The Leafs have a logjam of waiver-eligible roster players

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Photo Credit: Tom Szczerbowski/USA TODAY SPORTS

Many suspect that barring several quantity-for-quality or pure dumping trades, the Toronto Maple Leafs’ training camp is going to be an absolute dogfight for the various available positions. Simply put, while the Leafs might be presently lacking the top-end talent necessary to be a threat in the Eastern Conference, they have more B-Level depth than just about everyone else through a combination of taking on contracts and playing well on the draft podium.

But there’s a problem here, and it’s that the team might have no choice but to part ways with some players if a couple of the kids impress in September.

Waiver Rules

The waiver rules are very complicated, and for your sake, I’m not going to explain every detail, and instead point you to CapFriendly’s Waiver FAQ for more expansive information. To keep it simple..

  • Based on your age and whether you’re a skater or a goalie, you’re allotted a certain amount of years of waiver exemption.
  • If you signed as a teen, non-NHL leagues are treated as a slide, much like they are for your ELC.
  • Players can also hit a certain Games Played threshold sooner than their allotted exemption years to become susceptible to the process.
  • If a player is waived, clears, and comes back up, he has 30 days or 10 games of NHL time (whichever comes first) where he is temporarily exempt.
  • Players can be sent on waiver-less “conditioning stints” for 14 days if for a reason deemed acceptable by the league (oh hey, Frank Corrado and Jonathan Bernier)

Of the 44 players the Leafs have under contract and a bonus Auston Matthews (he’ll get there eventually), there is a near-perfect split of 22 exempt players and 23 non-exempt. Here’s how it breaks down by position.

(Latest Year of Waiver Eligibility / Games Played Remaining in parentheses)

Centre

Not Exempt from Waivers: Tyler Bozak, Byron Froese, Peter Holland, Nazem Kadri, Brooks Laich

Waiver Exempt Roster Threats: Auston Matthews (2019/20 or 160 GP)

Other Waiver Exempt Players: Frederik Gauthier (2018/19 or 153 GP)

There’s a little bit of a log jam here, with six NHLers down the middle and no way in hell that Matthews doesn’t play this year. We keep saying that Tyler Bozak is probably being moved, but we’ve been saying that for three years. Peter Holland’s arbitration case will probably give us clarity on his situation and Laich will likely be kept around to be the de-facto captain in the room in what appears to be another transition year.

Froese probably ends up as the odd man out, despite Babcock’s hockey love for him. Waiving him probably isn’t a huge threat, so long as it’s done in September when the mass exodus happens.

Left Wing

Not Exempt from Waivers: Colin Greening, Josh Leivo, Joffrey Lupul, Matt Martin, Milan Michalek, James Van Riemsdyk

Waiver Exempt Roster Threats: Brendan Leipsic (2017/18 or 154 GP), Kerby Rychel (2017/18 or 123 GP)

Other Waiver Exempt Players: Andreas Johnson (2018/19 or 80 GP), Tobias Lindberg (2018/19 or 154 GP), Dmytro Timashov (2019/20 or 160 GP)

Left Wing has an obscene amount of players, with eight potential NHLers to fill up six spots. With that said, the Leafs appear to be attempting to run out the clock on Joffrey Lupul, and might try to do the same with Milan Michalek. Leipsic will almost definitely have to wait one more year for his jump, while Rychel is a tricky one. He wanted out of Columbus due to uncertainty in regards to how he fit into the plan; will he accept a start with the Marlies so long as it’s presented properly?

Leivo probably ends up going on waivers and is a risk to be claimed thanks to his age. With that said, while he was a near point-per-game AHLer last year, he was also that while playing a lot of his minutes with William Nylander or Mark Arcobello, and somebody else with skill on the right wing. A team might take a chance on that, and I certainly wouldn’t blame them. He might have to be a Joe Colborne situation, where he’s traded before the end of training camp (the difference, this time, being that he wasn’t passed over for Colton Orr).

Right Wing

Not Exempt from Waivers: Nathan Horton, Leo Komarov

Waiver Exempt Roster Threats: Connor Brown (2017/18 or 153 GP), Zach Hyman (2018/19 or 44 GP), Nikita Soshnikov (2018/19 or 59 GP), William Nylander (2018/19 or 138 GP), Mitch Marner (2019/20 or 160 GP)

Other Waiver Exempt Players: Kasperi Kapanen (2019/20 or 151 GP)

The right side is a lot less crowded as far as players who need waivers, and will largely be a battle of the kids. Leo Komarov is the only long-term roster player who will slot in here, while five players with at least half a season of eligibility left jockey for position. I imagine Brown will be the odd man out here to start, though he’s at a stage in his development where going up and down shouldn’t be an issue. 

