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State of the Maple Leafs Roster

What happens as players get healthy and return?

NHL: NOV 25 Maple Leafs at Wild Photo by Bailey Hillesheim/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

It’s been an eventful first two-and-a-bit months to the NHL season. The roster has changed so much, it’s hard to remember the shape of it back in October when almost everyone was healthy.

The roster as of yesterday, looked like this:

Leafs roster as of December 18, 2022

Player Number Position
Player Number Position
Justin Holl 3 D
Jordie Benn 18 D
Conor Timmins 25 D
Timothy Liljegren 37 D
Rasmus Sandin 38 D
Mark Giordano 55 D
TJ Brodie 78 D
Zach Aston-Reese 12 F
Alexander Kerfoot 15 F
Mitchell Marner 16 F
Wayne Simmonds 24 F
Joey Anderson 28 F
Pontus Holmberg 29 F
Auston Matthews 34 F
Pierre Engvall 47 F
Michael Bunting 58 F
Denis Malgin 62 F
David Kämpf 64 F
William Nylander 88 F
John Tavares 91 F
Matt Murray 30 G
Ilya Samsonov 35 G

The first thing you should notice is there’s only 22 players on this list. A spot had been left open through the recent road trip, perhaps because the Leafs don’t want to have anyone on the roster they can’t send down after the freeze. They did recall Mac Hollowell on Saturday in case Timothy Liljegren was not going to play, but he’s not on the official roster now. Sometimes there are delays in names showing up, or he might have been sent back without any formal announcement. The roster freeze begins tonight at midnight, so we might see some moves announced today.

There’s seven defenders and 13 forwards right now, and Jordie Benn has been cleared to play even though he did not draw in on the road trip. Including Hollowell, Cap Friendly has the Leafs using $82,499,996 of the salary cap and $6,774,167 of the LTIR pool. Only two players are on LTIR: Jake Muzzin and Morgan Rielly. The rest of the long list of injured are on IR, so they count against the cap, but not the 23-man limit (Carl Dahlström is actually on SOIR and only a few thousand of his cap hit counts.)

Judging by the officially announced injury statuses, Calle Järnkrok should be the next player to come off IR. (There is no timeline for Victor Mete, so we’re just going to ignore him for now.)

Te reactivate Järnkrok, we’ll send Hollowell back to the Marlies, and those two transactions makes the LTIR used $6,024,167. Yes, it went down. It goes down because Järnkrok’s cap hit was already counted, since he’s only on IR.

Next on the list is Morgan Rielly, and he’s due about two weeks from now, according to the original estimate. Estimates are only guesses in fancy clothes, though, so “at some point decently soon” is more likely what we should call his return date. It’s very likely he comes back before Nick Robertson, who is due the end of January.

Rielly is on LTIR, and that means there needs to be $7.5 million in cap space/LTIR pool to fit him back on. Someone has to come off the roster to make room under the 23-man limit, so let’s just assume that’s Jordie Benn, but it could be a forward, and add up about the same.

What it adds up to is a full 23-man roster, and no need even to swap out Wayne Simmonds’ salary for a cheaper forward.

Next up is likely Nick Robertson, who can just replace any forward, and the LTIR room goes up some more. Same goes for Victor Mete, he’s either going to be replacing someone or he’s going to the AHL, so the space goes up again.

The Leafs haven’t been using LTIR for everyone who is hurt, even when they can, because they don’t need it. And all those cap hits have been counting all this time. There is no crisis, not until it’s clear what Jake Muzzin’s status is.

The Leafs can’t bank any cap space, and they need to use the Muzzin LTIR room to operate once Rielly is back, but they can make a deadline (or earlier) acquisition that is dollar-for-dollar in the space available. Sometime in early February, that space is going to be $2 million or so. For that you can get the defenceman with the 26th most minutes played in the NHL this year. Let’s go get him!