The Roster Crunch
I’ve been hearing a lot about how our Toronto Maple Leafs don’t have enough roster spots for all the NHL talent they possess. Among the forwards at least, it’s almost true. This got me thinking about last summer when the Leafs signed players like P.A. Parenteau, Shawn Matthias and Mark Arcobello and I heard the same thing. So I decided to take a closer look to see who the 14 forwards would be to start opening night (23 man roster. 14F, 7D, 2G)
The “definitely on the roster” guys: There are some players we are all comfortably sure will be on the roster opening night, barring some unforeseen circumstances. These include James Van Riemsdyk, Nazem Kadri, Leo Komarov, Tyler Bozak, Matt Martin, Auston Matthews, Brooks Laich, and William Nylander. That’s a total of 9 forwards out of 14.
The “need to pass through waivers” guys: These players are the ones you risk losing if you want them in the AHL. They are Colin Greening, Joffrey Lupul, Peter Holland, Josh Leivo, Milan Michalek and Byron Froese.
The “waiver exempt but seem to be NHL ready” guys: I could probably include a lot of players here, but instead we’ll keep it as short as possible. This list includes Zach Hyman, Nikita Soshnikov, Kerby Rychel, Connor Brown and Brendan Leipsic.
The “Mitch Marner should make the NHL because he’s outgrown the CHL” guys: In a category all his own because Mitch is unique.
So we have our list. If we don’t include too many “maybes” like Kasperi Kapanen or Tobias Lindberg, who could surprise and force management to keep them in the NHL, then we’re starting with twenty forwards. Nine of those are assumed to have spots locked up. The rest we’ll discuss through the process of elimination.
Let’s start with the smallest group. Mitch Marner. Give him a spot because little Mitchy is easily the most talented of the remaining 11 players vying for a playoff spot. He would also have to go back to the London Knights if he doesn’t make the NHL. Having vastly outgrown that league in every way except actual size, I think he makes the NHL. That brings our forward total to 10. Just 4 spots left.
Next, the waiver exempt players. Because there isn’t really much downside to spending some extra time in the AHL, we’ll assume the guys that did alright but not “great” last season will get sent down. Don’t worry Kerby and Brendan, your times will come soon. In the meantime, be good professionals and help out the Marlies.
Just 4 spots left and 8 players to take them. What would training camp be without a few players on waivers though? I’m going to go out on a limb here (maybe not that big a stretch) and assume Joffrey Lupul has played his last game as a Leaf. If he isn’t traded, and if he doesn’t have a tremendous camp. then he’s likely AHL bound.
Byron Froese, though Babs seems to really like him, will probably hit the waiver wire as well. Based on his 5pts in 56 games and the fact that 29 other teams will be trying to find spots for their own depth players, I’ll assume he clears waivers as well. With that said, I don’t think we’ve seen the last of Froese.
This is where it gets interesting and one would have to make predictions that are a little more bold. The 7 remaining players for the 4 remaining spots are Milan Michalek, Colin Greening, Peter Holland, Josh Leivo, Zach Hyman, Nikita Soshnikov and Connor Brown. All deserve a spot on the roster for one reason or another. To work through it you need to consider a few things.
First, if Peter Holland doesn’t come to camp as ready as anybody has ever been, then it’ll be the last straw for Mike Babcock and he won’t make the team. They’ve placed him on waivers once before, and I have to think they won’t hesitate to do it again if he doesn’t shape up.
Colin Greening also has to come to camp and work harder than anybody else. He was a cap dump in the Dion Phaneuf deal, and played, in my opinion, an absolutely terrific 30 games with the Leafs to finish the year. He was a huge surprise for me and did better offensively than I ever could have expected. Being 6’2″ and 215lbs while also being a willing combatant at times only helps his cause. With all of that said, 30 games doesn’t buy him a spot on the roster. I’m not sure they will risk losing a young player with potential for the short term benefit of having Greening on the roster.
Josh Leivo shows flashes of solid play but flashes aren’t good enough. Management will want to see some consistency from him and honestly, so would I. He knows how to find the back of the net but could use to have a little more urgency to his game.
