Timothy Liljegren was injured in Boston, and Sheldon Keefe used his "will miss some significant time" line to describe things. That says the injury is obvious, and it was to everyone since Liljegren couldn't put any weight on one leg.
So, what does this mean for the Leafs, who are operating well over the salary cap and using all of their LTIR to put 20 players on the ice while Jake McCabe is on IR? That, of course, depends on what significant means. We'll find out today once Liljegren is back in Toronto.
Usually we just pretend players on LTIR count as cap space, but it really doesn't work quite that way, so for today, no pretending, this is the true story: The Leafs currently have $94,709,783 in total cap hits of all players who are on the roster, on IR or on LTIR. They have no dead cap or payable bonuses, so that's the total number.
The Leafs don't get to use the cap ceiling of $83.5 million, they use a figure called the ACSL that is set on opening day. That's the total cap hits of all the players who are covered by the regular allowed amount of salary. The Leafs came very close to the full number (the ideal situation) and they only "lost" $8,551 there.
The gap between who they actually have on the roster and that slightly reduced ceiling is $11,218,234. The Leafs have the largest total cap hit of any team, by the way. But they also have three players on LTIR, and the total LTIR pool from those three is $11,412,500. That's enough to cover the entire roster, but the excess is less than $200,000.
That's how we got to where we are as of yesterday with 20 healthy players on the roster, Jake McCabe on IR and Conor Timmins on LTIR. Now there's only 19 healthy players on the roster.
Liljegren on LTIR
If Timothy Liljegren is hurt badly enough to go on LTIR – he would be out for at least 24 days/10 games – then there is no problem.
The LTIR pool would rise by his cap hit of $1.4 million and it would have space of just under $1.6 million. The leafs could recall two players in that situation, depending on their cap hits, and play with an extra forward. They could keep them once McCabe – who is close to returning – is back on the roster and have two spares.
Mikko Kokkonen's larger cap hit of $845,667 hurts him a little because it's just high enough it would prevent any second player from being recalled. The rest of the recallable defenders are all at $775,000.
In the longer term, the race to return would be on between Timmins, at $1.1 million, and Liljegren. When both are healthy, there is still a cap dilemma to be solved, the injuries are just kicking that can down the road a little. But that's a problem for the day it actually happens, which can conceivably be never.
That's the easy problem to solve, because LTIR was designed precisely to do this – help teams with injuries put a full roster on the ice.
Liljegren on IR
If the injury is not so significant that LTIR is required, where Liljegren needs to sit a couple of weeks not a couple of months, then the situation is a little more complex for a brief period of time.
Once Jake McCabe is back on the roster, then there are 20 healthy players and one extra on IR again, and all is well.
In the interim, there is no way to recall a player for Saturday's game. Again, let me emphasize, this is only true if Liljegren is on IR and not LTIR. The Leafs have several choices in that instance.
They can just play with five defenders. Or they can return Pontus Holmberg to the AHL and recall a defender and play 11/6. They could put Ryan Reaves on waivers today and have enough cap space to recall two players if they were careful about who they chose. Spoiler: this won't happen.
Playing short – in any configuration – only needs to happen for one game, and so far the Leafs have played parts of three games a defender short. Once they start a game with only 17 skaters, they are allowed to recall a player for the next game under the emergency exception rules, and his cap hit does not count for the duration of the emergency.
The restriction on the emergency exception is that the recalled player must have a cap hit of no more than $875,000, which is enough to get anyone under contract except Easton Cowan. (In case you wondered why that was the exact salary that Martin Jones is paid, well now you know.)
Worst Case Scenario
So, to summarize, the worst that can happen is that the Leafs play one game, Saturday against Buffalo, with only 17 skaters for the full game.