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Roster decisions looming as the Maple Leafs get healthy before trade deadline

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Photo credit:© Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports
Jon Steitzer
1 month ago
So help us all if Brad Treliving tries to portray Joseph Woll and Calle Jarnkrok as his key trade deadline acquisitions. That’s not to say that their returns aren’t welcomed but the bar has been set higher than that by a lot of Leafs fans and pitchforks will be out if the lineup doesn’t have at least one new face in it when the Leafs take on the Habs on March 9th.
That said, the return of Woll and Jarnkrok are certainly huge gains for the Leafs but returns that come with some decisions on the 23 player roster. Additionally, there are also the returns of Mark Giordano and Conor Timmins that need to be accounted for and the Maple Leafs will have to send down at least two additional players beyond the demotions of Max Lajoie and Marshall Rafai that have already taken place. Couple that with trade deadline moves and the need to get some cap flexibility and the Leafs could be busy with waivers or potentially trades from the bottom of the roster. A full healthy 23 player roster leaves Toronto with an estimated $818,000 to work with at the trade deadline. I’m going to be bold and assume they’d like to clear more space than that. Here is the potential list of impacted players:

Nick Robertson (waivers exempt)

The waivers exempt status seems like it is the only real reason to consider sending Robertson down to the Marlies. He’s been a perfectly fine player but hasn’t scored in 4 games. He does have a 1G, 3A in his last five games though and for a bottom six forward that is offence you’d like to see. Sending Robertson down because you don’t want to risk losing a player that he has been outperforming might send the wrong message to him as well as to NHL GMs who might see him as a worthwhile trade target.
I don’t see Robertson being demoted to play for the Marlies or even to have him miss time with the Leafs. I do see him and even potentially Matthew Knies being paperwork demotions at the trade deadline which will allow for some last minute cap flexibility.

Pontus Holmberg (waivers exempt)

Like Robertson and Knies, Pontus Holmberg is waivers exempt and that makes him one of the easier demotions to create space in the Leafs lineup. He had a two point night in Vegas but other than that he hasn’t appeared on the scoresheet in the past few games, not that a line with Noah Gregor or David Kampf, and Ryan Reaves lends itself to offensive output, but given his status at the bottom of the depth chart, Holmberg might be the easy choice for demotion and it mirrors what was done with him last season heading into the trade deadline as well.
I don’t think you can blame the Leafs if Holmberg gets sent down but where they made the mistake last season was failing to bring him back up again. Holmberg makes a lot of sense for the Leafs as he has shown he can play throughout the lineup and adds important centre depth.

William Lagesson

With the Leafs blueline taking a beating of late it seems pretty likely that Toronto is going to want seven defencemen on in their lineup the rest of way. And until Conor Timmins returns or Brad Treliving acquires another blueliner, the job seems to belong to Lagesson.
I wouldn’t be surprised if William Lagesson is waived for purpose of reassigning him to the Marlies on March 7th, as that would keep him as an option for the Leafs that evening and provide a roster spot and some cap relief heading into the final stretch of the trade deadline.
The drop off from Lagesson to Lajoie isn’t that significant that Toronto wouldn’t chance Lagesson on waivers and potentially they will be relying on Conor Timmins as the 7D, although he is a very different type of player.

Conor Timmins

One of the other options and one that provides a bit more cap relief to the Leafs is that they could waive or trade Conor Timmins. He represents $1.1M worth of cap space that the Leafs might put a significant value on and given his health/injury history and his defensive limits, Timmins might be someone they are willing to lose in order to improve the Leafs.
Timmins is still young-ish and his offensive abilities might make him a valuable to a team looking for a secondary unit powerplay quarterback and the Leafs at times have looked like they are one of those teams that could use that. He also is one of the few Leafs defencemen that is under contract for next season and that could limit any enthusiasm about moving on from him.
It has been over a month since Timmins last played and if the Maple Leafs don’t anticipate using him until after the trade deadline they could go the LTIR route. The thing they will eventually need to find the necessary room to bring him off LTIR so that might not be the glorious solution it appears to be in the moment.

Bobby McMann

It’s safe to say that unless Bobby McMann is an absolute ghost for the next six games he isn’t going anywhere. He has a $762k cap hit and is providing bottom six scoring that the Leafs haven’t received all season. He’s not going to maintain a 40% shooting percentage but having the ability to contribute offence while being a hard nosed bottom sixer is what the Leafs have been looking for and McMann is likely saving Treliving the trouble of making a depth add at the deadline.
It’s a safe bet that if McMann went on waivers he’d be claimed.

