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Updates on Maple Leafs cap space, injuries and the AHL

A few bites of news on an off day.

Vancouver Canucks v Toronto Maple Leafs Photo by Kevin Sousa/NHLI via Getty Images

Cap Space

Prior to now, Campbell wasn’t even on IR. Now with him and Simmonds on LTIR, that seems like a lot of LTIR pool to hold replacement players, but it’s amazing how fast you can spend almost $5 million.

As of yesterday’s roster, with 22 healthy players, there was $38,000 in cap space and $900,000 in unused LTIR pool. (This roster includes Pierre Engvall, even though he didn’t play last night.)

With these two fairly expensive players on LTIR, the Leafs could carry 23 on the roster if they need to. That would likely only be used on a road trip, and this month’s trips are to Montreal and Ottawa, so it’s not a benefit particularly. Not when the Taxi Squad can travel with the team regardless.

The Taxi Squad has only Adam Brooks and Nic Petan on it at the moment. Michael Hutchinson now has to stay on the NHL roster — he was bouncing up and down before under the Roster Emergency rules — but he is on the roster as an emergency loan. This is a different kind of emergency than the Roster Emeergency. Look, I didn’t write the CBA, I just marvel at how confusing they managed to make it.

This type of emergency loan, which is also the terms under which Engvall is on the roster, affects how you count the nine NHL games or 29 days on the roster before waiver exemption runs out. Depending on when Jack Campbell is better, Hutchinson may be able to be sent back to the Taxi Squad without needing waivers.

As for Engvall, this doesn’t help with his ticking waiver clock. He has three NHL games remaining on his original waiver exemption all young players enjoy. It will run out when those games are played. Is that why he didn’t play last night? Maybe. It’s hard to second guess that sort of thing. But he started the season with only seven games left of exemption, and it’s February 9, and he’s only played in four games. Hard not to see a cause and effect there.

Trade Rumours

There has been talk for some time that the Leafs wanted a top-six winger. They looked within, found Wayne Simmonds, and then that went pear-shaped. Last night there was a somewhat bizarre rotation of wingers who were auditioned with John Tavares.

  • Ilya Mikheyev: 5:07
  • Auston Matthews: 2:58
  • Travis Boyd: 2:21
  • Jimmy Vesey: 1:51
  • Zach Hyman: 1:43
  • Mitch Marner: 1:30
  • Jason Spezza: 0:55
  • Alexander Kerfoot: 0:34
  • Alex Barabanov: 0:28

Some of those are only one shift, and Boyd is the only real tryout in the list other than Mikheyev, who isn’t a stranger to the top six. Two minutes is not enough to tell you anything. This rotation is the essence of experimentation that looks like dithering and returns no useful knowledge about players. Given this situation it’s even more weird that Engvall is sitting out.

The trade rumours will continue until it seems like Sheldon Keefe has made up his mind about his own team. But if the Leafs go back to 21 men, and ignore for now the future when more expensive players will come back off of IR, they have enough LTIR pool to add a player with a cap hit of about $2 million depending on how they arrange the roster.

Remember, LTIR pool is dollar-for-dollar on the AAV of a contract with no proration applied for the season being partly over. If the roster can get arranged to put a new, expensive guy in under the cap and the LTIR pool gets used for the cheap players already on the Leafs, that improves things a little. But it’s not clear that’s possible right now.

There isn’t going to be a big trade for a $5 million player who will make an impact.

Injuries

Joe Thornton looks primed to come back first, and fairly soon. He’s eligible to return next week, and likely will. There aren’t a lot of days off, and rarely more than one at a time, so practice time is limited, but Keefe has said he wants Thornton and eventually Robertson in practice before he brings them back on board.

I’m trying to imagine what Joe Thornton gets out of a practice at this point in his career, but okay. This all seems to be part of the slowly, slowly, careful and considered approach to evaluating the players that Keefe seems locked into.

Last night Species made a comment in the GDT that asked what would be the earthshaking downside to just playing Rasmus Sandin for a game. And that’s a very good question. It applies to all these sub 10-minute players, the two-minute shifts with Tavares, the 11 forwards and seven defender nights while everyone gets the message loud and clear that they aren’t trusted, they aren’t really part of the team, and at any point, Engvall’s doghouse might be made into a duplex so they can move in and help him with that deck he’s building.

I’m not sure if that’s the intent, but that’s the effect. No one knows if they’re on this team or not, not even the very obviously better than most of the rest Nic Petan and Travis Boyd.

The AHL

The coach of Laval Rocket, Joel Bouchard, told the press yesterday that while no schedule is formally ready, he’s expecting to play on Friday. As in not start training camp, one assumes they’ve already quietly had one of those, but play a game. His potential opponents are the Stockton (Calgary) Heat, Winnipeg Moose, Belleville (Ottawa) Senators and Toronto Marlies.

The Marlies have added players, including a goalie, so they obviously think the season will start soon. By the way, the draft-eligible Tristan Lennox, who was listed as on the team has vanished from the AHL transactions page. No idea what the story is there.

Scott Sabourin, who was on an AHL contract, has been upgraded to an NHL deal, cleared waivers and is on the Marlies Roster.

They still aren’t really full at forward, but if Adam Brooks and some other NHL extra is sent to the AHL to play, they will be good enough. The third player signed by the Marlies in the summer and on loan to the Wichita Thunder of the ECHL has been recalled. Bobby McMann gives them another depth centre option.

The choice, very clearly, for the Marlies was to skip over the host of quality AHL veterans available and go with a young team of recent CHL and NCAA graduates. The result is very likely to look like a team that could win the ECHL title, but might just get smoked by the talent in the Canadiens and Senators organizations. The Moose are also hosting some of the Vancouver players, making them better than they were.

If you wondered last year if the Growlers could play successfully in the AHL, we might be about to find out.

And that’s where things stand right now. The next two Leafs games against the Canadiens might answer a lot of questions Sheldon Keefe has about the roster. The first game is tomorrow night.