Today, the Sunday before the regular season begins on Tuesday, is traditionally the first of two big days of player cuts. Cap compliant rosters are due on Monday at 5 p.m., and players waived today will be claimed or cleared by then. It is not necessary for players to have cleared waivers before Monday’s deadline, however. There is a process where a player can be waived on Monday, and they are considered off the roster (because they essentially are) by later that afternoon.
Normally our focus is on who will be cut, and that process is a balancing act between player evaluation, their waiver status and the salary cap calculation.
Sheldon Keefe on final roster decisions: Some of the decisions, frankly, are controlled by the salary cap; The situation now changes depending on what happens here with the Ilya Mikheyev situation. All of that affects every decision. That’s just the reality of the flap-cap world.
— David Alter (@dalter) October 10, 2021
With Ilya Mikheyev falling awkwardly on his hand and likely headed to LTIR, the Leafs go from figuring out how to not lose useful recall options on waivers, to the much more complex situation of doing that while also arranging the roster for LTIR purposes in the best possible way.
Making this even more complicated, last year, after years of silence on this issue, the NHL came out with a new interpretation of their rules at the last minute and tried to put a stop to the paper transactions on the opening day of the NHL season teams use to maximize LTIR usage. Last season, the Tampa Bay Lightning were forced to play their first game with Cal Foote and without Tyler Johnson as they arranged their roster for LTIR purposes, played one game with that group, and then sorted it out for gameplay purposes one day later. If this interpretation is in effect this year, the Leafs have a harder job today.
What this means is that the Maple Leafs may well be making one roster for the opener at home against Montréal and another for the road game the very next day in Ottawa. (Isn’t this schedule wonderful?)
The goal when a team needs to implement LTIR is to have the total cap hits of all the players come the closest possible to the upper limit, $81.5 million, before the player is put on LTIR. Those total cap hits are called the ACSL. That ACSL figure becomes that team’s de facto upper limit, and when the cap hits of all the players dips below that number, they can bank cap space for use at the deadline. Meanwhile the LTIR pool created by the injured player is available for a player or players to be called up to replace him.
The Leafs have too many players left on the roster, even with Mikheyev out of action. But on the bright side, his cap hit of $1.645 million creates an LTIR pool big enough to hold two players, not just one. This is the current roster:
- Auston Matthews
- John Tavares
- Mitch Marner
- William Nylander
- Alexander Kerfoot
- Nick Ritchie
- Ilya Mikheyev
- David Kämpf
- Ondřej Kaše
- Pierre Engvall
- Michael Bunting
- Wayne Simmonds
- Jason Spezza
- Kirill Semyonov
- Michael Amadio
- Adam Brooks
- Jake Muzzin
- Morgan Rielly
- T.J. Brodie
- Justin Holl
- Travis Dermott
- Rasmus Sandin
- Timothy Liljegren
- Petr Mrázek
- Jack Campbell
The possibility exists, that with LTIR, the Leafs could have a roster with 22 players in addition to Mikheyev until he is healthy. They can, if they like, forget waivers entirely, and just cut the exempt Timothy Liljegren and Kirill Semyonov. That’s kicking the can down the road on Michael Amadio and Adam Brooks, two players who sure look like they could play a depth role on many NHL teams. By the time Mikheyev is healthy, they will then have to address their oversupplied roster again.
Waiving a player in-season can be a good or bad choice. Teams have their rosters set and have to want to play that player to claim them, but there isn’t a big crowd waived all at once to hide them in. For ultimate flexibility, the Leafs might want to just know now if their borderline players will clear or not right now. At the end of the day, if you’re agonizing over a player on waivers, you’re actually worrying to excess over a player you don’t really need. Adam Brooks is interesting and young, and would likely be taken, but he’s not an NHL rostered player with full seasons of experience like Pierre Engvall. If Engvall is only now secure in a roster spot because Mikheyev is hurt, the guy who isn’t as good as Engvall was never very important.
One thing that shouldn’t be overlooked in all this is that Liljegren and Semyonov have a larger salary than most of the players who are potential cuts. That might get them opening day spots if the math demands it. Suddenly Liljegren’s higher cap hit is a good thing, and not the impediment it was yesterday.
The Leafs might waive their two extra forwards today, or they might waive no one. We’ll find out at 2 p.m., and tomorrow we’ll know the opening night roster and whatever shenanigans were necessary to maximize the cap.