Maple Leafs have a tough lineup ahead

The Toronto Maple Leafs are celebrating a major event, in addition to the games being postponed and positive Covid cases during Christmas and New Year. Rasmus Sandin, Mitch Marner, and Rasmus Marner both have fully recovered from their injuries. The two returned to the lineup on Saturday for the 6-0 win against the Ottawa Senators. The Maple Leafs are still waiting for news on Auston Matthews, who was positive in a quick test yesterday.

Related: Removing the Toronto Maple Leafs From the Cup – Personal Thoughts

While Sandin was only on IR (“injury reserve”)his salary is still counted towards the cap and not LTIR, long-term injury reserve. Marner’s case was different. His $10.9 million salary cap hit was not counted against his cap because he was on LTIR. Now that he’s healthy, it is. 

Rasmus Sandin, Toronto Maple LeafsAmy Irvin/ The Hockey Writers

This means that the Maple Leafs will have 13 forwards with a maximum hit of $54,750,000.616 and seven defensemen with a max hit of $208,882,500. They will also have two goalies at $5.450,000. Phil Kessel’s retained salary of $1.2 million. The team has 22 players, with an $82,283,116 cap hit, which is $783,116 less than the $81,500,000 cap cap limit.  

According to our view, the Maple Leafs are given two options, if and whenever that happens.

Option #1: Move a Player Who’s Waiver Exempt

Two Maple Leafs players can be waive exempt. These players can be removed and sent to AHL in real life or on paper. Timothy Liljegren is one of the players with a salary-cap value of $863333. Rasmus Sandersin is the other player, and his salary-cap figure is $894.167. 

Related: Ranking NHL Logos

Option 1 would be to rotate these players in and around the lineup until someone making more than $783,116 is injured enough to go on LTIR. 

Option #2: Trade or Waive Player With a Large-Enough Salary Cap Hit

The second option would be to trade or place a player that has a salary-cap hit of at least $783,116 on waivers for the purpose of sending that player to the AHL’s Toronto Marlies.   

Positivity #1

The team has one more forward by having Sandin and Liljegren rotate in and out of their lineups. The extra forward can be used in the event of injury, or could be rotated in and back out of the lineup for back to back games. Due to the fact that so many games have been delayed, there are likely to be more back-toback games in the future. Option #1 is risk-free because you don’t have to lose a player due to waivers. 

Negatives to Option #1

There are some negatives to yo-yoing two young Swedish defensemen back, forth between the Marlies. However, the main thing is that Sandin and Liljegren both need to play as much of their game as possible. They’re part of the long-term future of this team. 

Timothy Liljegren Toronto Maple Leafs
Timothy Liljegren, Toronto Maple LeafsAmy Irvin/ The Hockey Writers

Even though they are young (Liljegren and Sandin are 22 and 21 respectively), and with little experience (Liljegren and Sandin have played only 32 games each), they are challenging Travis Dermott to be the depth chart’s leader. Missing games as healthy scratches doesn’t help either of them.

Positives of Option #2

The positives for Option #2 is that both Sandin and Liljegren remain in the lineup, which gives Maple Leafs’ head coach Sheldon Keefe more options on defense. He can add or subtract veteran defensemen as necessary if he feels Sandin and Liljegren outplay Holl or Dermott. Option #2 would allow Sandin or Liljegren both to play as many games possible. 

Negatives with option #2

Given the Maple Leafs’ current standings, at this point in the season, if they place anyone on their roster on waivers, they would most likely lose them. It is possible that players such as Travis Boyd, Jimmy Vesey, and Michael Amadio would have been claimed by other teams if they had been placed on waivers in the past. 

Related: Eric Lindros Trade Revisited

Nick Ritchie would be the best option for the team. Given Ritchie’s poor season thus far, would anyone pick him up? What if Ritchie was traded to another team? Would the Maple Leafs be interested? That question could be answered by asking if Ritchie has been given up and believes that he is un-tradable. 

Nick Ritchie Toronto Maple Leafs
Nick Ritchie (Toronto Maple Leafs),Amy IrvinThe Hockey Writers

The Maple Leafs would be unable to return a roster player if they traded a player unless the player was paid a higher salary. They would have to get futures, such as draft picks or prospects – players who would not help them this season. The team would have to get futures, such as draft picks or prospects. 

What would Kyle Dubas do as a general manager?

It’s hard to think like Maple Leafs’ general manager Kyle Dubas for two reasons. First, he seems to know all the rules. Second, his team is very well-informed. That knowledge offers him options most regular fans – including us – haven’t imagined. Second, like him or not, he’s a genius when it comes to creating paths through the deep salary-cap woods that few could have imagined. 

Related: Meeting Maple Leafs’ Greats: Our Readers Share Their Stories

Not all of Dubas’ moves work out well, but he continues to find ways to get his team out of tight salary-cap spots. However, fans may wonder which alternative they might consider. Or, is there another option we haven’t thought of that might be a better option? We’d love to hear from you in the comments section. 

[Note: I want to thank long-time Maple Leafs’ fan Stan Smith for collaborating with me on this post. Stan’s Facebook profile can be found here.]