For most of us, the idea of these three important Leafs returning to the lineup is a wonderful thing. In fact, I don’t think that anyone thinks the Leafs would be worse off by the return. That being said, there are probably 5 or 6 players holding their breath on whether they will soon be Marlies or possibly claimed off waivers by another team. Potentially with the return dates nearing Dubas is checking around the league to see if he can add to his collection of late round draft picks by trading some of these soon to be waived players, but for now let’s just look at who is likely to go, and who is definitely staying.

Who is staying?

Frederik Gauthier

I will forever wander the earth admitting that I was wrong to say that Gauthier should be the Leafs fourth line center. He’s done well in the role and he’s improved since last year when I formed my incorrect position that I never wanted to watch him play hockey again.

Gauthier’s on ice numbers still leave a lot to be desired and they are bad despite playing against sheltered competition, but given that he’s improved, has shown some offence, and there’s little doubt that Babcock is attached to him, I’m going to say that Gauthier isn’t going anywhere.

Ilya Mikheyev

I feel like a monster for even mentioning Mikheyev, given that we all love him and he’s been very good. I only mention him because he’s the only player on the Leafs who doesn’t require waivers. Now that I’ve acknowledged that, I will restate that demoting Mikheyev is silly.

Cody Ceci

Cody Ceci has been terrible and I do not want him to play on the Leafs. Also demoting Cody Ceci would provide more cap relief than sending down any of the players you’ll see listed below. To me it makes the most sense, but I think I might be ignoring a couple of factors.

Those factors are that Mike Babcock likes Cody Ceci enough to consistently play him big minutes on the Leafs top defensive pairing. The other factor is that even if somehow someone gets Mike Babcock to stop doing that, Ceci would probably get a shot somewhere else in the lineup before being completely removed. As much as I want Ceci to be the odd man out, it’s not going to happen.

Justin Holl

Holl seems to be the winner of the bottom pairing Olympics over Marincin, Gravel, and Sandin. While I want to continue to beat the Sandin drum, I will admit that Holl playing also brings me joy and a Dermott-Holl pairing could be a lot of fun. It seems like he’s not going anywhere.

Who might be going?

Well, a lot of people. It’s not just going to be a one in, one out as the Dermott, Hyman, and Tavares return, well, with Dermott it is a one out, but after that it gets trickier.

Hyman’s contract is equal to three league minimum deals, and that will essentially eliminate two press box guests from the game. At the end of the day, the Leafs will be lucky to have 19 players and 2 goaltenders available, and that’s where having the Marlies based in Toronto will be huge. It’s nothing to recall players for home games, and even for road games when the Marlies are playing at home the Leafs benefit from a certain easy of being able to throw a player on the next available flight. While it’s not the end of the world, it will be interesting to see who gets cut. Here are the candidates.

Dmytro Timashov

We’ve heard that tie goes to the veteran an awful lot over the past few years. It’s been a signature Mike Babcock soundbyte right up there with “there will be pain.” Of course Dmytro playing well and putting up 4 points in 8 games on the 4th line is something that makes a player stick in the roster. The fact that Mike Babcock also likes the wagon he’s draggin’ helps too. It seems unlikely that Timashov is going anywhere and we should be happy about that because I’m not sure he’d clear waivers at this point and there’s also the fact that he’s played well.

Martin Marincin

In contrast to Timashov playing well, Marincin has not. The legendary possession stats of Martin Marincin over his career have taken a hit this year and now he’s failing the stats test as well as the eye test. Considering the Leafs have been able to get him through waivers before, I’d see no reason why they shouldn’t try it again other than the Leafs would be wise to prioritize having a 7th defenseman as their reserve player over a 13th forward.

Jason Spezza

The On-Ice stats for Spezza have been encouraging this year, but the production has not, having only one assist in five games. And the presumed friction between Spezza and Mike Babcock isn’t overly encouraging either.

