The Leafs have a logjam of waiver-eligible roster players

Updated: January 11, 2018 at 2:14 am by Jeff Veillette

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Photo Credit: Tom Szczerbowski/USA TODAY SPORTS

Many suspect that barring several quantity-for-quality or pure dumping trades, the Toronto Maple Leafs’ training camp is going to be an absolute dogfight for the various available positions. Simply put, while the Leafs might be presently lacking the top-end talent necessary to be a threat in the Eastern Conference, they have more B-Level depth than just about everyone else through a combination of taking on contracts and playing well on the draft podium.

But there’s a problem here, and it’s that the team might have no choice but to part ways with some players if a couple of the kids impress in September.

Waiver Rules

The waiver rules are very complicated, and for your sake, I’m not going to explain every detail, and instead point you to CapFriendly’s Waiver FAQ for more expansive information. To keep it simple..

  • Based on your age and whether you’re a skater or a goalie, you’re allotted a certain amount of years of waiver exemption.
  • If you signed as a teen, non-NHL leagues are treated as a slide, much like they are for your ELC.
  • Players can also hit a certain Games Played threshold sooner than their allotted exemption years to become susceptible to the process.
  • If a player is waived, clears, and comes back up, he has 30 days or 10 games of NHL time (whichever comes first) where he is temporarily exempt.
  • Players can be sent on waiver-less “conditioning stints” for 14 days if for a reason deemed acceptable by the league (oh hey, Frank Corrado and Jonathan Bernier)

Of the 44 players the Leafs have under contract and a bonus Auston Matthews (he’ll get there eventually), there is a near-perfect split of 22 exempt players and 23 non-exempt. Here’s how it breaks down by position.

(Latest Year of Waiver Eligibility / Games Played Remaining in parentheses)

Centre

Not Exempt from Waivers: Tyler Bozak, Byron Froese, Peter Holland, Nazem Kadri, Brooks Laich

Waiver Exempt Roster Threats: Auston Matthews (2019/20 or 160 GP)

Other Waiver Exempt Players: Frederik Gauthier (2018/19 or 153 GP)

There’s a little bit of a log jam here, with six NHLers down the middle and no way in hell that Matthews doesn’t play this year. We keep saying that Tyler Bozak is probably being moved, but we’ve been saying that for three years. Peter Holland’s arbitration case will probably give us clarity on his situation and Laich will likely be kept around to be the de-facto captain in the room in what appears to be another transition year.

Froese probably ends up as the odd man out, despite Babcock’s hockey love for him. Waiving him probably isn’t a huge threat, so long as it’s done in September when the mass exodus happens.

Left Wing

Not Exempt from Waivers: Colin Greening, Josh Leivo, Joffrey Lupul, Matt Martin, Milan Michalek, James Van Riemsdyk

Waiver Exempt Roster Threats: Brendan Leipsic (2017/18 or 154 GP), Kerby Rychel (2017/18 or 123 GP)

Other Waiver Exempt Players: Andreas Johnson (2018/19 or 80 GP), Tobias Lindberg (2018/19 or 154 GP), Dmytro Timashov (2019/20 or 160 GP)

Left Wing has an obscene amount of players, with eight potential NHLers to fill up six spots. With that said, the Leafs appear to be attempting to run out the clock on Joffrey Lupul, and might try to do the same with Milan Michalek. Leipsic will almost definitely have to wait one more year for his jump, while Rychel is a tricky one. He wanted out of Columbus due to uncertainty in regards to how he fit into the plan; will he accept a start with the Marlies so long as it’s presented properly?

Leivo probably ends up going on waivers and is a risk to be claimed thanks to his age. With that said, while he was a near point-per-game AHLer last year, he was also that while playing a lot of his minutes with William Nylander or Mark Arcobello, and somebody else with skill on the right wing. A team might take a chance on that, and I certainly wouldn’t blame them. He might have to be a Joe Colborne situation, where he’s traded before the end of training camp (the difference, this time, being that he wasn’t passed over for Colton Orr).

Right Wing

Not Exempt from Waivers: Nathan Horton, Leo Komarov

Waiver Exempt Roster Threats: Connor Brown (2017/18 or 153 GP), Zach Hyman (2018/19 or 44 GP), Nikita Soshnikov (2018/19 or 59 GP), William Nylander (2018/19 or 138 GP), Mitch Marner (2019/20 or 160 GP)

Other Waiver Exempt Players: Kasperi Kapanen (2019/20 or 151 GP)

The right side is a lot less crowded as far as players who need waivers, and will largely be a battle of the kids. Leo Komarov is the only long-term roster player who will slot in here, while five players with at least half a season of eligibility left jockey for position. I imagine Brown will be the odd man out here to start, though he’s at a stage in his development where going up and down shouldn’t be an issue. 

Defence

Not Exempt from Waivers: Connor Carrick, Frank Corrado, Jared Cowen, Jake Gardiner, Matt Hunwick, Martin Marincin, Roman Polak, Morgan Rielly, Stephane Robidas

Waiver Exempt Roster Threats: Nikita Zaitsev (2017/18 or 82 GP)

Other Waiver Exempt Players: Viktor Loov (2017/18 or 66 GP), Justin Holl (2018/19 or 60 GP), Rinat Valiev (2018/19 or 150 GP), Travis Dermott (2019/20 or 160 GP), Andrew Nielsen (2019/20 or 160 GP)

Defence, suffice to say, is a mess. While Cowen and Robidas are likely heading to roster purgatory, that still leaves eight defencemen breathing down their necks. This is probably where the Leafs are more likely than not to leave their healthy scratches, as having an extra player of each shooting hand is never a bad thing. From an asset standpoint, Hunwick and Polak are probably the biggest waiver risks if push comes to shove.

Goaltending

Not Exempt from Waivers: Frederik Andersen

Waiver Exempt Roster Threats: Garret Sparks (2017/18 or 63 GP)

Other Waiver Exempt Players: Antoine Bibeau (2018/19 or 80 GP), Kasimir Kaskisuo (2019/20 or 80 GP)

This is probably the part of the roster with the least amount of controversy. Andersen isn’t getting waived. Sparks isn’t going to play 63 games this year unless if he becomes the second coming of 1990’s Dominik Hasek (both in terms of performance and in terms of his body holding up for a bit). Bibeau and Kaskisuo have plenty of time before waivers are an issue.

Final Thoughts

Logjams can be tough to work around. The Leafs were huge benefactors last year when they got to scoop up Frank Corrado for free from the Vancouver Canucks, who waived him in lieu of sending Ben Hutton to the AHL or Matt Bartkowski to literally anywhere. 

This year, though, it’s them in the drivers seat, with a strange feeling of simultaneous confidence and nervousness. They have enough roster depth to not have to stress losing a player or two, but also enough that they might actually have to lose a player or two.

The direction they go to make the most of that will be interesting. Do they over-ripen some exempt players? Do they start making trades now? Do they waive a couple of borderline guys and hope for the best? Only time will tell, but the process of getting from about 30 players to 23 is going to be very interesting to watch from the sidelines.