Defence

Not Exempt from Waivers: Connor Carrick, Frank Corrado, Jared Cowen, Jake Gardiner, Matt Hunwick, Martin Marincin, Roman Polak, Morgan Rielly, Stephane Robidas

Waiver Exempt Roster Threats: Nikita Zaitsev (2017/18 or 82 GP)

Other Waiver Exempt Players: Viktor Loov (2017/18 or 66 GP), Justin Holl (2018/19 or 60 GP), Rinat Valiev (2018/19 or 150 GP), Travis Dermott (2019/20 or 160 GP), Andrew Nielsen (2019/20 or 160 GP)

Defence, suffice to say, is a mess. While Cowen and Robidas are likely heading to roster purgatory, that still leaves eight defencemen breathing down their necks. This is probably where the Leafs are more likely than not to leave their healthy scratches, as having an extra player of each shooting hand is never a bad thing. From an asset standpoint, Hunwick and Polak are probably the biggest waiver risks if push comes to shove.

Goaltending

Not Exempt from Waivers: Frederik Andersen

Waiver Exempt Roster Threats: Garret Sparks (2017/18 or 63 GP)

Other Waiver Exempt Players: Antoine Bibeau (2018/19 or 80 GP), Kasimir Kaskisuo (2019/20 or 80 GP)

This is probably the part of the roster with the least amount of controversy. Andersen isn’t getting waived. Sparks isn’t going to play 63 games this year unless if he becomes the second coming of 1990’s Dominik Hasek (both in terms of performance and in terms of his body holding up for a bit). Bibeau and Kaskisuo have plenty of time before waivers are an issue.

Final Thoughts

Logjams can be tough to work around. The Leafs were huge benefactors last year when they got to scoop up Frank Corrado for free from the Vancouver Canucks, who waived him in lieu of sending Ben Hutton to the AHL or Matt Bartkowski to literally anywhere. 

This year, though, it’s them in the drivers seat, with a strange feeling of simultaneous confidence and nervousness. They have enough roster depth to not have to stress losing a player or two, but also enough that they might actually have to lose a player or two.

The direction they go to make the most of that will be interesting. Do they over-ripen some exempt players? Do they start making trades now? Do they waive a couple of borderline guys and hope for the best? Only time will tell, but the process of getting from about 30 players to 23 is going to be very interesting to watch from the sidelines.

  • Matthviews

    I think you may see a guy like Froese let go. It will be interesting to see if they will put guys like Greening, Michalek or Polak in the A, if/when they are beat out by kids. It looks to me like they have enough cap flexibility to do something like that.

    I’d like to see them trade Hunwick. I don’t think it makes sense to carry 8 D and all the likely call ups are lefties.

    • magesticRAGE

      I agree about Froese to the A, he is currently expendable. I’m not sure where his offense went, but it got lost in his transition.
      I disagree in Polak. He won’t hit the ‘A’ this year, but may be a healthy scratch to play some kids.
      I would like to Hunwick & Michálek traded, I just don’t see it happening. I waived, they may get claimed, and I’d be OK with them off the books. Sure there wouldn’t be assessed coming back, but no unwanted contracts aren’t either.
      Corrado should be waived in September as well.

    • Jeremy Ian

      Go for it, Mark.

      But my own two cents’ worth on Jeff’s good piece is that — barring more trades — Froese and Corrado will get waived and may get picked off. May make sense to cash them in for future picks. But even those are starting to accumulate and how many teams are in need of B-level depth at this stage when there are still so many of these guys in the UFA market?

      It’s a shame in Corrado’s case because once Polak and Hunwick are flipped by the end of the season, the defense situation opens up.

      In the case of Rychel, who I have great hopes for, yeah the managers are going to have to explain that his in the plan, but that they have to move a lot of those wingers out before he’s solidly on the roster.

      In the meantime, inevitable injuries will give Rychel and Brown some opportunities to play.

  • Trevor5555

    The leafs have so much raw talent they can easily lose a few of those players to waivers without much of a determent to the team. And keep in mind they added martin and polak “for free” in free agency which makes some of these kids like corrado and leivo expendable. Smart moves all around by Dubas and Lou

  • Trevor5555

    Despite all the names, hopefully it’s as simple as this:

    Exempted players on waivers:
    Froese
    Lupul/Robidas (or IR)
    Cowen (or bought out)

    Everyone else is on the Marlies.

