Just before last season got going, Lou Lamoriello pulled off his first substantial deal as general manager in Toronto, purging a handful of B-level prospects for one year of Michael Grabner. It didn’t make much of a tangible impact in the short term outside of acquiring some decent-ish NHL depth, but it did trim some fat from the organization and provide an amount of clarity about the situation at each pro level.
Now the Leafs are due for a similar move, but they’ll likely need to get more creative and send out some names that are a little more notable than Carter Verhaeghe or Chris Gibson.
Long story short, Toronto is pretty clogged with fringe NHL players. That isn’t really a problem, per se, as you want plenty of competition at camp. It’s just that trades like the Phaneuf deal, where they had to bring in Colin Greening and Milan Michalek for example, have added to a logjam for bottom six spots at forward. With the Leafs likely to continue committing to the youth movement through basically every line – Matthews at 1C, Marner and Nylander at 2W, Hyman and others looking for 3rd and 4th line slots – that’s going to create a bit of an annoyance. This isn’t breaking news. We could see it shaping up this way after last season’s deadline. But with Matthews a shoo-in and Marner looking strong early in camp, it’s becoming a bit more pressing.
And it isn’t just up front. The Leafs are weak on the blueline, but it’s because they’re saddled with plenty of mediocrity. Outside the key cogs in Rielly and Gardiner, we have Carrick, Marincin, Polak, Hunwick, and Corrado who all played a good number of NHL games last season, then lastly Zaitsev, who’s new but very unlikely to be cut. Even Viktor Loov got into a handful of games last year.
It’s obviously worth noting that the Leafs have a boatload of contracts coming off the books next summer, which will create somewhat of a clean slate, so this is nothing to stress about. But as it stands they could still probably use some leaning out.
So who should they look to move?
Besides the fact this team never should have brought back Polak, which only added to this weirdness, it’d be nice to see Lamoriello put Hunwick on a plane and save us from Babcock’s insistence on feeding him 23 minutes a night. I’m not entirely convinced that wasn’t a blatant tank move, but if it wasn’t, it’s absurd how much he was leaned on, and given he’s on a cheap contract for only this remaining season, it likely wouldn’t be that hard to deal him away for a late-rounder.
At forward things are far more jammed up. Even with Lupul being put to pasture the Leafs have too many skaters factoring in at the NHL level, albeit mostly as depth options.
Here’s a list of every Toronto forward at this camp that played more than ten NHL games last season:
Matt Martin, Josh Leivo, Zach Hyman, Peter Holland, William Nylander, Nazem Kadri, Tyler Bozak, Leo Komarov, Byron Froese, Colin Greening, Milan Michalek, Brooks Laich, James van Riemsdyk, Brandon Prust, Rich Clune
fourteen fifteen names.
Here’s a list of players that played between 5-10 games:
Connor Brown, Frederik Gauthier, Kasperi Kapanen, Brendan Leipsic, Tobias Lindberg
That’s five more. We’re up to 20 now.
Here’s a list of players who don’t fall into either group but will be in the lineup on October 12th to start the season:
Mitch Marner, Auston Matthews
22 names total, vying for 13 slots on the roster.
Admittedly it’s pretty easy to knock some names off here, as you can scratch off much of that second group, plus Clune and Prust (though I think the latter might actually stick). But there isn’t much breathing room in case someone like Leipsic or Brown makes a big case for themselves at camp, and both looked good last season in their call-ups.
Now don’t get me wrong, the Leafs can more-or-less manage this situation through waivers and whatnot, and I’m not ripping on them for anything. It’s just evident they have a lot “meh” in this group in the form of both established depth NHL players and limited-upside prospects, and you have to wonder if they might be able to package some things up and make an upgrade or nab a pick. For example, on the back end, Hunwick isn’t clearly more talented than any other name looking for a spot, but his TOI numbers are inflated as hell and he looks like a workhorse on paper. Shop him.
Then up front with guys like Leivo and Holland, who will need to pass through waivers, perhaps there’s a mid-pack prospect or two you can strap to them and send out the door. Maybe there’s a way to do something similar with Michalek or Greening.
Again, there’s nothing to say the Leafs are in trouble or this is some sort of serious situation. But looking at the way this camp roster is shaking out now that things are rolling, it seems there are a number of ways they could go about clearing some things up through a trade or two before puck drops on the season.