Photo Credit: Dan Hamilton/USA TODAY SPORTS
The Toronto Maple Leafs have dipped into the waiver game for the second time this season, waiving Milan Michalek while claiming Colorado Avalanche forward Ben Smith.
The Smith claim is particularly curious, though I’m not so sure that we know the true reasoning for it just yet. The 28-year-old, was, for a lack of a better term, a bit of a curious case last season, putting up 6 points in 16 games with the big club following his inclusion in the James Reimer trade with San Jose. Those are decent numbers for a player who spent half of his time with Colin Greening and Brooks Laich in a checking role, but it’s also worth noting that he’s dragged nearly every player down from a play-driving standpoint.
Here were the With/Without possession numbers of every Leafs skater who played at least 10 minutes with Ben Smith last year. Not great. pic.twitter.com/tbtdNcq7EN
— Jeff Veillette (@JeffVeillette) October 24, 2016
My initial thought was that the team might be interested in re-waiving him and assigning him to the Marlies to give them an extra player to potentially use at centre, but Mike Babcock has already confirmed that Smith will play tomorrow against Tampa Bay. I’d suppose that he’d get the benefit of the doubt over a player like Seth Griffith, if only because he spent a few months playing under Leafs/Marlies systems last year.
Quite honestly, I don’t know if I understand the decision at all from any sort of quantitative or even qualitative standpoint, so we’re going to have to see how he gets used this week before we can draw any serious conclusions. As it stands at the moment, though, this seems kind of baffling.
As for Michalek, the decision there seems a bit tougher. At times, he teases those watching with a glimpse of the player he once was, making creative plays, crashing the net, and even putting up points and tilting the needle a bit as far as moving the puck into the right areas. Scoring points in his first 18 games with the Leafs certainly gives one a reason to believe that he could work out in some situation, somewhere.
But ultimately, he’s not what he once was; injuries have bogged him down and he’s skating around at a fraction of the speed that he used to. There’s been concern that he might be the piece dragging down his line, which includes Nazem Kadri and Leo Komarov. In waiving him and placing Smith on the fourth line, the Leafs have an opportunity to promote Connor Brown into the top-nine, which is where a player like him should be regardless.
Michalek still has a year left on his deal, in which he carries a $4 million cap hit. This severely cuts the odds of somebody claiming him on waivers; presently, the only teams that could realistically take him on are Nashville, Edmonton, Ottawa, New Jersey, Florida, Winnipeg, or Carolina.
If someone did, this would put the Leafs in an advantageous position to start dipping into the trade market. But that’s unlikely for now; in the meantime, he’ll play with the Marlies if he clears. Swapping Michalek with Smith will also save the Leafs approximately $275,000.