Noah Gregor

Gregor’s last goal came on December 16th. He’s been held goalless in the last 25 games he’s played and has recently been a healthy scratch as both McMann and Holmberg have made stronger cases for being in the lineup over Gregor. It seems Noah has very much become at risk for being a candidate for waivers, but it is not a sure thing that he clears.
What Gregor has going for him are his speed, which the Maple Leafs don’t have in abundance in their bottom six, his penalty killing, and his hit count. While offence is nice, Gregor has been understanding a critical part of the fourth line assignment and that his use your body and kill penalties. And while the penalty killing aspect of his responsibilities is also being scaled back, it might not be something the Leafs are entirely ready to part with.

Ryan Reaves

It seems like a lot of fans have begun warming up to Ryan Reaves as of late. His chirping of the Ducks and keeping them in check during the Leafs blowout victory over Anaheim resonated with a lot of people but I’m not sure it $1.35M worth of cap space resonated with me. Nor does the fact that there is a two more year commitment after this one.
In the cold realities of sport and by taking a tough look at the depth chart and what the Leafs need 95% of the time out of the fourth line, it’s easy to say that Reaves is out and waiving him is the right call. In actual practice it probably is a lot harder to be that cold and we still haven’t reached the point of the year that Reaves was brought in for. There is a belief that his attitude is the right one for this team in the playoffs. There is also a belief that when Toronto inserts him into their playoff roster that says they aren’t taking any shit. Whether it works or not remains to be seen but odds are the Leafs want to find out.

David Kampf

Waivers definitely isn’t part of the equation for Kampf but despite his 10 team no trade clause it seems like there might be some benefit in moving on from Kampf. The Leafs still put a lot of trust in Kampf as a penalty killer, but he hasn’t seen much consideration as a 3C, a role the Leafs previously valued him in, and he’s now into his second year of struggling as a 4C at 5v5. With a $2.4M cap hit and looking like he could be replaced by Pontus Holmberg in a heartbeat, seeing if the Leafs can rid themselves of this contract seems like a reasonable course of action.
Unfortunately, moving Kampf falls into the easier said than done category and if current roster incumbents are going to be shuffled around the league it will likely come in the summer.

Calle Jarnkrok

As much as I disagree with the idea of trading Jarnkrok, I’ll be fair and include it here. The $2.1M cap hit gives the Maple Leafs room to upgrade in other places and he is a more movable asset than Kampf and should even have positive trade value. That said, a lot of the reason for this post is about the excitement of bringing Jarnkrok back into the fold and his versatility joining a group that has been clicking of late is a bit of an addition without making a trade. Swapping Jarnkrok in for Robertson on the Tavares-McMann line looks like something that can be trusted in more situations.
There is also the possibility that Jarnkrok will be on the LTIR through the trade deadline, which as mentioned above, doesn’t really solve anything other than allowing the Leafs to delay roster decisions until after the trade deadline with the hope that teams won’t be as interested in making waivers claims if they can’t use those players on their playoff roster.

Martin Jones

The biggest question seems to be whether it is in the Maple Leafs best interest to carry three goaltenders. I guess that is going to come down to what Woll’s return looks like but if the belief is that Samsonov and Woll can handle things going forward, the Leafs can certainly chance Dennis Hildeby as a potential backup option at this point if Toronto were to lose Jones on waivers.
One thing is for certain, if the Leafs waive Jones, they’ll lose him. If the decision is that Jones’ services are no longer required, the trade route for a late pick is not a bad way to go.

Pre-Deadline/Post-Deadline

Heading into the deadline it seems most likely that if Jarnkrok is ready to return it will be Pontus Holmberg that is sent down to the Marlies. Waivers eligibility favours this move for the short term even if Holmberg makes more sense with the Leafs in the long term. If there is someone the Leafs would be open to losing on waivers, that’s probably the better play but doubt Brad Treliving feels that way.
The Leafs will also want to maximize their deadline flexibility, and if the Leafs haven’t made a trade prior to the deadline, they can reach about $2.5M in cap space just by temporarily demoting their waivers exempt players.
What the Leafs will look like post deadline is a lot tougher to predict because we are likely talking about some new players being part of the equation too. What does seem reasonable to expect is that Toronto will have Mark Giordano in the 7D spot and as a result moving Lagesson and Timmins off the Leafs roster is a strong possibility. It also seems reasonable that if Woll and Samsonov are clicking the Leafs will take the gamble on cutting Martin Jones loose.
Those moves would mean the Leafs have roughly between $2.79M-$3.59M as a net gain in cap hit at the trade deadline depending on if Toronto wants to leave Pontus Holmberg in the AHL or not.
As the Leafs potentially risk the loss of a few players on waivers it is also important to remember there is Marlies depth that can help as well. Alex Steeves, Max Lajoie, Nick Abruzzese, and Marshall Rafai could all have their opportunity to play a role, as could Keiffer Bellows if the Maple Leafs get him on an NHL contract. The drop off isn’t that steep in many of these cases when talking about 4th line/7D NHLer to reliable AHL contributor.
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