Maple Leafs have Frank Corrado playing waiting game again

Eric Staal scored a pair of goals, his second coming as the game-winner, to get the Wild past the Maple Leafs 3-2.

At some point you have to think things will finally break Frank Corrado’s way.

He’s been a good enough player to hold a NHL job for more than a year straight. He’s viewed as a valuable enough asset that the Toronto Maple Leafs have chosen not to expose him to waivers, where he’d likely be lost to another team.

And yet, more often than not when head coach Mike Babcock fills out his lineup, he’s left the 23-year-old defenceman out of it.

That’s how it went throughout the entire first half of last season and the way it’s going again four games into this one. Corrado, a local boy who grew up loving the Maple Leafs, hopes the feeling of déjà vu disappears quickly.

“Obviously I don’t want to sit out too long this year,” he said. “I don’t think it was good for me last year and I don’t think it’s good for any young player to sit out too long. I think you lose your identity a little bit as a player.”

He may be a long way off last year’s stretch of 28 straight scratches, but this wasn’t an easy week. The Leafs played back-to-back in Winnipeg and Minnesota, and lost Martin Marincin with a minor injury for Thursday’s game against the Wild, and still Corrado didn’t play.

Roman Polak entered the lineup instead, officially signalling Corrado as the eighth man on the depth chart.

That could mean a steady diet of bag skates and stationary bike rides still to come. Barring a change of philosophy, it appears that it’ll take an injury to get him in the lineup.

“Yeah, it’s just a wait,” Babcock explained. “I mean you’ve got to be careful what you wish for because sooner or later in this league … it’s just a matter of time. The reason you have eight (defencemen) is because you need eight, and you usually need nine or 10. So I’m not too concerned about that.

“(Polak) and Frankie are real good players, and good men – they’re working hard – and obviously want to be in and aren’t happy that they’re not in but that’s part of the process.”

To Corrado’s credit, he always seems to show up to work with a smile on his face. There are no obvious signs of frustration or bitterness in the way he carries himself.

It can’t be easy – not after dressing for just four of Toronto’s first 47 games a year ago after being claimed off waivers from Vancouver at the outset of the season. By Jan. 27, he had played just 42:48 in total ice time for the Leafs despite being healthy the entire time.

When you include a conditioning stint with the AHL Marlies, he dressed for only 46 games in total. The year before that he got into 45.

“Sitting out games is not fun,” said Corrado. “I mean you watch the team play every night and you want to be out there and you think you can do something to help the team. Obviously, I know the situation and I know how to stay prepared for it, but I don’t think you necessarily want to be sitting out.

“I don’t think it’s necessarily good for you.”

At some point the question of fairness enters the equation.

Corrado is obviously compensated extremely well – he’s on a $600,000, one-way deal – and treated like a king while travelling around the best hockey league in the world, but to have any sort of future as a pro he needs to get in games somewhere.

Despite a fairly strong training camp, he was bumped down the Leafs depth chart by the arrival of fellow right-hand shots Connor Carrick and Nikita Zaitsev. Given the team’s number crunch, he knew there was a good chance he’d be cut prior to the season if he didn’t make an impression right away. There’s some hope to be found in that.

“I had a good enough camp that I made the team and that’s a positive and that’s obviously a compliment to my play,” said Corrado. “If I didn’t have a good enough camp I probably would have ended up on waivers.

“I think, knowing that, I have confidence in my abilities; that given the chance I could play.”

By now Corrado’s parents, Sal and Carmela, know better than to ask when that opportunity will come. His buddies inquire from time to time – as does the odd fan he encounters on the street or in a restaurant.

Then there is the occasional reporter who wanders over to his locker to ask: Frankie, when are you going to get in there?

“I don’t know,” he said this week. “I honestly couldn’t tell you.”

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