Today marks the day that training camps open around the league for teams that qualified for last summers 24 team, return to play tournament.
The other 7 teams’ (Ottawa, Buffalo, Detroit, New Jersey, San Jose, Anaheim and Los Angeles) camps opened a few days ago, but that’s for their sites to cover.
Teams won’t get to experience any exhibition games this year, instead they’ll get a 10 day training camp before they jump right into the season on January 13th, where the Leafs are set to face the Montreal Canadiens. Due to this we should expect Sheldon Keefe to be creative in the way in which he gets his players up to speed entering the season.
For starters, I assume he’ll have high tempo intra-squad scrimmages to get the competitive juices (if this team even has any) flowing, similar to what he did ahead of the play-in series against the Columbus Blue Jackets. It didn’t work last summer, as some players admitted to not being physically engaged early in the series, but “if at first you don’t succeed, try, try again” appears to be the mantra of this management and coaching staff, so I don’t expect much to change.
The big story right now revolves around the formation of a taxi squad. That is, a group of 4-6 players that will travel and practice with the team, while being readily available for injury call-ups. This is the story because it seems that the main roster is all but set.
My prediction for the main roster is this (lines are random, the players are what matters):
Hyman Matthews Nylander
Mikheyev Tavares Marner
Kerfoot Thornton Simmonds
Robertson Spezza Vesey
This roster would give the Leafs over 1.4M in cap space, which is pretty significant and would give them a ton of options moving forward. For starters, if they don’t want to risk a player like Aaron Dell on waivers, they could keep him. If he is placed on waivers and no other team picks him up he’d be placed on the taxi squad anyway, as all teams are required to have three goalies on hand during the season. Either way, he’s slated to spend this year as the 3rd string goalie for the Leafs if he’s in the organization. If they do keep Dell on the main roster his 800K cap hit would push the Leafs a little closer to the ceiling, leaving them with around 670K in cap space. That wouldn’t leave enough room to fit another contract, but it would allow the team to add another player to the taxi squad, essentially improving their depth and options.
If they decide to waive Dell and place him on the taxi squad it would leave 5 taxi squad spaces open. The players competing for those spots would include Pierre Engvall, Mikko Lehtonen, Alex Barabanov, Rasmus Sandin, Nic Petan, Travis Boyd and Martin Marincin. The rest of the players under contract for the Leafs appear to be depth veterans, such as Kenny Agostino and Calle Rosen, or young players that could use some extra time in the minors, such as Timothy Liljegren or Mac Hollowell.
It would be easy to place waiver exempt players Pierre Engvall, Mikko Lehtonen, Alex Barabanov, and Rasmus Sandin in that group. They are likely the best options the organization has for injury replacement anyway, so why not go ahead and do that? It would also allow the Leafs to recall and send players down at will, without the worry of waivers after the season starts, in order to accrue as much cap space as possible for use at the trade deadline. All of this would mean one of Nic Petan, Travis Boyd or Martin Marincin would stay with the Leafs while the other two would be Marlies bound.
Again, all of this is assuming that they waive Aaron Dell. If they keep him (or carry a roster of 21 at all, I have them at 20 with 1.4M in cap space, remember) it changes things, but waiving him would mean being able to invite a player to camp on a PTO as well.
One player, in particular, would interest me. Sami Vatanen would be an interesting option for the Leafs. Vatanen played nearly 22 minutes a night for the New Jersey Devils last season and did so in all situations. With about 3 minutes a night on the powerplay and 2 minutes a night shorthanded, it’s tough to believe that the Leafs couldn’t find a place for him on this team. He shoots right but was often used on the left side, which just adds to his versatility. At this point he could be had at a reasonable price as well. With a condensed schedule and injuries a guarantee, the added depth would be a great idea.
Lastly, I should point out that if they do waive Dell and he is picked up, they are painting themselves into a corner. It could mean turning to Michael Hutchinson to be your 3rd string goalie. Again, considering the condensed schedule and sheer number of back-to-backs (10 if my count is correct), it’s almost a guarantee that all three goalies the Leafs carry will see game action this year. If they lose Dell to waivers and don’t want to turn to Hutchinson, there are a couple of options on the market still, but nothing that will make you jump out of your seat. Cory Schneider and Jimmy Howard don’t just lead the pack, they ARE the pack. The rest (Mike Condon, Jaren Coreau etc) are no better than Hutchinson and it’s arguable that Schneider and Howard aren’t either.
That’s my take on it all. While it’s possible that some unforeseen moves are made (Vesey waived and being assigned to the taxi squad? Robertson heading back to Jr?), I can’t see this prediction being too far off the mark.
What say you Leafs Nation? Would you waive Aaron Dell or keep him on the active roster to ensure a terrific 1-2-3 punch in goal? Would you place a player like Rasmus Sandin on the Marlies to play big minutes, or have him on the taxi squad to experience a unique season with the Leafs? The same question could be asked of Timothy Liljegren, what would you do with your top right defense prospect?
Let me know in the comments!!
Here is your training camp roster: