TORONTO — In July, 2018, the Toronto Maple Leafs bolstered their goaltending depth by signing Calvin Pickard to a one-year deal worth $800,000. The year before that, they locked up goalies Curtis McElhinney and Garret Sparks to new contracts.
With Frederik Andersen secured as the team’s starting goaltender, their depth at the position never seemed so strong. Until a few months later, when the team lost both McElhinney and Pickard to waivers.
On Monday, the Maple Leafs elected to keep Aaron Dell on their active roster, despite considerable salary cap complications for keeping a third goaltender on the active roster. While it may have seemed puzzling on the surface, asset management and past events deem it necessary.
Two days before the start of any regular season typically represents the busiest day on the waiver wire. Teams need their active roster finalized by 5 p.m. ET on Tuesday. Players requiring waivers must go through the 24-hour process before being sent down to the minors, or for this season, the taxi squad.
We had some discussions about whether or not we would utilize him at different times to back up here in the early going,” Maple Leafs head coach Sheldon Keefe said. “He’s a good goalie in this league and we like having the dept at the position.”
Dell requires waivers before being taken off Toronto’s active roster. With teams across the league looking to bolster their depth in net, it’s reasonable for the Maple Leafs to be gun shy about making Dell available at no cost other than a roster position. The New Jersey Devils lost Corey Crawford to retirement last week and they are just one example of a team that could use a goaltender like Dell to bolster their depth.
Perhaps as the season moves along, the Maple Leafs can find a more strategic time to place Dell on waivers in order to move him to the taxi squad. But with the regular season upon us, they have determined this isn’t the time.
Dermott in, Lehtonen out
The Leafs made a change on defense at practice by moving Travis Dermott up to the top six alongside veteran defenseman Zack Bogosian. Mikko Lehtonen, who had occupied the role previously, was bumped out to skate alongside Rasmus Sandin.
“There are areas of his game that we think he needs a little bit more time,” Keefe said of Lehtonen. “We don’t want to rush him into a situation that he might not be adjusted to here quite yet.”
Lehtonen performed well in the Team White vs. Team Blue scrimmage on Saturday. But apart from that game and Monday’s practice, we haven’t really had a chance to see him develop up close.
The move to put Dermott up and Lehtonen down could also be a case of roster management.
Dermott, who signed his one-year $874,125 qualifying offer in October, requires waivers to be moved to the taxi squad.
The 26-year-old Lehtonen is waivers exempt based on his one-year, entry-level contract with no previous NHL experience.
The Leafs are right up against the $81.5 million salary cap for 2020-21. Of the projected 20 players that could be in the lineup for the season opener on Saturday, they represent approximately a $78.762658 million cap hit per Puck Pedia.
Add $175,000 of buried money in forward Pierre Engvall’s contract (more on him later) and $1.2 million in retention carried from the Phil Kessel trade to the Pittsburgh Penguins in 2016, and the number goes up to approximately $80.137658 million.
With Dell on the active roster, the Leafs cap hit increases to $80.937658 million, leaving the team with approximately $562,342 in cap space.
That’s not enough to add another player earning the league-minimum $700,000 to the active roster. So it will stay at 12 forwards, six defensemen and three goalies (21 players). This wouldn’t be advisable in regular times, but carrying a five-player taxi squad allows for this situation to work in the short term.
Camp Cut Down to 26 Players
Before the Maple Leafs took the ice at Ford Performance Centre on Monday, the team was no longer split by training camp groups. Instead, you had your Maple Leafs and your Toronto Marlies.
Perhaps not surprising given Maple Leafs coach Sheldon Keefe’s comments on Saturday, Engvall was sent down to the Marlies instead of staying with the group as part of a potential taxi squad.
“I expect better from him,” Keefe said of Engvall on Saturday.
Engvall carries a cap hit of $1.25 million. Only $1.075 million of that amount can be burried from the Maple Leafs cap hit.
Kenny Agostino, Joey Anderson, Justin Brazeau, Rourke Chartier, Tyler Gaudet, Mac Hollowell, Michael Hutchinson, Teemu Kivihalme, Timothy Liljegren, Martin Marincin, Nic Petan, Calle Rosen and Scott Sabourin were assigned to the Marlies.
Forwards Nick Robertson, Adam Brooks and Travis Boyd donned grey practice jerseys, an indication they will be the trio of forwards that will be part of the taxi squad.
Teams cannot officially place players on the taxi squad until the last day of training camp.
Alex Kerfoot returned to practice with the Maple Leafs and reclaimed his spot at training camp by centering a line with Ilya Mikheyev and Zach Hyman.
It’s a departure from the usually offensive-minded Kerfoot, who goes from playing on the wing last season to playing a shutdown center role.
“I think you just want to be as adaptable as you can,” Kerfoot said on Monday. “I don’t think any one role is ever the same from one year to the next.”
Kerfoot sustained a leg injury while taking part in a 3-on-2 drill. He appears to be set to play when the Leafs host the Canadiens on Wednesday.
Leafs lines at camp