The saving grace for Spezza and one that can’t be ignored, is the fact that the Leafs are on the hook for his salary no matter what since he’s over the age of 35. The Leafs could certainly waive Spezza, but if no one claims him the Leafs would get no benefit of sending him down to the Marlies, so frankly that ain’t happening. Additionally Spezza has a no trade clause, so moving him may be a challenge, but given his usage in Toronto, he might be open to waiving it if the team is a contender or a sentimental favourite.

Nic Petan

What can I say about Nic Petan other than as long as he’s sent down soon he doesn’t require waivers, and that pretty much makes him a lock for Marlies duty. His numbers are pretty much on par with what we’re talking about with Spezza, and similarly seems to lack the trust of Mike Babcock.

Kevin Gravel

Like Petan, Gravel can be sent down without waivers as long as he doesn’t pass the 30 day mark from when he was last waived. It seems likely this will happen and we can expect these easy decisions to be made pretty soon. Gravel didn’t get much of a look, but being a part of the game against the Bruins likely didn’t help endear himself to anyone despite the fact he was blame free in his 10 minutes of icetime.

Nick Shore

Shore has been a part of the Timashov wing rotation on the fourth line, and seems to be a favourite for Babcock over the Spezza and Petan rotation. They’ve definitely worked better with Gauthier, but their numbers aren’t there and Shore hasn’t had the same offensive success that Timashov has. It seems like Spezza’s 35+ contract and the fact that Timashov has outplayed Shore will do him in, and that’s too bad.

Realistically we could see Shore get claimed by someone, but at the same time I’m not sure I can see anyone trading an asset for him or the Leafs wanting an AHLer for him. Preferably the Leafs don’t seek a bad trade and roll the dice on being able to use Shore in the AHL and hope that he can be brought back if needed later.

Projected Healthy Lineup

Hyman Tavares Marner Rielly Ceci Andersen
Johnsson Matthews Nylander Muzzin Barrie Hutchinson
Mikheyev Kerfoot Kapanen Dermott Holl
Timashov Gauthier Moore

So if I’m guessing, here’s how the cuts play out.

When Dermott returns:

Kevin Gravel is cut. This is the no brainer. He returns to the Marlies and the Leafs still benefit from him contributing to organizational depth.

When Hyman returns:

Petan is the easy out and is sent packing. In all likelihood we also see Shore out. Now if there are tricky cap implications that I’m not accounting for, this is also when you see Marincin waived, if not he hangs a little while longer.

When Tavares returns:

Now Marincin is gone. Timashov and Spezza are the last ones standing, unless somewhere across this journey greener pastures were found for Spezza. In that case, I’m thinking Marincin survives to irritate many of you for another day.

If we’re looking beyond the impacts to the Leafs roster, the additional depth thrust upon the Marlies probably pushes some of the remaining AHL contract guys down to the ECHL. Sorry to all the Tanner McMaster and Hudson Elynuik fans on this, but I don’t make the rules. They could also jettison Rich Clune, which would make too much sense.

As for the other way that it matters is that if the Leafs are calling up players and they don’t want to worry about waivers, well, the good news is that Egor Korshkov is on fire, and Pierre Engvall, Timothy Liljegren, and Rasmus Sandin have been doing good work too. None of these players that people actually want to see would require waivers if they get sent back down. I’m curious if we’ll see more of the kids in the future rather than risk organizational depth on the shorter term injuries.

It feels like a lot of this is stuff we can just brush off because it means the Leafs are getting back top tier players at the cost of a few bottom end guys, and that’s the correct way to look at it. That being said, having a rich pool of black aces in the playoffs should benefit the Leafs and they will be able to optimize their bottom six depending on the opponent. Losing guys like Nick Shore or Kevin Gravel isn’t the end of the world, but not something we can take completely for granted.

Correction: Jason Spezza can be demoted to the Marlies and take his cap hit with him. As Earl Schwartz has pointed out to me, only the 2nd year and beyond of a 35+ year old contract is retained by the club. That being said, that muddies the water and a case could be made for Marincin or Shore, though I still question whether or not the Leafs would go the waivers route with Spezza.