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The Leafs clever 24-man roster is finally causing problems

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Twenty-four players, and there’s only supposed to be 23 seats in the locker room.

Pittsburgh Penguins v Toronto Maple Leafs Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

Here they are, an advent calendar’s worth of players:

Player # Pos
Tyler Bozak 42 C
Connor Brown 12 RW
Peter Holland 24 C
Zach Hyman 11 C
Nazem Kadri 43 C
Leo Komarov 47 C
Mitchell Marner 16 C
Matt Martin 15 LW
Auston Matthews 34 C
William Nylander 29 C
Ben Smith 18 RW
Nikita Soshnikov 26 RW
James van Riemsdyk 25 LW
Connor Carrick 8 R
Frank Corrado 20 R
Jake Gardiner 51 L
Matt Hunwick 2 L
Martin Marincin 52 L
Roman Polak 46 R
Morgan Rielly 44 L
Nikita Zaitsev 22 R
Frederik Andersen 31 6' 4"
Jhonas Enroth 35 5' 10"

And yes that’s only 23 names. The 24th is, of course, Josh Leivo, who is on season opening injured reserve since he didn’t pass his physical in training camp.

The other complicating factors are that Jhonas Enroth was just waived yesterday while Peter Holland is in limbo awaiting a trade and was told not to go on the last road trip or come to practices. Leivo participates fully in both events.

That is 24 healthy players.

Subtracting Enroth only works for a second since the backup goalie is a man you do have to replace.

This situation is a problem until someone not a goalie is moved off of that list. Here’s one scenario:

Say a forward is ill or slightly injured and cannot play. The only way to bring Leivo onto the roster and onto the ice is to have someone else go on injured reserve. Injured reserve has to last a minimum of seven days, but can be retroactive to the date of injury. So if that forward only needs to be out briefly, the Leafs can either run an 11 forwards and seven defenders lineup for a few days or they have to have an injured defender they can afford to miss for a week.

That is the exact opposite of the kind of flexibility a pressbox full of nearly-there players provides.

The Leafs have, of late, favoured a conservative approach to stocking their rosters that means there is always a plan B and sometimes a C and a D.

The signing of a fairly unknown quantity in Nikita Zaitsev meant an alternate right-handed defender in Roman Polak got added to the roster, giving them four in total.

The removal of both of last season’s goalies meant a new backup, but they also added an extra minor-league goalie on an NHL contract and put Jeff Glass into the mix on a PTO.

The parade of rookies onto the team has a safety net in a long list of veteran NHLers playing in the AHL who can be called up at any time. No one ever need fear the need to put those four million dollar men through waivers to send them back, making them very useful to have around.

That is a smart, savvy, sensible way to do business, and we would be very impressed if the Leafs had been hit with the sort of injury problems the Buffalo Sabres or Colorado Avalanche have had. Instead, with the exception of the players they don’t actually want to play, the Leafs have had only a few games lost to injury. Matt Hunwick was out for a while, William Nylander missed one game, and that’s been about it.

They haven’t even had a suspension to cover!

And now, instead of it being a smart backup plan, it is a genuine logjam that is preventing the team from making moves.

The total number of players under contract cannot go above 50, and they have 48. That turns into 49 if they lose the Cowen grievance, something we should know this week.

They’ve waived Enroth; they have to add a new goalie from somewhere to the roster, so even if they decide to play Garret Sparks or Antoine Bibeau in the NHL for a period of time, they still have only reduced the 50 man roster not the more important 24-man list, and that is only if someone claims Enroth.

The obvious man to move is Peter Holland, and it now seems to be what everyone wants. But the Leafs need a trading partner. And not just any trading partner. They can’t take a player back, and even if some team would give away a waiver exempt player for Holland, they still haven’t gained anything on the 50 contract limit front.

The Leafs want picks, obviously, and that’s a really tough sell in December when no one feels playoff frenzy heating their blood and will give you a draft pick for Nick Spaling.

It all leads to one interesting solution that would reduce the 24 man roster to the proper 23, give the Leafs the chance to have a usable backup forward again in Leivo, and also take the contract count down by one.

If Enroth is claimed off of waivers, and the Leafs can trade Peter Holland for a goalie, that would fix everything.

The possibilities aren’t endless, but they’re there.