Tuesday: Toronto Maple Leafs at Philadelphia Flyers, 7:00 p.m., TSN4, NBCSP, TVA
Wednesday: Colorado Avalanche at Toronto Maple Leafs, 7:00 p.m., Sportsnet, SN360, TVAS, Altitude
On Monday, the Maple Leafs practised, and for the first time, the entire team was present and almost healthy. Or so it seems:
Marner: "I feel like the conditioning level is back where I need it to be"— Mark Masters (@markhmasters) December 2, 2019
When does Mitch expect to be back in a game?
"Hopefully soon ..."
Mitch Marner was put on IR/LTIR on November 10 after suffering a high ankle sprain. The original prognosis was for his recovery to take four weeks, so it’s a bit of a surprise for him to be on the ice in a full practice two days before his 24 days on LTIR runs out.
Marner cannot play in Tuesday’s game against the Flyers, so the expected lines for that game are similar to the two games in Buffalo (subject to some tweaking of the fourth line)
With Martin Marincin recalled, it seems someone will sit out of Tuesday’s game on defence.
Maple Leafs Lines
Projected for Tuesday
Andreas Johnsson - Auston Matthews - William Nylander
Ilya Mikheyev - John Tavares - Zach Hyman
Alexander Kerfoot - Jason Spezza - Kasperi Kapanen
Pierre Engvall - Frederik Gauthier - Nick Shore/Dmytro Timashov/Nic Petan
Morgan Rielly - Cody Ceci
Jake Muzzin - Justin Holl
Travis Dermott/Martin Marincin - Tyson Barrie
Frederik Andersen will start on Tuesday and Michael Hutchinson will start the SEGABABA at home on Wednesday.
Did Keefe consider starting Andersen Tuesday & Wednesday?— Mark Masters (@markhmasters) December 2, 2019
"No, that's not something we think is in Fred's best interests & it would be selfish of us to do ... There's a big picture in mind here"
Andersen hasn't played back-to-back since Jan. 6-7, 2017https://t.co/L00CghGo0w
Dubas on Hutchinson: "We want to be patient, we need to show our belief. I know that's not the answer people would like. If we were going to satisfy the masses, it would be to just make a move to make a move ... but we've got belief in him ..."https://t.co/PRDsybuQIz— Mark Masters (@markhmasters) December 2, 2019
Carter Hart will start for the Flyers on Tuesday, the Avs are likely to put Philipp Grubauer in net on Wednesday.
The Return of Mitch Marner and the Cap Space Shuffle
If Mitch Marner doesn’t return on Wednesday, the lines will stay largely unchanged, and Marincin can stay on the roster, but if Marner is ready, the top three are projected to look like this:
Andreas Johnsson - Auston Matthews - William Nylander
Ilya Mikheyev - John Tavares - Mitch Marner
Zack Hyman - Alexander Kerfoot - Kasperi Kapanen
The defence will have to revert to just six players, and Martin Marincin will need to return to the AHL. But the forwards will also need a shakeup for cap reasons. The entire roster with Mitch Marner back and Marincin back down is overflowing the available LTIR pool by $2.247 million.
The extras not accounted for in the three lines above are:
- Pierre Engvall $925,000
- Jason Spezza $700,000
- Dmytro Timashov $694,444
- Nic Petan $775,000
- Nick Shore $750,000
- Frederik Gauthier $675,000
- Trevor Moore: $775,000 on IR/
With Moore still on IR, that roster has 23 names on it, so the only constraint is the LTIR pool. Moore can’t be placed on LTIR unless he’s going to by out for 24 days from the date of his injury on November 18. That means three players have to be cut, and Moore will stay as the 21st man since his cap hit still counts when he’s only on IR. The Leafs will be playing with only 20 healthy players.
The Leafs can’t just cut any three players, however. The cheapest three don’t add up to enough room for Marner’s AAV. There isn’t a scheme that keeps Pierre Engvall on the roster either, and considering that he’s waiver exempt, he was never going to survive Marner’s return, so the only question is which other two come off the list?
Nic Petan cleared waivers on November 8, was recalled on November 12, and has played eight games since then. If he plays in Tuesday’s game, he is still waiver exempt. It seems highly likely he will not play both games and he will join Engvall in being sent down. He shouldn’t be, but unless the team wants to waive Timashov, he likely will be.
It’s sensible to have two potential fourth-line centres, and dynamite can’t seem to shift Frederik Gauthier off this roster, so the choice is now Jason Spezza or Nick Shore. Shore seems like the surplus player. Timashov, who shouldn’t by rights take a roster spot from Engvall or Petan based on performance, is going to benefit from his low AAV and stay on the roster a little longer. If Sheldon Keefe continues to play the fourth line less heavily in the defensive zone, he may see some value there that has been illusive so far. But when Trevor Moore returns to health, there should be no doubt about who sits in the press box. (Keefe might surprise me and make that person Gauthier, but I’m not holding my breath.)
When Marner does return, the plan from Monday’s practice was to put him in Tyson Barrie’s spot on the first power play unit, put Barrie into Morgan Rielly’s spot and move Rielly to the second unit.
The Flyers are sixth in the standings, and the Avalanche are seventh. These are the sorts of teams the Leafs need to beat most of the time for the rest of the season in order to gain and maintain a playoff spot.
The Flyers are worse than the Leafs at Corsi %, something the Leafs have excelled at all season, but the Leafs are just ahead of them when you look at just unblocked shots. When you account for shot quality and look at expected goals, an area where the Leafs have suffered all season both offensively and defensively, the two teams are in a virtual tie. On paper the Leafs have the better power play, but the Flyers have scored more often. Brian Elliott is the match of Frederik Andersen overall this season, but Carter Hart has only been an average sort of backup. We’d love to have that, but he’s easier pickings for the Leafs offence. The only player the Flyers are missing is Nolan Patrick.
The Avs are not as weakened as they were when the Leafs visited them in Colorado. They have Mikko Rantanen back, and while Gabriel Landeskog is on this road trip with them, it’s doubtful he’s ready to return, but you never know. Erik Johnson has been out of the lineup since the hit from Alexander Kerfoot that got him suspended, and he may return soon.
The Avalanche have leveraged some very mediocre five-on-five stats (they are worse than the Leafs in all categories) into a lot of standings points with excellent goaltending and the highest five-on-five Shooting % in the NHL. They are the easier team to beat out of the two the Leafs face in this pair, but they aren’t an easy out.
We’ll update you with lineup news for Wednesday when we’re sure, but until then, enjoy these two back-to-back games courtesy of the NHL and their scheduling choices.