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8 young Leafs who require waivers next season, and why that matters now

As we approach this (relatively quiet, for now, to the point of maybe being overhyped in hindsight) artificial trade deadline ahead of the Vegas Golden Knights’ expansion draft next week, there is a lot of talk about who the Leafs will be moving around, either through selection or transaction.

One underrated factor in the decision-making process will be waiver eligibility. A few of Toronto’s younger (under-25) players will need to be offered up to the rest of the league at some point next season, should the Leafs decide that they’re better suited for the Marlies. Impressively, most of the youth nucleus is safe (Nikita Soshnikov is still exempt, which floored me), but there’s still a few to keep an eye on, especially should supplementary pieces be needed for trades. We’ll go in reverse order of age.

Josh Leivo

Likeliness to make the Leafs next year: As mentioned in his season in review post yesterday, it’s going to be hard for him to get ice time given the sheer amount of depth on both wings. The Leafs already favoured Nikita Soshnikov, Matt Martin, and Eric Fehr to him this year and they’ll likely favour Kasperi Kapanen next year.

Likeliness to be claimed off waivers: Very high. That’s one of the reasons his AHL time last year amounted to a single conditioning stint. Going on that scoring tear in February probably didn’t help much either.

Expected Solution: Probably claimed by Las Vegas in a few days.

Seth Griffith

Likeliness to make the Leafs next year: Very slim. He could be a call-up option when the team is specifically in need of a playmaker, but it’s doubtful that he’ll get much more of a look unless Toronto were to start shedding roster players on the right wing.

Likeliness to be claimed off waivers: Up in the air. Griffith was claimed three times last year; twice by Toronto and once by Florida, having started the season in Boston. The second Toronto claim was made in large part because it allowed them, as a prior rightsholder within the season, to assign him to the AHL directly.

With his time with the Leafs and Panthers not going super well, I’m not sure if anybody claims him to give him another look, unless he’s a standout in the preseason and teams are left unimpressed by their wingers.

Expected Solution: Probably waived in October, in hopes of being a top winger for the Marlies once again.

Morgan Rielly

Likeliness to make the Leafs next year: …duh

Likeliness to be claimed off waivers: …duh

Expected Solution: Barring some mega blockbuster, Mo is obviously staying with the team. He just happens to fit these qualifiers. It’s crazy to think, for a guy who was drafted just months after Randy Carlyle was hired and while Brian Burke was still GM, that he’s only 23 years old. Not to mention, signed for the long haul too.

Connor Carrick

Likeliness to make the Leafs next year: Probably in a diminished role, given all the gossip about the Leafs going after a higher-end right-handed defenceman. But I couldn’t see him ending up any worse than their third-best option on that side.

Likeliness to be claimed off waivers: High. While he didn’t produce a ton of points last year, he was one of the league’s better fancy stat defencemen while playing with, well, basically everybody other than Martin Marincin. To pick someone like that up for free, especially while they’re younger and make under a million bucks seems pretty obvious.

Expected Solution: Probably not going anywhere, unless the Leafs make a trade in the next two hours ahead of the roster freeze for a defenceman and require him to be exposed.

Garret Sparks

Likeliness to make the Leafs next year: Probably about 50/50. Sparks was excellent for the Marlies last year when he was healthy/available. At the same time, he wasn’t those things on a consistent basis, due to injuries and a personal issue suspension. The former is probably a longer term concern to the Leafs, so they may look to sign a backup without as long of a recent medical record.

Likeliness to be claimed off waivers: Depends on when in the year it is. If he makes the Leafs out of camp and looks even halfway decent, a team might take a chance on someone who has a solid track record when 100% capable. If it’s at the start of the season, though, he’ll likely clear.

Expected Solution: Waived in October if the Leafs find a veteran backup; likely stays with the team throughout the year if they don’t.

Brendan Leipsic

Likeliness to make the Leafs next year: Not a ton, for similar reasons to Leivo. Would make a very solid call up and could even be a good forechecker/neutral zone player in the bottom six, but there’s no space as it stands.

Likeliness to be claimed off waivers: High. The 23-year-old finished Top-4 in U24 points per game in the AHL last year and has produced at a 0.85 point per game clip in his three years in the league. He looked pretty solid in his cup of coffee with the Leafs in 2015/16. He may be on the smaller side, but surely there has to be at least one NHL team with room for a pesty puck carrier who can put up points and throw a hit.

Expected Solution: If there’s a trade to be had where a team requires a supplementary prospect, don’t be too shocked if he’s the one to go.

Connor Brown

Likeliness to make the Leafs next year: The kid they call Breeze is an NHLer to stay. Brown had a 20-goal rookie season that most fanbases would be parading around in arguments all summer, putting up points at times while playing effective two-way hockey at others. Amazingly, he only was Toronto’s fifth-best rookie.

Likeliness to be claimed off waivers: Not even a question.

