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Photo Credit: © Nick Turchiaro-USA TODAY Sports

Leafs injury updates & their trade deadline impacts

A few updates on the injury front today…

First, let’s start with the good news:

Yep. That’s Ilya Mikheyev back on the ice, shooting pucks. Generally a thing someone starts to do once their wrist is nearly healed.

There’s the cold water. Getting Mikheyev back would have offered the Leafs a bit of flexibility in their lineup, as with a completely healthy forward group, Mikheyev would presently be slotting in on the 4th line at best. A sooner recovery might have made a player like Johnsson or Kapanen even more expendable at the trade deadline, but ultimately this probably doesn’t change the direction that the Leafs were planning on going.

It will also be interesting to see how today’s Pierre Engvall re-signing will impact Mikheyev. Pre-injury I could have seen Mikheyev pushing for more than $1.25M, but given the circumstance I wouldn’t be shocked to see the Leafs look for a similar cap hit, although Mikheyev might only want one year.

From Elliotte Friedman’s 31 Thoughts:

“Toronto will likely wait until an upcoming doctor’s appointment for Morgan Rielly before deciding what to do with any cap room due to long-term injury. They probably won’t have clarity on Cody Ceci until after the deadline. And they continue to negotiate with Jake Muzzin.”

Let’s assume for the moment that Cody Ceci and Morgan Rielly are completely healthy. In that world the Leafs are still looking for blueline help at the trade deadline. Neither Sandin or Liljegren are getting rushed into anything beyond sheltered deployment, and that would potentially put a strain on the Rielly-Muzzin-Barrie-Dermott top four group heading into the playoffs. Holl seems to safely be the #5 guy, but is putting in work beyond his abilities at the moment, and I’m reluctant to blame him for the visible shortcomings we’re witnessing.

The fact that Ceci won’t be evaluated until the trade deadline is a crippling blow on a couple of fronts. The first being that the Leafs likely won’t be able to trade Cody Ceci, unless in a pay to take the cap hit situation, which frankly they need to avoid.

The second factor is that is that it creates a holding pattern for the Leafs on whether or not they can use the cap relief to bring in a replacement for him. Ideally for the Leafs, Ceci is out for the season, and the team moves forward without him. Unfortunately for the Leafs, Cody Ceci is in a contract year, and probably wants to play in order to find a new home next season (read: Pittsburgh or Florida). It’s hard to imagine Ceci willingly sitting out if he’s ready in March.

Rielly on the other hand is the name we hear more about as a possibility to be gone for the regular season, and miraculously ready for game one of the playoffs. Given that the earliest expected return for Rielly was targeted around February 27th, that would mean Rielly potentially sitting out 18 games so the Leafs can game the salary cap. They are probably better off just playing Rielly.

Of course, what we know at this point is that Rielly is still motoring around the rink with his foot up on a scooter. That doesn’t seem like the earliest return date is going to happen. Nor does all of this re-evaluation talk, which hopefully we’ll get some solid answers this week. The Leafs have gone 6-3-2 with Rielly out of the lineup, so there’s that. And the $5M cap relief would help, as would the idea of icing a blueline lineup of:

Rielly- Rielly’s cap relief replacement guy
Muzzin-Holl
Dermott-Barrie

No doubt that is a more playoff capable blueline, assuming cap relief replacement guy isn’t Rasmus Ristolainen.

In closing, it’s nice to see the Mikheyev getting better, but it looks like the injured reserve is still going to be fairly active for the Leafs.