Michalek is a wild card. Once a solid scorer, injuries have plagued his last few seasons. Known to be an excellent team guy, Milan could be a veteran presence the Leafs hope to revitalize. Keeping in mind, there’s as much chance he’s waived.
The trio of Hyman, Soshnikov and Brown are sadly in a precarious spot. Being waiver exempt will work against them so they’ll have to really push their way onto the roster but I do like their chances.
I won’t make a prediction at this time, but this practice just goes to show that we really don’t need to make trades to ease the “roster crunch.” This is what real depth looks like. When you work your way through the list and find out that it’s really only 7 players vying for 4 spots you realize the only thing management has done here is create real competition among the players. So when you read some articles that preach panic, try to remember, the only thing the Leafs look to be risking at the end of the day is possibly losing one of Leivo, Holland or Greening to waivers. When all’s said and done I know the organization could survive a loss like that.
Last thought on this….Would it surprise anybody if Soshnikov (28pts in 52 AHL games) and Hyman (37pts in 59 AHL games) started the year with the Marlies and were told to continue to work on their offensive game? I’m a big fan of both players but a little more development won’t hurt.
Placing Holland on waivers was an interesting gamble if you ask me. When you consider what I’ve talked about up to this point, it’s easy to see exactly what they were thinking though. Peter Holland was reportedly asking for 2.1M for his next contract. Some may think this is a tad high but it’s not entirely out to lunch. Players with the ability to produce around 30pts a year often get that level of pay. The problem with the Leafs paying him that? They already know he’ll be one of the guys fighting for one of the final roster spots. It’s tough to justify paying somebody that much if they don’t even have a spot locked down.
By waiving him just a few days before his arbitration case they played it smart. If a team picked him up they would still have to go to arbitration. With only a few days to prepare that would be a tough case to win. Its also a very tough way to start off your professional relationship as those cases are said to be very grueling on the players. Lastly, it showed Peter Holland and his agent that the Leafs were never going to get close to his asking price, and it worked. Now we have a depth player, making depth player money, that knows he needs to work his tail off if he wants to get back into management’s good books.
Expect a fired up Peter Holland at camp.
I talked about the Leafs need for a backup in my last article but wanted to touch on it again. Rumors never end in Leaf Nation and its no different in this case. Though there isn’t much to talk about here it was rumored the Leafs were close to signing Jhonas Enroth. That still hasn’t happened yet so, for now, I’ll assume it was just a rumor.
At this point it’s hard not to think that if Shanny and co. were interested in any of the free agent options that it would be done already. So maybe the simple answer is the correct one? Maybe in the Leafs mind Enroth, or any other free agent, isn’t the answer?
Last time I spoke about this I stated my view as Reto Berra being the best available option for the Leafs. The reason the Panthers acquired him was because they weren’t sure if Luongo would be ready to start the season. They needed insurance and were willing to pay for it. As it stands it looks like Luongo will be ready for camp, which will leave the Panthers with 3 NHL calibre goalies and just 1 net to share among them. Based on play and contracts, Berra is likely going to be on the outside looking in.
So what are the Leafs options here? They could trade for him. Considering the price the Panthers paid was Rocco Grimaldi, it likely wouldn’t take much to get him in a Leafs uniform. One of the guys that don’t make the roster as outlined above would be more than enough. So not only do the Leafs get their backup in this scenario, but they also ease the very slight roster crunch.
The other option is to dip into the waiver wire. By finishing dead last in 2015/16 the Leafs have left themselves on top of the waiver priority list. Considering the position the Panthers have left themselves in, the Leafs could get one of their goalies for free by simply waiting them out. On the other hand, by trading a small chip for Berra they would leave themselves open to picking up a solid option elsewhere, whether it be another forward or a defenseman. It’s something to keep an eye on.
August 15th is quickly closing in and that means Jimmy Vesey can finally put all the rumors to rest and choose which team he’ll sign with. He and his agent plan to meet with a group of teams over the span of a few days, so we won’t know who the big winner is for a while. All part of the fun.