    That leaves:

    JVR – Bozak – Brown
    Soshnikov – Kadri – Komarov
    Martin – Matthews – Nylander
    Leivo – Holland – Marner

    Extra: Laich

    Rielly – Zaitsev
    Gardiner – Marincin
    Carrick – Corrado

    Extra: Polak, Hunwick

  • Trevor5555

    I think guys like Greening, Laich, Michalek and Lupul should be waived to make room for the young guys. Id even go so far as to shop JVR and Bozak in order to get a good young top 4 d-man. We should see if we can put together a deal with Winnipeg for Trouba or Myers.

    Maybe JVR+Kapanen for Trouba or JVR for Myers.

    Side note I read on one cap site that Carrick was waiver exempt this year. So I believe we have one more year to make a decesion on him.

    This is the year where we have to find out who our best guys are. Its a nice problem to have, this overflow of support players. As important as drafting is to long term success, evaluating players and deciding which ones to keep is even more important.

    We drafted Pogge and Rask but let the wrong guy go so ill be keen to see which guys we keep over the next few years. Im confident in our managment groups ability to assess players.

    Winnipeg has a few good goalies along with their RHD so maybe we can trade for Trouba/Myers and whichever goalie they want to dump.

    This logjam doesnt even include Korshkov, Grundstrom who should be AHL/NHL ready by next year. We should use this depth to address areas where we need to improve or at least get future draft picks so we have organizational depth perpetually.

    • Jeremy Ian

      “This logjam doesnt even include Korshkov, Grundstrom who should be AHL/NHL ready by next year. We should use this depth to address areas where we need to improve or at least get future draft picks so we have organizational depth perpetually.”

      And Timashov (who will probably have a great camp), Bobylev (who will have had a KHL year), and Gauthier (2 years on the Marlies) pushing to break in the following year, too.

    • Gary Empey

      Greening, Laich, Michalek and Lupul also Michalek

      If any of these guys don’t get claimed then the Leafs will be paying them their full NHL salary to play/sit in the AHL. They seem to be blocking our NHL ready prospects from reaching their dream to play in the NHL.

      Polak – I do not believe the Leafs would have resigned him to be a healthy scratch.

      Trading to get a good young top 4 d-man. – What is the point in piling up good draft prospects then rebuilding the team by trading core players like JVR, or using free agents to rebuild.

      If we do trade some of our prospects it is likely the ones we want to keep that other teams request.

      The worst part of this is the roster has to be set for the start of the season. After 10 games GM’s will be looking for veterans.

      If one is speculating how the roster will look, you should keep in mind how Babcock puts his teams together. He is a lot different/fussy than any other coach I have seen.

      I think Babcock is attempting to build a top 9 forward makeup. All with offensive and defensive talents and plenty of speed. Very little separation from 1st, 2nd, and 3rd lines. The bottom three will be made up of penalty killers and defensive specialists. Strong power play. Strong penalty kill. To win the game.

      • Trevor5555

        Regarding the trading of prospects/JVR for a top 4 d-man, it makes perfect sense for a rebuilding team. We have a lot of 2nd tier support players who can be used as trade bait to upgrade our team in certain areas.

        Trouba or Myers or other guys at that level are big upgrades over Carrick or Carrado and as such are worthy trade targets. It doesnt matter whether we draft or trade for our players, just that they improve our team and fit the age group of our core. We only trade JVR/prospects if we get a very good young player back.

        Im hoping we find a way to trade Michalek, Laich and Greening because we cant really afford to pay them to sit in the pressbox. We could end up starting with Michalek, Laich, Lupul and Greening in the lineup and hope they play well enough to draw hnterest from other teams. Hopefully we move them quickly because there are a lot of Marlies who are NHL ready.

        With all our depth at forward we can trade some guys to improve our defense without hurting the overall group. We cant replace JVRs skill from within right away but trading JVR would get us a d-man with a similar skill level to Reilly’s.

        Trouba, Dumba, Lindholm are all very good young d-men who are worth losing JVRs skill and whatever 2nd tier prospect it takes to get it done. Guys like Myers, Shattenkirk, Spurgeon and Fowler are a bit older but would still be upgrades over Carrick or Carrado and as such are worthy targets.

        We could make a few tweaks via trade to improve our team and not hurt the rebuild or deplete our prospect base much at all. You have to be adaptable to any oppurtunities that present themselves that allow you to improve your team. Thats why you shouldnt be so aversive to trading prospects.

