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Maple Leafs Practice Update: injuries, absences and cap machinations

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Today’s post-loss practice had all of that and Michael Hutchinson too.

Edmonton Oilers v Toronto Maple Leafs
Who takes the ice next against the Oilers? That’s a good question.
Photo by Claus Andersen/Getty Images

With the very unwelcome news that Joe Thornton is going to miss “some time” the expectation for today was that the Leafs would make some salary cap moves to open up the room to add replacement players for their injured.

That seems to be happening, but the thing about cap machinations is, sometimes they provide other opportunities as well, like for a player to join practice. Or maybe the practice time the player needs comes first, and that cap usage is just a handy add-on. We don’t know for sure.

SRS is a short form for Taxi Squad, and at Leafs practices, the players not in the line rush group often wear a different colour. That’s not necessarily a sure-fire way to tell who is on the roster or the squad for cap purposes, however.

Remember, to participate at NHL practice you have to be on one or the other.

As of this morning, the squad was: Engvall, Barabaov, Sandin, Hutchinson and Brooks. Travis Boyd had been sent to the AHL, and everyone else, 21 in total, was on the NHL roster with no one on IR or LTIR.

With Lehtonen added to the squad, Joey Anderson is either on the NHL roster and that 20 number is wrong, or someone else has been moved off the squad, either up or down.

Back to what matters:

Per multiple reports, Auston Matthews came out for practice and then left again, so Brooks took his spot in line rushes. Post-practice discussion with Zach Hyman indicate that his move to the Tavares line is a go for next game. That puts Jimmy Vesey with Auston Matthews and the third line is likely to be as shown.

As for which defender will play, and if there will be seven or a full fourth line instead, there seems to be a lot of options there. Mikko Lehtonen did not stake his claim to the job last night. However, I don’t think that’s why he’s been moved to the squad today.

I would have been really surprised at Joey Anderson showing up today, if not for one of our wonderful and smart commenters, albertajaysfan who figured out what I was being vague and handwavy about before practice ever happened. I think Joey Anderson is on the NHL roster today and it’s because he has a very unique set of characteristics.

First, Anderson is new to the team, an experienced player, and having the ability to bring him to practice before the AHL training camp starts is a good thing. But he’s also waivers exempt and the only player the Leafs have whose cap hit is $750,000.

Chances were always good that, before the Leafs left to go on the road, they were going to put Nick Robertson on LTIR and use the LTIR pool to add an extra player. Trouble is, when you put someone on LITR, their cap hit becomes the total LTIR pool. Your half-a-player’s worth of cap space becomes unusable. Robertson’s cap hit is $821,667, and not many callups fit in that space. Not Pierre Engvall, Lehtonen, Barabanov or Sandin.

To fix that, the trick teams use is to find an arrangement of players that use up all the cap space as close to $81.5 million as possible, then LTIR is invoked, and then the roster can get rearranged with the maximum amount of space and LTIR pool available. And Joey Anderson is the key to doing that.

Per CapFriendly, with the roster how it was yesterday at 5 p.m., the Leafs had $560,016 in cap space and 21 players (one hurt but not on LTIR).

They’ve moved Lehtonen to the squad, so that makes 20 players and $1.485016 million in space.

Now recall Joey Anderson and there’s $735,016 in total space. And you know who fits neatly into that leaving only $10,016 unused? Michael Hutchinson or Adam Brooks.

Now there’s 22 players on the roster! Likely one of the few ways you could do that without waiving someone you want to keep. That 22 included Robertson and Thornton, however, so this isn’t helpful for playing a game. If Thornton is going to be out more than 24 days and is LTIR eligible, then the total pool they create with both on LTIR is $1.521667 million.

Once those two jobs are done, Hutchinson, and sadly, Joey Anderson too, can go back to the squad/AHL, and the NHL roster would have 18 players on it with two pots of money to fill. The cap space is $1.475, and that can hold any one player up to the cost of Pierre Engvall or even two low cost players. The same can be said of the LTIR pool.

It’s now possible to get 21 players, or to get 20 players using expensive options or even, as we’ve seen, 22 players if cap hit becomes the factor that determines who plays. The Taxi Squad travels with the team, and different combinations could be used in different games on the road.

This is obviously not as ideal as not having LTIR. Little bits of the cap space go to waste here and there, and none of the unused space gets banked, but this is making the best of a bad situation — the injury to Robertson and then Thornton — at a time when the roster is short and options are very limited.

This is why Aaron Dell was sacrificed. Without that move, the Leafs would be looking at adding Brooks and Boyd to fill spots by default, and playing without Lehtonen, Engvall, Barabanov or Sundin for three weeks.

And that’s what practice was all about, Charlie Brown. That and some offensive drills, we imagine:

Update:

Confirmation of some things and a new bit of understanding for all of us.

This makes the LTIR pool less useful, but it can hold a low-cost player. It’s also good news if Thornton is going to be less than 24 days on IR.

So they did exactly what was surmised, only I did not realize that the cap space below the ACSL could accrue when in LTIR.

So, while with Thornton on the roster, but not playing it makes it difficult to get an optimal playing roster at the moment, it’s a good thing to accrue space and there is room to bring Lehtonen and Brooks or Engvall and Anderson or some other combination onto the roster for games.

Update:

So now it’s all in line with the scenario in this post.