Leafs coach Randy Carlyle delivered that message before a packed house of quote-starved journos outside the team’s dressing room, Monday.
This edition of the team will be fitter and more defensively astute. Player roles will be more defined.
“There’s not going to be a lot of changes to the system,” Carlyle said. “Our expectations were we would play to a higher level through better conditioning (and) have a better and more responsible defensive attitude. Accountability (is going to be) held to a higher level.
Carlyle said the most deserving will be promoted even if one of those is 18-year-old Moose Jaw defenceman Morgan Rielly. “Because you played here last year doesn’t necessarily mean you’re automatically going to play. That’s the reality of training camp.”
That said, Rielly’s future is at least as dependent on Jake Gardiner’s health as on his own play. Gardiner has been out a month since absorbing a hit to the head and was the team’s best player when he went out. Gardiner has been working out off the ice and Carlyle is hoping he will be ready whenever training camp starts.
“There are certain tests he has to pass and that will determine how far he will be away from participating on-ice,” Carlyle said.
Carlyle described the team’s netminding as “NHL quality goaltending.”
“We have people who can play to a high level in the NHL and it’s not just the goaltender’s responsibility, it’s our responsibility to implement a system so that we can be better defensively,” he said.
Not a whole lot of this is earth-shattering, of course. Coaches often find fault with the conditioning delivered by their predecessors. Same thing with the delineation of roles. The first coach to say his goalie doesn’t belong in the league will be the first coach to say his goalie doesn’t belong in the league.
What matters is that Carlyle isn’t coming into the season as a neophyte. Last season’s 18 games behind the bench, he said, provided plenty of opportunity to assess the quality, conditioning and commitment of the same players he will handle when the puck drops in earnest this month.
“I think it was of vast importance,” said Carlyle. “Basically that was part of the reason to come in and take the position at that time.”
There are so many variables. Is Luongo, who holds a no-trade clause, amenable to a move from a hot media cauldron into an incendiary one? If they are truly motivated can the Canucks and Leafs agree on an exchange.
Who will centre the number one line? Carlyle said James van Riemsdyk will start the season on the wing but they will keep the option of moving him into the middle open. Bozak, the incumbent, is the most frequently-mentioned player in the Luongo trade rumours. If he goes, who takes the reins of the number one line? Mikhail Grabovski is better suited to the second unit and the rest of the centremen, Tim Connolly, and Matt Lombardi, have proven to be less than first-line worthy.
Carlyle has the makings of a good third line thanks to Leo Komarov, a revelation with the Marlies before he returned to Russia and defensive centre Jay McClement.
The answers won’t start presenting themselves until a date is set for training camp.