The Leafs made some roster moves this lunch hour, one understandable, one less so.
They placed Milan Michalek on waivers, presumably for the purpose of sending him to the Marlies. Although Michalek has been decently useful playing on Nazem Kadri’s wing, there are other options that are likely better for one of the right wing spots. Moving Michalek out, will put Leo Komarov at left wing and a right wing job frees up.
Connor Brown practiced on Kadri’s right wing today, and that may be the plan for the next few games, leaving the fourth-line wing position open.
Seth Griffith is sitting in the press box, but has a reputation as a power play sniper. Josh Leivo practiced for the first time today and could be about to come off of IR necessitating a corresponding move off the roster.
Meanwhile, Michalek, 31, coming off an injury ravaged season and sporting a $4 million cap hit, will almost certainly clear waivers.
It is not required that he be sent to the Marlies, but someone will have to be if Leivo is ready to come back, so while this could be preparing for flexibility, we saw with Brooks Laich, that the Leafs won’t hesitate to bury large salaries or veteran NHL players. That buried salary, remember, only saves them $950,000 in cap space, so this is more likely about roster moves.
It all makes a nice neat, logical sense.
#Leafs put Michalek on waivers and claim old friend Ben Smith from Colorado— Kristen Shilton (@kristen_shilton) October 24, 2016
Except for the Ben Smith news.
Smith, who was a decent depth forward for the Leafs in their losing season last year, was a star on the Marlies in the playoffs. At the time, he could have knocked Mark Arcobello down the depth chart, and perhaps should have, as Arcobello was not playing at his peak.
It would have made sense—nice neat, logical sense—for the Leafs to have signed Ben Smith last summer to a fair contract and kept him around for all his good qualities, on and off the ice. There is no question he is a Mike Babcock style Good Person. They could have waived him and moved him to the Marlies, if needed, in the post-training camp rush, and likely got him through. Or they could have used the rich team method of slightly overpaying a player to make that even easier.
But now, in the midst of needing to make roster room, the Leafs add him on a waiver claim. It’s not neat. And I’m not sure it’s logical.
Smith was signed by Colorado in the summer for $675,000 on a two-way deal. They used him in four games in a depth role where he had no points and the worst Corsi numbers, relative and straight up percentage, on the team.
They are presumed to be clearing space for Mikko Rantanen who was rehabbing an injury, and they chose Smith out of their list of marginal NHL depth players (Rene Bourque, Gabriel Bourque, Andreas Martinsen, Cody MacLeod) to waive.
Usually when you claim a player off of waivers, you are stuck with him on your NHL roster (Frank Corrado, Griffith) because if you waive him yourself, the original team can just take him back with right of first refusal. But perhaps that wouldn’t happen here. Perhaps the Avalanche are truly done with Smith.
As a centre/winger on the Marlies and providing a chance to reunite the Smith and Smith line, having Ben Smith makes sense. On the Leafs? I’m not sure I get it. Not without another corresponding move that is nice and neat and logical.
Stay tuned. Something else might happen to make sense out of this because Leivo can’t come off of IR without someone else moving off the roster now.
Added: Babcock likes the idea of Smith on the penalty kill.
Babcock says Ben Smith fills "niche" for Leafs; PKer who can take face-offs— Mark Masters (@markhmasters) October 24, 2016
Hyman, Komarov on top PK tandem, neither comfortable in circle