Klingberg needs an orientation, Maple Leafs salary cap woes, and Tavares’ load management: Leaflets

Photo credit:Steven Ellis/Daily Faceoff
Jon Steitzer
8 months ago
It’s Thanksgiving weekend and what I am most thankful for is that we are nearly through the speculation and projecting phase of looking at the 2023-24 Leafs and will soon be able to judge them for what they actually are. Well…we can start judging them. It will be American Thanksgiving before we fully have an idea of what the Leafs are.
In the spirit of the end of speculation and projection, here is the final preseason Leaflets.

John Klingberg needs to start on the third pairing

I’m not sure the Leafs did themselves any favours by signing John Klingberg to begin with, and certainly not at the price associated with him. The Leafs defence has struggled with defence for a number of years and John Klingberg is not a guy who improves that situation. As much as Justin Holl was a whipping boy in Toronto, it was more for being thrown in over his head on assignments than him being truly bad defensively. Klingberg is bad defensively and due to his preseason injury he hasn’t had a chance to work much with Jake McCabe, his likely partner. Given Sheldon Keefe’s tendency towards wanting McCabe to get tough assignments having these two figure themselves out together isn’t ideal.
What does seem ideal is giving Liljegren more time with McCabe, at least when it comes to defensive zone starts. Shelter Klingberg as much as possible but still try to get him out with McCabe when they can. Giordano and Liljegren are also capable of handling similar competition that the initial “figuring each other out” phase of the McCabe-Klingberg pairing can handle. Perhaps it starts with letting Giordano and Liljegren be the second pairing and gradually transition the assignments and the time on ice to McCabe and Klingberg as they gain familiarity with each other and hopefully find some success.

$1.4 Million

Assuming Conor Timmins is heading on the Long Term Injured Reserve, the Leafs have 19 players that are pretty much locks for the opening night roster. I won’t list off all 19 of them here, but essentially it leaves Toronto with $1.4M to get to the minimal NHL roster of 20 players and a decision to make about whether that final spot goes to Noah Gregor, Fraser Minten, Mikko Kokkonen, or Nick Robertson.
Robertson and Kokkonen are pretty much Marlies at this point and for all the consideration being given to Minten, it seems that the most likely case is for him to return to junior as well. That makes it relatively easy to get Gregor signed in that $1.4M of space, but with the unfortunate reality that there isn’t enough money to get another player onto the Leafs roster.
There really isn’t a path to 21+ players on the Leafs until someone more expensive gets hurt and that will come at some point and Toronto shouldn’t exactly be rushing towards that situation either, but the Leafs won’t have the opportunity to be very flexible when it comes to the lineup card.
The Kampf, Klingberg, and Reaves contracts were all criticized as over payments and this is where the drops in the bucket start causing it to overflow.
Toronto could waive Ryan Reaves and the Leafs would have $2.5M, enough to potentially get Gregor, Minten, and Kokkonen into the lineup. It won’t happen, but at $1.35M and a 3 year deal Reaves wouldn’t get claimed and would be someone the Leafs can bring back into the fold as they wish throughout the season as well.
It won’t happen, but Reaves is how Toronto has a more flexible roster.

Resting Tavares

Justin Bourne had an interesting column on Sportsnet looking at some of the new systems the Leafs have been working with during the preseason. At the end of the article Bourne highlights the Leafs would be wise to regularly tap into their Marlies depth throughout the season and rotate their up and comers into the mix. I completely agree, but was a bit surprised by the suggestion that the Leafs would rest John Tavares.
I’d like to see the Leafs call guys up liberally this season once things slow down in late November and beyond. You just get so much juice from young motivated players at the times of year the regulars may take their foot off the gas pedal, as Pontus Holmberg showed them last year.
So can they rest John Tavares for Homberg at times? Can Bobby McMann be a regular guy to come up and provide absolute max effort some random Tuesdays in Columbus? Can Nick Robertson get his share of NHL games even if he doesn’t stick with the team out of camp?
They’ll have some nice players in the AHL this season, at forward in particular. I’m hoping they use them liberally this season, and don’t just wait for injuries to do so.
It seems like every year there are predictions of John Tavares dropping off and each year he reminds us that he’s not dead yet.
Tavares has begun relying more on the powerplay for production rather than 5v5. His defensive game has declined, but ultimately he’s still a very serviceable second line centre and someone who could still be a first line centre on a number of teams around the league. And at 33 years old he’s not so old and broken that load managing him seems necessary. Tavares has never had speed as part of his game so it’s not as if he’s suddenly slowing down and losing something he relied on.
In short, as much as I am a believer in load management, want to see more of Pontus Holmberg, and generally agree with Justin Bourne, I’m going to pump the brakes on the resting Tavares stuff for now, at least until we see him in season.
What will be interesting to see is how the Leafs manage Mark Giordano and if they see Ryan Reaves as someone who needs to be in the lineup every night. Those seem to be the best paths forward for getting Marlies into the lineup without injuries. (Assuming there is a way of making it work from a salary cap perspective.)

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