The Toronto Maple Leafs drafted 6’6” left-handed defenseman Keaton Middleton in the fourth round of the 2016 Draft. He went unsigned following his junior career in the OHL and was picked up on an AHL contract with the San Jose Barracuda of the AHL. This summer, he signed another AHL deal, this time with the Colorado Eagles, affiliate of the Colorado Avalanche.

After starting the season injured, the now 23-year-old Middleton has played 14 games with the Eagles, scoring an assist. Yesterday, Cap Friendly announced he had signed an NHL entry-level contract with the Avalanche and was assigned to their Taxi Squad. I would be very surprised if he played an NHL game as they have a few guys ahead of him in the depth chart even with top defenseman Erik Johnson out.

Middleton has become a minute-eating tough-guy defenseman for the Eagles, who like to play rough and cagey. He’s already had two fights this year and was suspended for a game a couple weeks ago for cross-checking. It should also be said that while Middleton plays over 20 minutes a night, he has a 33% goals for rate this year, 20% under the team’s average. Last weekend he and promising defenseman Conor Timmins returned to the lineup and were paired together. Middleton was a -2 with a fight and an additional penalty against.

To sum it up, I wouldn’t classify this as “the one that got away.”

Understanding the Leafs goalie situation

The Leafs are in a tricky spot when it comes to their goalies. As of Monday, both Frederik Andersen and Jack Campbell were injured and unable to play. Heading into the Trade Deadline, there is growing speculation whether the Leafs will go get a goalie. There are three scenarios that can unfold over the next couple weeks that will answer the questions of whether they should go for it or not.

Examining the goalie trade market for the Maple Leafs

Universe 1: Both Andersen and Campbell are healthy

No one injured, no problem. Roll into the playoffs with Andersen, Campbell, and Hutchinson. The roster can’t fit another goalie and the team doesn’t need one, so the conversation is mute.

Universe 2: The injuries aren’t keeping either goalie out long-term

If the injuries are nagging ones that have them in and out of the lineup, you pretty much just have to hold your breath with Hutchinson once or twice a week. This is because either player going on LTIR would kiss any skater additions goodbye. LTIR wouldn’t work to give them the space to replace either Andersen or Campbell and a deadline acquisition. LTIR is basically a killer at this point in the season.

If both are out on occasion with nagging injuries, the team is just going to have to deal with Michael Hutchinson, Veini Vehviläinen, Joseph Woll, and Ian Scott on the days they can’t play. In terms of acquiring injury depth so the team doesn’t run out of goalies in the playoffs, I can assure you most teams don’t have the luxury of six goalies on NHL contracts right now.

Universe 3: If one goalie is out long-term

IR is a function that gives teams a roster spot, which for a goalie is crucial. The cap hit of the player on IR stays on the books. LTIR is a function that erases all banked cap space created for the trade deadline and the Leafs would have to pay the full cap hit on any acquisitions. Again, kiss Taylor Hall or Mattias Ekholm goodbye, no cap magik will get them back. Trust me, we’ve looked into it and heard all your ideas.

In the case Andersen/Campbell are shut down for the season, guys like David Rittich and Linus Ullmark are UFAs on bad teams at the top of the list to go after.

TL;DR: I know how much you don’t like him, but a healthy Andersen is far-and-away the best option and we should all count our lucky stars if he’s good to go for the final stretch run and playoffs. Ditto for Campbell.

Various Leafs and Branches

As a consequence of the Montreal Canadiens having to reschedule missed games due to a COVID outbreak, the Marlies have had their Saturday game in Laval moved to Thursday because the Canadiens needed the building on Saturday night. The Laval Rocket have been playing at the Bell Centre this season.

In more immediate Marlies news, the Leafs have brought Timothy Liljegren, Adam Brooks, and Scott Sabourin with them on their road trip through Winnipeg and Calgary.

Recently, Liljegren has been getting assigned to the active roster on game days in case there are any last-minute injuries, Adam Brooks will get to go home for a couple days, and Scott Sabourin tends to replace Alex Galchenyuk on the active roster on off days for cap reasons.

In prospect news, our new big defenseman William Villeneuve scored last night on the power play. He definitely doesn’t have a quick release ala Cody Franson, eh?