When this season ends, the official end on June 30, not whenever the Maple Leafs stop playing, Josh Leivo will be 25 years old. His late May birthday is contributing to a chance he becomes an unrestricted free agent before he’s met the usual requirements to pass out of Restricted Free Agency.
The CBA contains a provision to set free players like Leivo who are almost, but not quite, cracking their team’s roster. Instead of locking them in as RFAs, if they’ve played under 80 games, they become UFAs when their contract expires.
Group 6 Free Agents.
(i) Means any Player who is age 25 or older who has completed three (3) or more professional seasons, whose SPC has expired and: (i) in the case of a Player other than a goaltender, has played less than 80 NHL Games, or (ii) in the case of a goaltender, has played less than 28 NHL Games (for the purpose of this definition, a goaltender must have played a minimum of thirty (30) minutes in an NHL Game to register a game played). For the purposes of the foregoing, the term professional season shall: (A) for a Player aged 18 or 19, mean any season in which such Player plays in eleven (11) or more Professional Games (including NHL Regular Season and Playoff Games, minor league regular season and playoff games, and games played in any European professional league, while under an SPC), and (B) for a Player aged 20 or older, mean any season in which such Player plays in one or more Professional Games (including NHL Regular Season and Playoff Games, minor league regular season and playoff games, and games played in any European professional league, while under an SPC).
(ii) Any Group 6 Player shall, at the expiration of his SPC, become an Unrestricted Free Agent and shall be completely free to negotiate and sign an SPC with any Club, and any Club shall be completely free to negotiate and sign an SPC with such Player, without penalty or restriction, or being subject to any Right of First Refusal, Draft Choice Compensation or any other compensation or equalization obligation of any kind.
Leivo currently has played in 46 NHL games, so he needs 34 more to get to 80. He played 13 last year, 12 the year before and has five in the books so far this year, so to get to 80, he would need to play a lot more than he ever has before in a single season.
The Leafs have 62 games left on their schedule after Thursday’s game. If they want to preserve their RFA rights over Leivo, they need to play him more than half of the remaining season. By the time the trade deadline comes, potentially opening up roster spots on the Leafs, there are less than 20 games remaining, so they can’t just wait until then.
Preserving their restricted rights to Leivo seems like a no-brainer for the Leafs. The team gets control over the player until he is 27, and while he does have arbitration rights this year, he’s not likely to get an extremely big award without some outstanding play to warrant it.
The other issue is that if the Leafs feel there’s a trade market for Leivo with his scoring ability and extremely low salary, he’s worth more to an acquiring team as a pending RFA than UFA.
The Leafs have two options: play him most of the time so he gets his games in, which they can do before the deadline, or trade him soon to a team that will put him in the regular lineup every game.
Given that, it is very interesting that as soon as Nikita Soshnikov was called up and there was a lineup spot, he drew in, while Leivo did not. Soshnikov, who has not yet played 80 games either, has a later birthday, so he cannot be a Group 6 Free Agent this summer. Justin Holl, who also hasn’t played any NHL games, will have only been under an SPC for two years this summer, so he also remains an RFA.