As of right now I would have to say, it looks like Boston is the clear front runner. This Joe Haggerty interview (http://www.csnne.com/boston-bruins/Jimmy-Vesey-has-a-short-list-of-teams-Boston-Bruins-are-on-it) is very telling in my opinion. Some quotes from that interview:
– “I’ve said it all along that Boston is definitely on my list of teams that I’d like to talk to. It’s a team that I’ve rooted for all my life, and it’s a team that I watched win the Stanley Cup in 2011. I’ll definitely be meeting with Boston in August.”
– “I got to know Torey Krug a little bit through playing with him at the world championships last year. So it would be really cool to play with Torey and put on the Bruins jersey. It’s the team that I’ve watched for my whole life.”
– “I work out here in Foxboro with the Hayes brothers, and I’ve known them all my life. I have a good relationship with Jimmy, and he had nothing but good things to say (about Boston)”
– “To a little bit of an extent I’m a homebody and I definitely have a big crew of family and friends in the Boston area, so it would be comforting to have them around.”
– “I think it would definitely be a little comforting to walk into a locker room and know somebody there. Especially since I’ll be a rookie at training camp.”
None of this is to say the Toronto Maple Leafs don’t have a legitimate chance at signing Vesey. They are definitely in the mix. Joe Haggerty is a Boston sports writer so will ask questions about the Bruins. If you listen to a Leafs writer interview Vesey you very well could get favourable quotes about Toronto as well. However, if his brother, who was drafted by the Leafs, was developing well and deserved a contract it would probably mean a lot more than it does. As it stands, Nolan Vesey is likely a long shot to make the NHL and having his father in the organization does little for Jimmy to “walk into a locker room and know somebody there.”
What the Leafs need to do is sell the organization as an up and comer. A future contender with a strong management group that can chisel out a spot for him in the near future. They need to put emphasis on having Mike Babcock, arguably the best coach in the game today, locked up for years to come. Putting a spotlight on their young, developing core, and always deepening prospect pool, will go a long way towards gaining Vesey’s interest in the Leafs. They also need to hear what he’s saying and ask him what’s better, having a guy in the locker room you can talk to that will ease the transition into the NHL, or walking into a locker room to find a few players that are in the exact same “this is new” situation as you are, and forming a bond based on that? Would it be so hard to picture Matthews, Marner, Brown, Vesey and Zaitsev all being drawn to each other because they’re the new guys on the roster this season? Not to mention Nylander, Soshnikov, Rychel, and Hyman all being similar aged players that are on the cusp of making the show.
To think going to a 30th place team would be a benefit might be a stretch. In this situation it could be just that though. When it’s a 30th placed team with direction, that can afford a young player the opportunity to learn, to fail, to accomplish, and to grow, what more could you ask for?
To me, all of that sounds like a nicer situation than jumping onto a team that has aging stars and is selling parts for the future. All the while trying to remain competitive and not doing the best of jobs at it.
Then again, maybe you just read the blind hope of a Leaf fan? Afterall, if I ever had the chance, I would sign up to play with the Leafs during the worst of times.
Another player from the college ranks. This signing flew under the radar for the most part but I honestly believe it deserves more attention. Trevor’s production was top notch, and even though he is small, he isn’t small enough to deserve the scrutiny it has gotten. The NHL has been trending towards smaller, speedier players for years now, and I’ve decided to stop fighting that trend. I love a 6’5″ beast on blades as much as the next fan, but I’ll also get really excited every time Mitch Marner touches the puck. So I need to say, 5’10” and 175lbs isn’t THAT bad. He’s small, sure, but if Johnny Hockey can do it then so can others.
Aside from that, Moore’s numbers compare favourably to Tyler Bozak’s produced 57pts over 60 games for the University of Denver. Moore on the other hand, produced 121pts over 120 games for the University of Denver. The thing is, Bozak started his university career at the age of 21 and signed with the Leafs at the age of 23. Trevor Moore started his university career at the age of 18, and signed with the Leafs at the age of 21. So he produced around the same points per game at a younger age. If he can fight through the small issue of size he could turn into a great player for the Blue and White.
I’m excited and continuously impressed with the effort and ability of this management group to find, and attract, top notch prospects through so many avenues. I’ve never been so enthusiastic about the future of this team, and its signings like this that have lead to that.