Toronto Maple Leafs @ Detroit Red Wings
07:00 PM at Little Caesars Arena
Watch on: NHLN, BSDET, TSN4
The Leafs recalled some of the players they'd sent to AHL camp already for this last preseason game. It is also, as you will hear endlessly, the only game the Leafs play in Detroit this year.
With the Leafs playing their real squad on Thursday at home, this is a lambs to the slaughter roster sent off to play the Red Wings while the Leafs figure out who will be cut from the team this weekend.
Max Bultman via Daily Faceoff
Alex DeBrincat - Dylan Larkin - Michael Rasmussen
David Perron - JT Compher - Lucas Raymond
Robby Fabbri - Andrew Copp - Daniel Sprong
Klim Kostin - Joe Veleno - Christian Fischer
Jake Walman - Moritz Seider
Ben Chiarot - Jeff Petry
Olli Maatta - Shayne Gostisbehere
Yes, you should absolutely read into who is on this roster and who played last game. It is significant – this is the part of preseason where that's true.
There are 13 forwards and 7 defenders, so two people are extras, and it was reported the scratches are Topi Niemelä and Ryan Tverberg. I'm tired of guessing lines, so forget about that, what's the purpose of this roster – what is the story I'm reading in?
Easton Cowan gets one last game before he re-joins the London Knights.
Noah Gregor, Pontus Holmberg, Nick Robertson and Sam Lafferty are, in my opinion, all tussling over the last spot or two on this roster, and depending on how serious you think the Leafs are considering keeping Fraser Minten, he's in that mix too.
In practice yesterday, this was the bottom six:
Knies / Robertson - Holmberg - Järnkrok
Gregor - Kämpf - Reaves / Lafferty
It's meaningful to see who has a spot, Noah Gregor, and who is sharing someone else's spot, Nick Robertson and Sam Lafferty. This lineup included a real-looking second line with William Nylander on the wing, as he was Thursday night when Minten was the third-line centre.
In this practice version, Pontus Holmberg and David Kämpf are the centres. I asked myself: Is Holmberg a placeholder for Minten in a version of the roster where he stays around?
Which brings us around to Sam Lafferty and Noah Gregor. The Leafs have done everything short of issuing a press release that they intend to sign Gregor, and that a deal is already done and is waiting for the correct timing to be registered. He's played in four preseason games, and this will be his fifth. He's taken part in every practice, appeared on lines with NHLers, and the Kämpf line has featured him and Ryan Reaves almost exclusively. Sam Lafferty filled in for the ailing Calle Järnkrok for a bit and is now heading into the last game of preseason without a clear role on the team.
The Leafs as currently constituted can have a team of 20 players only, 18 skaters – which is 12 forwards and six defenders. There is no room for extras. So Fraser Minten can only join the Leafs as a player who is expected to play every day, and he has to come at the expense of someone else. Let's say you want to do that.
This is a simplified version of that idea where Pontus Holmberg (waivers exempt) has been sent down, and Nick Abruzzese is just there to stand-in for the unsigned Gregor at minimum salary. Note it's over the cap. So the choice here is obviously Gregor or Lafferty. To keep Minten one has to go.
If the Leafs want to send Minten back tomorrow, then the lineup looks like this:
Everyone fits! (Again, Abruzzese is a stand-in for Gregor.)
The choice here is to accept Nylander as a permanent third-line centre, with all the reasons why that could be less than ideal. He was not a winger on Thursday, and he had that joie de vivre to his game that we all know and love because it makes the red light come on behind their goalie.
If the Leafs choose Gregor over Lafferty, trade Lafferty or just waive him, and keep Fraser Minten* they can run 21 players – either the mythical three-goalie roster, or the one where Minten and Holmberg swap out game playing when Minten needs to look at life from the pressbox for a day.
Remember, Minten cannot be sent to the AHL, so in order to allow him to not play every day, a 21-man roster has to be made possible.
This would be my choice. I like Lafferty fine, but I don't see how he's significantly better than Gregor, and the tiny difference in cap hit looms pretty large here in its side effects. Lafferty has an interesting history. He's never played a full NHL season, but he's only had six games in the AHL since he made his league debut in 2019. Pittsburgh sent him off to Chicago for Alex Nylander (who would remain in the AHL) in 2022 as they were busy adding players for a very ill-fated playoff run. His new Chicago deal signed in 2022 at precisely this year's amount you can bury in the minors may have seemed clever at the time, but only if he ends up buried in the minors. Otherwise, it's just too much in this most cap-strapped of seasons.
*By keep I mean play Minten until early December (which also gets him the trip to Sweden) and then send him off with best wishes to the WJC camp. Then when January dawns dark and cold, the state of the roster, the health of everyone and the needs of Minten's future development can be re-evaluated. He can either come back on the Leafs or go play in Kamloops for a few months until the playoffs.
That's what's at stake here tonight, but when it comes to gametime, I only care about Cowan and Minten.
Go Teenagers, Go!