It’s that joyous time when the roster starts looking like a roster. The Leafs have unceremoniously axed 23 players from their NHL roster sending players to three very different places: Sweden, the Ricoh Coliseum, and waivers. Here is the release from LeafsPR:
So that leaves the Leafs with the following players still kicking around:
Obviously there is a big chunk of this group that we all knew and expected to be here. For the sake of stating the obvious that would be Hyman, Matthews, Nylander, Marleau, Kadri, Brown, van Riemsdyk, Bozak, Marner, Martin, Komarov, Rielly, Zaitsev, Gardiner, Carrick, Hainsey, and Andersen. As much as some of you probably don’t like that Matt Martin is included in that group, acceptance of Matt Martin will improve your life immensely, stop fighting it.
The noteworthy players in the forward group are Leivo, Fehr, and Dominic Moore. All three of these players would require waivers to be sent down to the Marlies, and with the exception of Fehr, there is some risk associated with whether or not they’d clear. Moore staying shouldn’t be too much of a surprise when the organization just brought him in as a free agent. Leivo is a good option to pop in and out any line as needed, so he’ll make an ideal 13th forward, and Eric Fehr is interesting.
Fehr sticking around doesn’t make a whole lot of sense unless the Leafs think they can trade him to someone (spitballing but he did play for GMGM for a number of years and Vegas can use warm bodies). Other than that, he’s a mystery or a candidate to take a ride on waivers at a slightly later date. The other option is that he did impress the Leafs enough to keep a spot and Toronto might be aware of their reputation around the league for burying capable players in the minors. No matter what, don’t count on seeing a lot of Fehr.
Where it gets really interesting is on the blueline, as there are still some decisions that have to be made. Rosen and Borgman seem like they are still destined to be sent down given the trend towards demoting players who are waivers eligible, but the reality is there is space for one of them. Let’s assume the Leafs brass wants a bit more time making that decision or Martin Marincin is in for a big surprise.
Liljegren is definitely not sticking around, but let’s assume the delay is in figuring out whether he’s heading back to Sweden or to the Marlies.
Roman Polak is still there because they are giving him the same opportunity to workout with the club the way they let Prust do it last season. Don’t stress him.
Finally, McElhinney is the backup. Let’s hope Andersen is healthy.
This is the area where I expect some stronger feelings, so let’s start with the group that seems like the ones to be upset about.
- Kapanen is ready to be a Leafs regular, but there isn’t a spot for him at this point. This is pretty upsetting, but at some point in this season I’m sure we’ll come to appreciate this depth. I’d say he’s clearly better than Connor Brown and Zach Hyman when it comes to wingers who will see regular shifts for the Leafs, but if it’s between time on the Marlies or six minutes a night on the fourth line, I can live with a little more time with the Marlies, just not a lot.
- Aaltonen by most accounts had a great camp and preseason, and we should be excited about him. I don’t doubt that he’ll be the call up center this season, and that’s nice because the Leafs didn’t really have much center depth on the Marlies last season. More time playing in North America isn’t a bad thing, let’s hope we see him soon.
- Soshnikov is waivers exempt so he’s the easy decision for demotion and it’s a lot harder to slot him in to the Leafs than Kapanen or Leivo anyway. Letting him get back to 100% following his concussion isn’t a bad thing either.
- We are all excited about Travis Dermott, but both Rosen and Borgman made a better case for a job with the Leafs. Another year as a Marlie isn’t a bad thing for him. He’s promising, but this is in no way over-ripening him.
As for the waivers group, I’m gonna start by noting that it’s odd that Justin Holl wasn’t identified as needing waivers, but the story checks out, and he’s waivers exempt. The actual waivers players are:
- Colin Greening, who looks like a good depth option and a usable Marlie. I’m willing to bet there isn’t a ton of interest in him and he’ll clear easily.
- Kerby Rychel is on waivers and this shouldn’t bother people as much as he really doesn’t stand out. There’s some worry that he’ll be good for another team, but I have my doubts that any team is really interested in claiming him when better players have had no problem reaching the AHL.
- Ben Smith, who bothers me to no end, and I hope we will be spared the indignity of him being recalled this season now that options like Aaltonen exist.
- Vincent LoVerde and Chris Mueller I’m going to lump together here because they should have been signed to AHL contracts in the first place. I’ll send a fruit basket to any team that claims them (or Ben Smith for that matter)
- Garret Sparks, who honestly would have been a more appealing backup option, but it would be nice to let him get in some games in the AHL before he takes on that duty. Putting a goaltender on waivers seems like the safest thing to do, as most teams are pretty locked in to their own two guys, especially right after training camp.
Finally, Carl Grundstrom is on his way back to Sweden. This was always an unfortunate reality as his contract in Sweden prevents him from coming over to play for the Marlies. It was going to be Leafs or bust and as good as Grundstrom was, this is a Leafs team that Kasperi Kapanen couldn’t crack. When the Leafs shed some wingers next offseason, I’m sure we’ll see Grundstrom on the fast track to a Leafs job.
It shouldn’t be surprising that there weren’t any surprises with what the Leafs did. The plan seems like it’s been in place since July and training camp didn’t do much to dissuade the Leafs from staying the course. Instead of being upset over who was sent down, I’m choosing to marvel at the depth of the organization, since that will be our friend in this 82 game slog towards the playoffs.
As for the players that are still needing to depart, we can assume that Liljegren is lock to leave, and one of Rosen or Borgman will be heading down as well. Polak really doesn’t exist, and Eric Fehr is hopefully the odd man out over Leivo, but who knows. Maybe the interesting part of the cuts is still yet to come.