The Toronto Maple Leafs are not a completely different team going into the 2021-22 regular season than they were headed into last season. However, they are different. Still, when Maple Leafs’ fans think of the team’s forward corps, one thing is for sure. The Core Four will be prominent.
Matthews and Tavares Will Be Ready to Play
Specifically, that means that Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner, John Tavares, and William Nylander will carry the team’s top-six unit. Matthews just had a wrist injury; but, insofar as we’ve heard nothing to the contrary, he’ll be ready for prime time when the puck drops against the Montreal Canadiens in mid-October.
The same is true for Tavares. The last reports are that he’s over his horrific postseason concussion; and, unless there are complications we don’t know about, he’ll take his usual spot in the lineup.
Still, there are no solid left-wingers for the team’s top two lines. So, those jobs will be up in the air. At the same time, during the offseason Maple Leafs’ general manager Kyle Dubas sought to create competition for the bottom part of the Maple Leafs’ forward unit; and, he has.
It’s likely that the Maple Leafs will carry 13 forwards – three each for four forward lines – with an extra player who will fill in when a player needs a rest or can’t play because of an injury. As a result, there’ll some fighting for jobs – especially in the bottom six.
Who will win them?
In That List of 13 Forwards, Who’s a Lock?
Barring any trades or injuries, these are the seven Maple Leafs’ forwards who seem like a lock to make the opening game lineup.
- Auston Matthews
- Mitch Marner
- John Tavares
- William Nylander
- Alex Kerfoot
- Wayne Simmonds
- Jason Spezza
That’s seven forwards, leaving six spots available, because the team will likely carry a 13th forward.
What Goes Into the Competition for the Remaining Spots?
In competing for a roster spot, a number of factors help determine who gets a spot and who doesn’t. Those factors include (a) who must clear waivers or who’s waiver-exempt and (b) which players can fit into the team’s salary-cap hit.
With waivers, some players must be subjected to and clear waivers before the Maple Leafs can move them to their AHL affiliate the Toronto Marlies. For example, if Adam Brooks and Nick Robertson show themselves to be more or less equal during training camp and Brooks must be subjected to waivers and Robertson is waiver-exempt, it’s likely that Robertson will be moved to the AHL because it’s a less risky move. Some other team might pick up Brooks.
With the salary-cap hit, for any player who is sent to the minors, their Maple Leafs can regain about $1.1 million in salary-cap space. That means that anyone making that amount or less can have his full salary removed from the team’s salary-cap hit. Anyone making more than that, can only have $1.1 million of his salary removed from the cap.
A List of Forwards with a Realistic Chance of Making the Team’s Opening Game Roster
All things considered, here’s a list of the players we believe have a realistic chance of making the Maple Leafs’ opening game roster. We’ve also included their 2021-22 salary-cap hit. Of these players, what six will make the roster?
- Nick Ritchie ($2.5 million)
- Ilya Mikheyev ($1.645 million)
- David Kampf ($1.5 million)
- Pierre Engvall ($1.25 million)
- Ondrej Kase ($1.25 million)
- Michael Bunting ($950,000)
- Nick Robertson ($797,000)
- Joey Anderson ($750,000)
- Kurtis Gabriel ($750,000)
- Adam Brooks ($725,000)
Of These Players, Who’ll Make the Opening Game Roster, and Who Won’t?
The following players we believe will be on the opening game roster: (1) Nick Ritchie, (2) Ilya Mikheyev, (3) David Kampf, (4) Pierre Engvall, (5) Michael Bunting, and (6) Adam Brooks.
We believe the following players will not be on the opening game roster:
(1) Ondrej Kase (we believe he’ll be on the injured reserve list);
(2) Nick Robertson (we believe that, because he’s waiver-exempt, he’ll spend most of the season with the Marlies);
(3) Joey Anderson (we believe the Maple Leafs will try to sneak him through waivers, perhaps he makes it and perhaps he doesn’t); and
(4) Kurtis Gabriel (again, we believe the Maple Leafs will try to move him through waivers. We think he’ll be with the big team in case there seems to be a need for some grit. We believe he’ll make it through waivers).
[I want to thank long-time Maple Leafs’ fan Stan Smith for his input on the ideas behind this post.]
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