Going into last night’s game the Leafs roster looked like this:

Maple Leaf Roster as of September 27

NameWaiver ExemptPosition
Rich CluneAHLW
Hudson ElynuikAHLW
Darren ArchibaldAHLW
Pontus AbergNW
Kenny AgostinoNW
Tyler GaudetNC
Frederik GauthierNC
Andreas JohnssonNW
Kasperi KapanenNW
Alexander KerfootNC
Kalle KossilaNW
Mitch MarnerNW
Auston MatthewsNC
Trevor MooreNW
William NylanderNW
Nic PetanNW
Nick ShoreNC
Jason SpezzaNC
John TavaresNC
Dmytro TimashovNW
Tyson BarrieND
Cody CeciND
Kevin GravelND
Ben HarpurND
Justin HollND
Martin MarincinND
Jake MuzzinND
Morgan RiellyND
Jordan SchmaltzND
Frederik AndersenNG
Michael HutchinsonNG
Travis DermottND
Zach HymanNW
Garrett WilsonNW
Matt ReadPTOW
Jeremy BraccoYW
Adam BrooksYC
Pierre EngvallYW
Mason MarchmentYW
Teemu KivihalmeYD
Timothy LiljegrenYD
Joseph WollYG
Egor KorshkovYW
Ilya MikheyevYW
Rasmus SandinYD

That is a big roster heading into the final stretch of the preseason.

There are seven waiver exempt NHL-contracted players not playing in today’s game, who can be cut: Jeremy Bracco, Adam Brooks, Pierre Engvall, Mason Marchment, Teemu Kivihalme, Timothy Liljegren and Joseph Woll.

There are three AHL-contracted players who can be cut at any time, and there is one player on a PTO, Matt Read.

The three injured players: Zach Hyman, Travis Dermott and Garrett Wilson will stay where they are.

That leaves 31 players, with only Egor Korshkov, Rasmus Sandin and Ilya Mikheyev waiver exempt.

Here’s the interesting thing about the Leafs cap situation: All three of those players can make the opening night roster, and it’s not impossible that they will do. The first cut is going to be the shallowest, because the Leafs can easily make a 23-man roster out of almost whoever they like.

Drunk on power, I picked several expensive, young and fun players. But I’m kind of stuck with Justin Holl and Frederik Gauthier as extras because they’re cheap. The sky isn’t the limit, but the first cuts to the roster don’t need to involve absolutely everyone who is young, good and fun.

There’s a sneaky side benefit to starting out with Korshkov and Sandin, and waiving several older players. If the waived players clear, they can be called up and kept for nine NHL games and/or 29 days without needing waivers to be sent down again. This is ideal because there’s a lot of interchangeable choices, and you can go several nine-game sets without risking anyone on waivers as you cycle through the callups.

I’ll admit, it’s hard to imagine the Leafs suddenly going for a carousel approach to their depth players, but if they are still not sure who they want, waive them all and let the hockey gods sort it out. (Which is exactly how they ended up with no extra goalies last year, but this is different. Honest.)

As we’ve talked about before, once Zach Hyman is ready to return, this gets tricky to manage, but Kevin Papetti figured out the 21-man roster that keeps Sandin after everyone is healthy:

I never hit on this one because I simply do not have the intestinal fortitude to imagine playing Gauthier and having Holl as the only extra just to keep Sandin. But it can be done.

Another option is to play Sandin for however many games Hyman is out (so more than nine, which burns this year of his ELC and prevents it from sliding) but send him back to the Marlies when Hyman is ready. There, Sandin gets to be on the first unit power play, the top pairing, perhaps with Liljegren, and when the WJC rolls around, he can go there.

The WJC would be good for him. No one ever got worse as a defender playing for the Swedish national team, so in addition to beating up his age-mates, he can get another dose of Swedish coaching.

Now we’d be in January, and the Leafs have their options open. They can dawdle a little, leave Sandin in the minors for a time, until, if they want to call him up — say for a long stretch where the travel is to nearby teams where running a short roster is not a big deal — they can do that, and they can keep his games played below 40. That’s the threshold at which a season counts towards turning UFA, and it’s a nice idea for a cap-strapped team that wants to contend until, well, forever, to push that off if they can.

Battle plans never survive the first engagement with the enemy, and the enemy here is the randomness of injuries or waiver claims or who knows what. All of this might change, but as a plan to put Rasmus Sandin, the Leafs best prospect, in the best position to succeed, I like it.

Rasmus Sandin is making the opening night roster, but should he stick around?

Don’t go past 39 games160
Give him some games, then bring him back as a black ace for the playoffs197