Hockey is officially back. Well, semi-officially. The Maple Leafs have visited Paradise, kissed the cod, and finished training camp in Newfoundland.
Welcome to the Royal Order of Newfoundland Screechers, b’ys! pic.twitter.com/5ixMMwCJ8U— Toronto Maple Leafs (@MapleLeafs) September 14, 2019
The first NHL preseason game was yesterday, a surely exciting game between (checks notes) the Arizona Coyotes and the Vegas Golden Knights? Garret Sparks was there, sitting on the Golden Knights’ bench.
The Maple Leafs have their first game tomorrow. However, it is still the preseason and that means there’s a few special rules and regulations in place. There’s always uncertainty around these every preseason, probably because they are in effect for such a short period of time.
Here’s a refresher for you before you start watching the games this week.
Preseason games and the veteran rule
The CBA (in Article 15, paragraph 4 if you like to read the original material) says teams must dress at least eight “veterans” for each preseason game. It’s significant that word is not capitalised because the definition does not tie out to how we use it in normal conversation.
A player is considered to be a “veteran” if they meet any one of the following criteria:
Skaters who played 30 NHL games the previous season
Goalies who dressed in 50 NHL games, or played in 30 NHL games the previous year
Any player who has played 100 or more NHL games
A current year first round pick
As you can see, you don’t have to be an NHL veteran to be a “veteran.” One that stands out right away is that a first round selection from the NHL Draft last spring qualifies despite having never played an NHL game at all. Of course the Maple Leafs did not have a selection in the first round this year. Nick Robertson was their highest pick, but he was taken in the second round. The Leafs announced yesterday that he was cut and returned to his junior hockey team.
Roster impacts for the Leafs
After cutting Robertson and many others yesterday, there are still 54 players left on the Leafs roster to sort through. You can find the list of who is gone and who is still around in the list below.
The preseason has a lot of back-to-back home and away games and at the beginning the roster is usually split into an “A” team and a “B” team. The “B” team often contains many long shot prospects that Leafs management still wants to see, perhaps only to get a heads up on where they could fit on the Toronto Marlies or the Newfoundland Growlers this coming season. This will likely be the roster put out tomorrow so the local Growlers fans get to see some of their favourites playing in the blue and white.
But you don’t want to disappoint Leafs fans with a roster made up entirely of rookies. This is where the eight veteran rule comes in to play. Some of the top stars of the Leafs will be on the “B” team, but they have some other options to satisfy the rule.
Sometimes they can fill those spots with players you probably forgot have had long NHL careers. Martin Marincin has more than 100 NHL games played, despite only playing in 51 in the last three seasons. You will also likely see Rich Clune playing in a preseason game; he meets the criteria as he has played in more than 100 NHL games in his NHL career which extends all the way back to the Kings in the 2009-10 season.
This also is where players on PTOs get on the ice, like Matt Read and Michal Neuvirth. Neuvirth may legitimately be battling for a spot as a backup goalie, but Read is likely here as a favour by Dave Hakstol to with hope his play will get the attention of a pro scout from another team that could use him somewhere on their roster. Though if you ask me he was always being carried by someone else.
There will also be more roster machinations to accommodate a few favours here and there. There is usually some juggling to get a prospect or two that have family in town out on the ice for a game so mom and dad can see them in a Maple Leafs uniform.
Finally, there’s also straight up trolling. This why Jason Spezza must be on the ice for the Leafs game in Ottawa on Wednesday!
No data in non-NHL rinks
A final note on game data for tomorrow. We all love hockey stats and data, even if it’s only preseason games. But don’t expect much to come from the Leafs first game tomorrow at the Mile One Centre in St. John’s. It’s not a regular NHL arena, and the NHL usually does not track data at these irregular locations beyond the most basic information; goals, assists, and penalties. There won’t be any shift charts, time on ice, or shot location data available. You’ll have to wait until the Leafs visit the Senators in Kanata on Wednesday to start drawing your snap conclusions about Mike Babcock’s coaching.
Enjoy the show, folks
There’s been some great moments in preseason hockey in the past few years. Let’s hope we see more this week.