TORONTO - Just because Tim Gleason is happy to be in Toronto doesn't mean he'll be wearing a Maple Leafs jersey right away.
Gleason, obtained from the Carolina Hurricanes for fellow defenceman John-Michael Liles and a prospect, practised with the Leafs for the first time Friday. But it's uncertain if he'll play Saturday night against the New York Rangers.
"We feel he can make a contribution, and if it starts (Saturday) night or if it starts the next night or the night after, it's always nice to have depth in defencemen," coach Randy Carlyle said. "I think it's one of those things where you'd like the player to get a little bit more familiar with your group, too.
"We'll see on how we feel he sets up."
Gleason was paired with Mark Fraser on Friday. Fraser has been a healthy scratch for Toronto's past six games and eight of the last nine.
Carlyle provided some mixed signals on whether Gleason might be in the lineup for his size and physicality.
"New York's got some big forwards in (Rick) Nash and (Brian) Boyle," he said. "They're a hockey club that will try to grind it down down-low. So those are all things you take into consideration."
Carlyle and his staff must also consider Gleason's quick turnaround after being dealt New Year's Day as the Leafs were playing in the Winter Classic. The veteran has a steep learning curve ahead of him.
"There's a lot of information, a lot of system things, kind of like going back to school, so it's good," Gleason said.
The 30-year-old left-handed shot had just one assist in 17 games for Carolina this season. He knew he was being traded about a week ago and was pulled out of games and practices beginning Dec. 31 against Montreal, so it didn't come as much of a surprise.
Gleason, whose final game with the Hurricanes was at Air Canada Centre against the Leafs, also knew to expect more media attention than he got in Raleigh, N.C.
"This is totally different from what I'm used to. There's usually two of you," Gleason said with a smile. "This is exciting, and (I'm) happy to be a part of this club."
The six-foot, 217-pound Gleason figures to fit in better with Carlyle's ideal identity than the smaller, quicker Liles, who's more of a puck-mover.
"I think I'm a physical player," Gleason said. "That's kind of how I've earned my spot throughout my career so far, just being physical and being hard to play against and kind of bringing that gritty type of style of play."
That gritty style of play is exactly why the Leafs acquired Gleason and his US$4-million cap hit that runs for two more seasons after this one. Unlike Liles, who was made expendable by the growth of Morgan Rielly and Jake Gardiner, Gleason won't be out of place.
"I think we're asking Tim Gleason to play the way he's accustomed to playing," Carlyle said. "That's the style of play that he's etched out an NHL career (with), being a strong, physical, defensive defenceman.
"We think he has something to offer to our group."
Gleason will likely have something to offer as long as he can stay healthy. He missed time at the start of the season with a concussion and then separate stretches with an upper-body and then a lower-body injury.
Asked if he was healthy now, Gleason deemed himself 100 per cent.
"Obviously I had some issues prior at the beginning of the year, kind of a setback," he said. "But all good and ready to go and ready to get my game back here."
Gleason's challenge in getting his game back has to do with the Leafs carrying eight defencemen. They've played eight this season, counting Liles, and at one point had a ninth on the roster in T.J. Brennan, who did not dress.
That also could be a bit of a problem for Carlyle when it comes to juggling eight and only being able to play six or sometimes seven at a time.
"It's always tough when you're making decisions whether people are in and out of the lineup. It does complicate it," Carlyle said. "But that's a luxury. We always state that when you start the beginning of the year, you think you need nine or 10 to get through the year. This year's no different than that.
"We just felt that with the way our team is and the way we've played that we'd like to add some stiffness on the back end."
The Leafs did that in getting Gleason for Liles and 2011 sixth-rounder Dennis Robertson, a defenceman who's playing at Brown University. Gleason had to waive his no-trade clause to make it happen and did so knowing it was a smart, practical move.
"Ultimately it was our decision as a family," said Gleason, a veteran of 616 NHL regular-season games. "You've been (in) a place for eight years, you kind of have friendships outside the hockey, things like that. It plays a big part in life itself.
"But I knew as a hockey decision I had to move on, and what a better place to be than Toronto."
Gleason arrived on a day temperatures reached -22 C and after snow had fallen across much of the region. That didn't bother the native of Clawson, Mich., which is about 20 minutes outside of Detroit.
"I'm a Michigander, so it's not that far off," Gleason said. "It's in my blood. I tried to shake it for eight years, but I came back and I was used to it."
NOTES—Practice was delayed more than 40 minutes because of accidents on the west-bound section of the Gardiner Expressway. Accidents appeared to involve 10 cars in two separate places, and centre Nazem Kadri got caught up in congestion around Islington. It was unclear which other players were stuck in traffic getting out to the team's practice facility. ... The Leafs will wear their Winter Classic jerseys twice more this season, Jan. 18 against the Canadiens and Feb. 7 against the Canucks. Because of that, goaltender Jonathan Bernier will keep his vintage brown pads around before giving them to charity. ... The NHL said an average of 3.57 million people watched CBC's broadcast of the Winter Classic, which is the most for any non-playoff game in Canadian broadcast history.
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