Expected Solution: There’s been some gossip that Brown could be a major piece in a trade because of his good and young but not quite a star status, but it’s still very likely we’ll see him back in the Leafs lineup again next year.

Kerby Rychel

Likeliness to make the Leafs next year: You’d think a guy that can pick up goals in front of the net, throw big hits, make nice passes, and fight to defend his teammates, all for under a million dollars would be a lock to find a bottom-six role next year. You’d think a 52-point showing in the AHL out of a power forward type would earn him a spot.

Anyway, it’s really important that the Maple Leafs protect Matt Martin and keep him in the lineup for every possible game for the next three years.

Likeliness to be claimed off waivers: Very high. He had a very good season relative to his age and playstyle in the AHL this year, especially given that he and his most frequent linemates went through a bit of a shooting percentage slump for a while. Rychel is less than four years removed from being a first-round pick and while he likely won’t reach his hoped-for upside, he’s looking like he’ll be an NHLer.

Expected Solution: Likely similar to Leipsic. The Leafs might take the risk and maybe they see him squeak through in a crowded early October waiver wire, but if a team is interested in him this summer, I wouldn’t be shocked if they use him as a trade topper. The other thought here is, due to the versatility of his game, he might end up being a 13th forward who plays as an injury replacement.

To Sum It Up

I found this list interesting given the debate about whether Toronto will use its 7th protection spot in the expansion draft on Leivo, Leipsic, or Rychel. From the looks of it, though, there’s a sizable chance that we’re arguing about nothing, given that all three of them are threats to be lost for nothing over the next few months unless the Leafs make transactions ahead of time.

Toronto will likely be keeping a list like this in mind while working the phones; even if they’d prefer to keep these players over some of the exempt ones, the fact that they could be gone for nothing as well if they don’t make the opening night roster might make them wiser to shop.

Who’s exempt, anyway?

Just in case you’re left curious to who still can be waived without issue…

Aaltonen, Miro 24 Grundström, Carl 19 Lindberg, Tobias 21 Nylander, William 21
Bibeau, Antoine 23 Holl, Justin 25 Marner, Mitchell 20 Rosén, Calle 23
Borgman, Andreas 21 Johnsson, Andreas 22 Matthews, Auston 19 Soshnikov, Nikita 23
Bracco, Jeremy 20 Kapanen, Kasperi 20 Moore, Trevor 22 Timashov, Dmytro 20
Dermott, Travis 20 Kaskisuo, Kasimir 23 Nielsen, Andrew 20 Valiev, Rinat 22
Gauthier, Frederik 22

So hey, maybe it’s as easy as sending Matthews, Nylander, and Marner down to make room for Leipsic, Griffith, and Rychel. What’s one more tank year, anyway?

  • G2

    “overhyped” – ya think?
    Each team loses 1 (one) player who , in the worst case, is their 10th or 12th best player. All this angst and strategizing. “OMG! what if we lose Josh Leivo for nothing!” He’s not making this team, let him go to Vegas and play.
    Kudos for getting the “Matt Martin shot” in. Gotta have it.

  • Stan Smith

    As for over-hyped or not, I’m sure there was probably a ton of talks between teams prior to the 3pm deadline. The problem with completing those deals was the status of the players involved. Would you give up a player you didn’t have to protect for someone you would? What is the point of trading for a player you have to protect unless he is a big upgrade over what you already have? Last, are you willing to pay the price to get a significant upgrade?

    As for the waiver eligible players that the Leafs have no room for on the roster, that is where I expect deals to be made. If they have no room for them, and feel they would probably lose them through waivers anyway, I would think a package of Leivo, Rychel and Leipsic would fetch a halfway decent dman to battle Carrick for the 4th defensive spot. Add Carrick to that mix, and the return might even be better.

  • FlareKnight

    In the end not a huge deal. Every team has to face this kind of thing and figure out where they have room. Does put things into perspective that frankly they could lose all of Rychel, Leivo, and Leipsic for next to nothing. That’s how it goes when you have guys like JVR, Marner, Nylander (until he moves to C), Brown, Kapanen, Hyman, Komarov, and Martin (the despised one). It is only getting tougher for young guys to take spots on the wings. It will definitely be tough up the middle with Matthews, Nylander (probably), and Kadri holding the top center spots for a long while.

    Curious to see how the expansion draft plays out. And then waiting to see people freak out over losing a fringe player.

  • Anonymous

    I have always been saying and I am still saying that the Leafs SHOULD protect Josh Leivo and leave Matt Martin exposed. A scoring player with a lot of upside, it would be tragic if the Leafs lose Josh Leivo for nothing.

    • Stan Smith

      But if the Leafs truly felt that way, Leivo would not have sat for the majority of last season. He has been in the Leafs system for 5 full years. In those years his games with the Leafs have been as follows 0, 7, 9, 12, 13.