
Rod also covers the Buffalo Bills for FOX Sports and the Buffalo Sabres for NBC Sports.