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Maple Leafs have 24 healthy players for 23 roster spots

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How do you keep Travis Dermott on the roster, now that he’s here?

Chicago Blackhawks v Toronto Maple Leafs
Props to the Twitter user who reminded me that Eric Fehr used to be 23.
Photo by Kevin Sousa/NHLI via Getty Images

I know why the Leafs gave Travis Dermott 23 as his new jersey number. It’s the number most on their minds right now.

Twenty-three is the maximum number of players an NHL team can have on their roster. And that’s how many the Leafs have right now with the callup of Dermott and Frederik Gauthier. Except, they actually have 25.

Leafs Roster as at Jan. 16, 2018

Player # Pos Sh Ht Wt Born Birthplace
Player # Pos Sh Ht Wt Born Birthplace
Tyler Bozak (A) 42 C R 6' 1" 199 Mar 19, 1986 Regina, SK, CAN
Connor Brown 28 RW R 6' 0" 185 Jan 14, 1994 Toronto, ON, CAN
Frederik Gauthier 33 C L 6' 5" 232 Apr 26, 1995 Laval, QC, CAN
Zach Hyman 11 C R 6' 1" 213 Jun 9, 1992 Toronto, ON, CAN
Nazem Kadri 43 C L 6' 0" 190 Oct 6, 1990 London, ON, CAN
Leo Komarov (A) 47 C L 5' 11" 209 Jan 23, 1987 Narva, EST
Josh Leivo 32 LW R 6' 2" 210 May 26, 1993 Innisfil, ON, CAN
Patrick Marleau 12 C L 6' 2" 215 Sep 15, 1979 Aneroid, SK, CAN
Mitchell Marner 16 C R 6' 0" 175 May 5, 1997 Markham, ON, CAN
Matt Martin 15 LW L 6' 3" 220 May 8, 1989 Windsor, ON, CAN
Auston Matthews 34 C L 6' 3" 216 Sep 17, 1997 San Ramon, CA, USA
Dominic Moore 20 C L 6' 0" 192 Aug 3, 1980 Thornhill, ON, CAN
William Nylander 29 C R 6' 0" 191 May 1, 1996 Calgary, AB, CAN
Nikita Soshnikov * 26 RW L 5' 11" 185 Oct 14, 1993 Nizhny Tagil, RUS
James van Riemsdyk 25 LW L 6' 3" 217 May 4, 1989 Middletown, NJ, USA
Andreas Borgman 55 D L 6' 0" 212 Jun 18, 1995 Stockholm, SWE
Connor Carrick 8 D R 5' 10" 192 Apr 13, 1994 Orland Park, IL, USA
Travis Dermott 23 D L 6' 0" 208 Dec 22, 1996 Newmarket, ON, CAN
Jake Gardiner 51 D L 6' 2" 200 Jul 4, 1990 Minnetonka, MN, USA
Ron Hainsey 2 D L 6' 3" 205 Mar 24, 1981 Bolton, CT, USA
Roman Polak 46 D R 6' 2" 235 Apr 28, 1986 Ostrava, CZE
Morgan Rielly (A) 44 D L 6' 1" 217 Mar 9, 1994 Vancouver, BC, CAN
Nikita Zaitsev * 22 D R 6' 2" 195 Oct 29, 1991 Moscow, RUS
Frederik Andersen 31 G 6' 4" 230 Oct 2, 1989 Herning, DNK
Curtis McElhinney 35 G 6' 2" 200 May 23, 1983 London, ON, CAN

The rule right now is: If your name is Nikita, you’re on IR. And that’s how they get 25 guys to fit into 23 seats. There’s a couple of problems with that, and the most pressing is that Nikita Soshnikov is ready to play.

That’s that problem solved right? Well, no. That’s that problem deferred, and not by much. And I’m sorry but it’s CBA time again. The conditioning stint they are likely talking about here is this one:

13.9 Bona Fide Long-Term Injury/Illness Exception Conditioning Loan.

A Player who is on the Bona Fide Long-Term Injury/Illness Exception as set forth in Article 50 may, with his consent, during the term of such Bona Fide Long-Term Injury/Illness Exception (but in no event during the first fourteen (14) calendar days and six (6) NHL Games), be Loaned on a Conditioning Loan (the “Bona Fide Long-Term Injury/Illness Exception Conditioning Loan”) for a period not to exceed up to the longer of six (6) days and three (3) games, solely for the purpose of determining whether the Player is fit to play.

This kind of loan does not add the player back onto the active roster — he stays on IR. And it also does not require the player to have been on LTIR for the purposes of cap relief. The Leafs have no need to do that, so even though they could have placed both Soshnikov and Nikita Zaitsev on LTIR for the term of their injuries, they didn’t.

This conditioning loan was used for Josh Leivo last year. And that linked post contains the full CBA section which details the ways in which the Commissioner can investigate if he feels this is some kind of roster limit or waiver circumvention.

Let’s say for the sake of argument, that they send Soshnikov to the Marlies tomorrow. He gets in a practice, they travel on Thursday, and Friday, Saturday and Sunday they engage in a three in three in three cities, and that’s a very good time to have some extra bodies on hand. He’s back before his six days run out and the Leafs have kicked this can down the road a week.

Now what?

Remember that Soshnikov has that KHL out-clause in his contract, and if the Leafs decide to just risk him on waivers (he’d be taken, as he’s an NHL-capable RFA on a low salary) they would risk losing him to the KHL if he gets fed up with not being played in the NHL.

So who on that list up there do you move to make room? The obvious answer is that the Frederik Gauthier tryout comes to a close, he goes back down with no waivers needed, and Dominic Moore comes back on the playing roster as the 4C. The less obvious but possible answer is that Moore gets waived, and ends up wherever he lands. There are enough teams who need centres of some kind, so he’d be gone.

So that leads to the possibility of a trade of Moore, if the Leafs are sure that Gauthier is their man. (I cannot believe I typed that.) And I hold out hope that the Leafs will have decided that Moore is man enough for them for right now and just do the obvious.

That’s fixed, but there’s another Nikita lurking, ready to really make things complicated. Let’s assume the Leafs solve the Soshnikov dilemma by picking a 4C and sticking with him. Who do you turf to make room for Zaitsev?

Yes, yes, waive Polak! Do it, do it! You know that’s not happening. But who do you move and keep Dermott, which is what every fan wants and expects and is going to be angry over if it doesn’t happen.

There is only one choice of a player who is waiver exempt. And that’s Andreas Borgman, and that seems very unlikely to happen to me. We’ll know better by the time this is an issue, which will likely be after the All-Star break, but the plan of a rotation of the three youngest defenders, Borgman, Dermott and Carrick, seems seriously intended at the moment.

So what do the Leafs do? Have we finally, at long last, hit fish or cut bait time on these press box extras they’re afraid to risk waivers on? Will they try to sneak Josh Leivo through waivers, counting on his second year on his contract staying claiming hands? Or will they trade someone?

The projected return of Zaitsev falls about four weeks before the trade deadline, which marks the end of the 23-man restriction. So all the Leafs really need to do is kick the can down the road somehow for those few weeks.

Every other time it’s seemed absolutely necessary that the team with too many players must trade at least one, Lou just laughed and did nothing. So, I’m assuming that’s what’s going to happen until someone proves me wrong.