As we near the halfway point of December and the Leafs still not letting up from their November success it becomes increasingly interesting to write about the Leafs. Even as injuries pile up it is hard to find areas that warrant much criticism, and even as someone who is not the biggest fan of Sheldon Keefe, I feel I owe him a credit where credit is due acknowledgement, and appreciate that he must be doing something right when he can be missing his top three defensemen or his top two goaltenders and still have the Leafs continue on without missing a beat. As much as there is the cop-out answer of “look at the talent still on the roster” these aren’t easy wins and hopefully what is happening now is something that can translate into some success in the playoffs as Toronto is proving they can find new ways to win.
Now for some other stray thoughts:

The Robertson injury is unfortunate but an opportunity for the Leafs

Nick Robertson’s injury, like many of his previous injuries could not have come at a worse time. There’s also something about how Nick is incapable of being just a little bit hurt, when he gets injured he tends to be all the way injured and miss significant amounts of time.
Right now, with Jarnkrok on the IR, this was a golden opportunity for Robertson to demonstrate what he could do with a consistent spot in the top six and to help get back on track after sliding down the roster and spending numerous games as a healthy scratch. His early return to the top six wasn’t exactly going great, but Robertson was doing more on the ice away from the puck than we had seen from him even before his string of scratched games.
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Still, I have to admit that I had been experiencing growing concerns that Robertson wouldn’t put it all together and with injuries once again coming into play for Nick, I don’t want to say that I’ve written Robertson off as a prospect. Still, I do think that expectations need to be adjusted from a fan perspective and the Robertson needs to develop a bit of a backup plan for how he’ll have an extended career.
From a Leafs and fans perspective, I think we need to commit to Robertson being a shooter first and foremost. He’s a bit of a puck chucker. He’s not going to skate his way out of things, but he can skate with the puck when he has room. He isn’t going to see anything beyond the most apparent passes and even then it’s likely he’ll see if he has the shot first, and there isn’t anything to date that should make anyone feel comfortable with Robertson’s play in the defensive zone. What Robertson has exhibited beyond being a shooter is that he can agitate, and that’s something he could steer into. A sheltered scoring agitator is a way I envision Robertson having a long NHL career, and that can cement him in the middle six of the lineup.
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The Leafs need to be invested in getting Robertson to pan out. His career and injury history to date likely means he won’t be the top prospect that teams are looking to acquire via trade, so Toronto is going to be where he needs to figure things out.
Now, while it’s unfortunate that Robertson is out, there is a golden opportunity for some of the other Leafs prospects looking for their shot. Holmberg can be used in a few new situations, Joey Anderson is said to be receiving an extended look and he’s someone who could add some real value to the bottom six, and there is hope that we’ll see Alex Steeves at some point as he could be an interesting option for the Leafs middle six as well. That’s before even getting into what Adam Gaudette can provide or taking another look at Nick Abruzzese now that he’s had a bit more time in the Leafs system.
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The thing is the injury is probably more unfortunate for Robertson than it is for the Leafs at this point, the Leafs shouldn’t have any trouble replacing what they’ve received to date from Nick.

Gearing up for another underwhelming Holiday Roster Freeze

December 19th is a week away and with it the NHL’s Holiday roster freeze. As much as people want to bill it as the trade deadline junior, it’s really just the end of waivers until December 27th and any movement between NHL and AHL rosters will be strictly on an emergency basis. That’s where things are likely most interesting from a Leafs perspective as it is a little much to assume a trade is coming.
With the Leafs LTIR cap relief situation, Toronto has been able to function with a 23 player roster for most of the season, a luxury they don’t typically enjoy. It stands to reason they’ll have 23 players on their roster heading into the freeze, and the health of Calle Jarnkrok, Jordie Benn, Victor Mete, and Morgan Rielly will likely factor heavily into what that roster will look like.
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We can probably make the presumption that Morgan Rielly won’t be available. There is a better chance of Benn and Jarnkrok being ready, and from an asset management standpoint, the Leafs are likely best to keep Mete on the injured reserve for as long as possible to determine what they want to do with him as he will require waivers.
Hollowell, Holmberg, and Anderson can be sent down without yet requiring waivers as can Wayne Simmonds, and if they want to do so. Conor Timmins would require waivers and even if Benn is activated it stands to reason that Timmins stays put in the NHL.
As the Leafs juggle players around it’s also important to remember they will have the opportunity for emergency recalls from the Marlies as needed, so they aren’t completely out of luck. I would just expect a conscience effort to limit players that will eventually require waivers from being on their roster if they don’t have to be.
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And when it comes to the idea of the Leafs making a trade, I’m sure Toronto would still very much like to find a happy landing spot for Wayne Simmonds, preferably in the Western Conference or do anything else they can to free up an additional contract spot, but it is likely the blockbusters will have to wait.

#TeamRunItBack

I hate to say that I’m warming up to the idea of the Leafs running it back, but it’s hard to argue with the success of the past couple of months. It’s also hard to ignore that I love prospects and draft picks and the Leafs not having to give one up in order to rework their roster for the playoffs is a wonderful thing.
Now I shouldn’t say that I’m fully #TeamRunItBack as there is a lot of untapped Jake Muzzin cap relief that could potentially be available to the Leafs to use at the trade deadline, and if the Leafs aren’t maxed out cap-wise then frankly they just aren’t trying. What I would say is that I’m open to the Leafs being creative in this regard as well.
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With the Leafs in the market for some form of supporting depth and not having a specific need in one area, I wonder if the Leafs could explore taking on another team’s salary dump as the asset they require. One name I’d throw out there is Jason Zucker as the Penguins could be looking to free up his salary for other moves and he’d certainly add something worthwhile to the Leafs.
I’ll leave it that, but I am truly curious about what other teams have Alex Kerfoot situations of players they are trying to unload because of challenging contracts and if they are good enough to help the Leafs. I’ll revisit that once or twice more before we reach the trade deadline.