        It may seem counterintuitive but in the long run, if you overstock young players of the same age, you risk loosing them to waivers for nothing before you even truely know what kind of NHL potential he has.

        If we flip JVR and Kapanen for Trouba we get a huge plus to our top 4. Trouba is a great all arround d-man with physicality, mobility and a good shot. Its much easier to replace JVRs skill and goal scoring than it is to get a d-man like Trouba. Looking at the logjam of prospects at LW im pretty sure we can fill his role without the team suffering much.

        Just one example of the type of deal the Leafs need to make. Edmontons trade of Hall for Larsson is an example of what we need to do….we just have to add a bit more as JVRs value isnt really close to Halls. Vesey and Pirri are UFA that could bring in offense we lose by trading JVR. Pirri plays center as well so we could trade JVR and Bozak, which would bring a great return, and replace them via free agencey with good young players. In 1-2 years Vesey and Pirri may be better than JVR and Bozak, maybe sooner. There are many paths that lead to paradise. We have to but pick one.

  • Cornylious

    Thanks for the breakdown. It’s pretty hard to guess what will happen with a team put together in such a strange way but I’m really excited to see what happens. I can’t remember the last time I could be excited for Leafs prospects without being laughed at (Matt Finn..thanks a lot)

    Hey! Anyone else have the screen slowly moving down as they’re typing or have I taken the brown acid?

    • Gary Empey

      Re- “Hey! Anyone else have the screen slowly moving down as they’re typing or have I taken the brown acid?”

      Your computer may need a minor adjustment

      with a 4 pound sledge hammer.

  • SEER

    I think that any combo of Greening, Laich, Michalek, Lupul, Michalek, Bozak get shipped out before season start in a trade.. We basically have two additional Centers coming in.., so Bozak has to really have a great camp.., if he plans on sticking..

    ———-

    New 2015-16 season goals montage for Gards.. This one is short and sweet.. and the music choice is a hybrid mash-up, that may both please and offend certain people.. LOL!

    House Of Gards: All Jake Gardiner’s 2015-16 Goals & Highlights – TML (HD)

    —> https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rlCm8IqPTSo

    ((stats in video description)

    • Gary Empey

      That may be wishful thinking. Lou does give us some surprises. I think it is more likely to see them move after the season starts as injury replacements or the trade deadline.

  • Gary Empey

    I doubt we will see Laich waived. Babcock likes the have pros in his lineup and Laich is a pro in every sense.

    I would imagine the jump from Junior to the NHL (Marner) would be akin to going from Grade 8 straight to University for us regular folk. There will be growing pains and struggles. You need NHL vets on your roster to lean on.

    Am I (and Steve Dangle) the only ones who think Greening deserves to be in the lineup based on last years strong showing?

    Its hard to believe Brown would be in the lineup over someone like Greening or Leivo especially since he is waiver exempt still and didn’t have a full AHL season due to injury.

  • BorealNinja

    Could the Marlies be an easy pitch to Rychel due to the fact that they are in Toronto, which makes going up and down easier? Lake Erie is only a couple hundred km from Columbus and are the reigning champs, but the Marlies are pretty good too.

    Plus, Toronto is not Ohio. He would be living the life of a Toronto hockey player. I’ve never been to Toronto but I imagine the people would embrace him, as he hasn’t posed a reason to be negatively criticized in any way and he has serious potential.

  • BorealNinja

    I think there’ some good analysis in the comments thus far.
    First, the difference between waiver-exempt and not is non-negotiable [but don’t tell vancouver that]; no waiver-exempt ‘support player’ is pushing out a non waiver-exempt support player [until the trade deadline]. Also, Babcock wants his grinders [komarov, leivo, rychel, martin, soshnikov, hyman] //[polak], and his proffessionals, in addition to a veteran presense, and also teams look for stability in how much turnover they make in one season [komaraov, polak, hunwick, laich]. Finally, you have the players that Shanaplan inherited from Burke, who have been shipped out somewhat systematically; Babcock may or may not be genuinely happy with the reclamation projects. Finally, which players would get claimed [Corrado] and which ones would Leafs like to get claimed [Michalek]? And whch playes are too old for the re-build? JVR may go for Fowler. Holland and Bozak can go for picks, Carrick and/or Gardener can go to Arizona for Barrie.

  • ccliff

    Im still more comfortable with this problem, where tough decisions need to be made, instead of no decision at all. If we were still stuck with HUGE long term contracts….

    That being said, I really hope Froese makes the roster, at least as an extra!!!