How the Maple Leafs can carry a cap compliant 21 player roster without making trades

Photo credit:Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports
Jon Steitzer
10 months ago
With yesterday’s announcement that Matt Murray will be shut down indefinitely and will start the season on the long term injured reserve, the path to the Maple Leafs having a salary cap compliant roster became a whole lot easier. Looking at the Leafs’ roster with Murray on the LTIR, Toronto sits at over $472k according to CapFriendly. That is with a 21 player roster of 12 forwards and 11 defencemen. There are three quick solutions for cap compliance that the Leafs could opt for.
The first is to demote Matthew Knies as he’s waivers exempt and the Leafs to go with 11F and 7D. I don’t think anyone wants to demote Knies, but if there is a potential injury coming out of training camp (there often is) this might be the quick path that is least invasive and would be a paperwork move to get the Leafs on track. At most I’d imagine we’re talking about one game without Knies in this scenario.
The next option to consider is waiving Dylan Gambrell. There was a very good chance that Gambrell was primarily viewed as a 13F or Marlies 1C when he was acquired and waiving him at a time of the year when the waiver wire is busy might be the best chance to get him down to the Marlies anyway. This still leaves the Leafs running 11F/7D, and that wouldn’t be a terrible thing at the start of the year.
The final easy 20-player roster is waiving Conor Timmins and hoping for the best. This gives the Leafs the traditional 12F and 6D setup with two goaltenders and the only drawback is there is no opportunity for callup relief. As the Leafs experienced last season there is a good reason to go with at least a 21 player roster and with a European road trip and the Marlies not being as close by as the Leafs are used to having them. There is also the fact that Conor Timmins looked pretty good last season and the Leafs aren’t going to be the only team that noticed that. At the very least there is a GM in Pittsburgh who will remember that Conor Timmins can excel in sheltered situations. Waiving Conor Timmins down to the Marlies is banking a lot on teams not wanting or being able to claim a $1.1M cap hit. Unfortunately, not only is Conor Timmins the path to a 12F/6D cap compliant roster, but he’s also involved in both of the paths to a 21 player roster.
Here are two options towards cap compliant 21 player rosters that don’t require trades.

Option A- “F@#k them kids”

The Leafs would still have to waive Conor Timmins, but in addition to that the Leafs would have to say goodbye to Matthew Knies, Nick Robertson and Pontus Holmberg from their roster to start the year. All three are exempt from waivers, so it’s potentially the asset management approach but comes with the significant drawback of pulling Knies from a likely role in the Leafs top six.
The Leafs could use a combination of Dylan Gambrell, William Lagesson, Bobby McMann to keep the Leafs at 21 players. There is also Kyle Clifford and Max Lajoie that could be affordable fits. Beyond that, the other Leafs players under contract would push Toronto over their available $15k of cap space.
The move comes with the significant drawback of making the Leafs lineup worse by withholding Knies from it and for that amongst other reasons I can’t imagine this being a popular approach.

Option B- Timmins and Lafferty on waivers

I’ve already touched on how I like Conor Timmins and when it comes to Lafferty, I think the Maple Leafs still need to determine how to get the best out of him because his speed, energy, and tertiary offence has a lot of appeal for the Leafs bottom six. That said, if Timmins and Lafferty are on waivers, the Leafs are freed up to put together their best group of top nine forwards and top six defencemen while still having a serviceable fourth line and reserve player.
The Leafs get to rely on Holmberg, Knies, and Robertson, as well as still carrying Lagesson as an extra or really any extra in the Leafs’ system not named Conor Timmins or Sam Lafferty.
Arguably this is their strongest and most versatile lineup in this situation, but comes with taking a chance with not only one, but two players that teams would likely give thought to claiming off of waivers.
As much as waiving Timmins or Lafferty should be viewed as unappealing, it is far better alternative to trading TJ Brodie, William Nylander or Calle Jarnkrok in order to get cap compliant.
The situation also really points out where the Leafs could have found the money other ways. The David Kampf contract isn’t a huge overpayment, but here we are in late July and it’s painfully clear where the couple hundred thousand dollars could have come in handy. The same can probably be said for the Ryan Reaves contract. There has to be $100k-2ook the Leafs could have squeeze there. And most notably the John Klingberg contract stands out as one that shouldn’t be putting the Leafs in this situation where pennies need to be pinched.
All of this is very premature and by no means does this mean the Leafs shouldn’t go the trade route. All this means is the Leafs don’t have to go that route if they don’t wish to. They have options for 11F/7D no reserves, 12F/6D with no reserves, and 21 player options at their finger tips and don’t need to either buyout someone like TJ Brodie or trade him for less than his value. If the Leafs do want to trade Calle Jarnkrok or William Nylander they only need to because they believe the move will make their team better.
And there is always training camp. It would be astonishing if the Leafs make it through that without at least one banged up player who isn’t ready to start the year and in that case this really was a waste of an exercise to take in the middle of summer.

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