TORONTO - Randy Carlyle was asked about whether some of his injured players might be ready for opening night, but his answer strayed to healthy ones, too.
"I still think we have a couple days before we make that final assessment on everybody," Carlyle said. "I would say that there's some performances you just can't ignore — positively and negatively."
Forgive Carlyle for linking the two, as a handful of injuries have clouded the Toronto Maple Leafs' roster outlook leading up to final cuts. Even if ultra-durable Phil Kessel is good to go for Wednesday's season opener against the Montreal Canadiens despite a lower-body injury, it's not clear whether centre Tyler Bozak (lower body), winger Josh Leivo (bruised foot) and defenceman Cody Franson (bruised knee) will be ready.
Jobs hang in the balance.
There's no replacement for Bozak on the roster, but it would be a trickle-down effect if he's not ready. The Leafs' No. 1 centre and Kessel's running mate missed the start of camp and appeared in just three pre-season games, missing Friday's finale.
Leivo's health could affect a handful of Leafs on the bubble, most notably Matt Frattin, who had a camp Carlyle described as "mediocre." His last game might've been his best.
"The one thing that he did is he was physical, and that's what we've asked Fratty that that part of his game has to be up there for him to make a contribution," Carlyle said. "That's what we believe in our assessment of him when we've had him here previously: He becomes a much more effective player when he's on the body."
With undersized winger Brandon Kozun earning a spot as the most pleasant surprise of training camp, it looks like there's room for one of Colton Orr, Frazer McLaren, Carter Ashton and William Nylander. Each player except Nylander requires waivers, so decisions should be coming before Monday at noon so the 23-man group can be set by 5 p.m. Tuesday.
Orr is a favourite of Carlyle's, and even though he has emphasized "team toughness," the veteran enforcer looks like a good bet to be on the team, even if it's in a platoon role as a 13th forward.
Franson factors in, too, because it would determine if Toronto keeps 14 forwards and seven defencemen or 13 and eight. He skated only at the end of Saturday's practice and is focused on getting the swelling down and bringing back some more range of motion.
"It's getting better," Franson said Saturday. "There's definitely still some work to do to get it back to game shape, but it's a step in the right direction."
Franson said his goal was to play Wednesday. If he can't, 2011 first-round pick Stuart Percy could make his NHL debut.
Percy, a 21-year-old lefty, stood out in camp and earned at least the seventh-defenceman job, helped by veteran Henrik Tallinder injuring his shoulder while on a tryout. Friend and former AHL roommate Korbinian Holzer, a righty, would be in line to be No. 8.
"Korby, he's had an outstanding training camp for us," Carlyle said. "He's played some real good hockey games for us. We feel that he's got a shot at making our hockey club."
Holzer, who played 22 games for the Leafs during the lockout-shortened 2013 season, feels like this is his best of five training camps.
"I think I've done everything I could to leave a good impression," the 26-year-old German said. "I will never be a flashy guy who will score 10 goals or whatever. I think I had some good games and I just feel like overall it was a good pre-season."
There wasn't much tension at Saturday's practice, even with cuts looming. But some anxious moments await, and even though 37-year-old veteran Stephane Robidas is safe, he emphasizes with his teammates on the edge.
"I remember that feeling where you show up to training camp and you're hoping it's going to be the year where you're going to make it and you're close and you don't know what to expect," Robidas said. "But I think all the young guys they played very well and they don't make the job easy on the GM and the coaches that have to make those decisions because I think a lot of those young guys played very well."
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