Maple Leafs News & Rumors: More New Year’s Questions Than Answers

The calendar year 2022 begins with a lot of questions in regard to who is in and who is out of the Toronto Maple Leafs’ lineup. Players who have been on the Covid-19 protocol list are trickling back into practice. Some will be available for the Maple Leafs’ next scheduled game and some won’t.

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To complicate matters, 25 of the Toronto Marlies’ roster have also tested positive for Covid-19 over the past couple of weeks.  

Item One: Maple Leafs’ Players Attending Practice Yesterday

Yesterday at practice T.J. Brodie, Travis Dermott, and Jack Campbell all returned to the ice, along with Sheldon Keefe. The day before, Wayne Simmonds and Jason Spezza were able to suit up. 

Jack Campbell Toronto Maple Leafs
Jack Campbell, Toronto Maple Leafs (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

One thing to note is just because these players are skating does not mean they are remotely close to being in game shape. Some players were hit fairly hard with symptoms, and it will take time to get back up to 100%. Even those who were relatively symptom-free were off of their skates for the full 10 days.  

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One thing working in the Maple Leafs’ favor is the schedule. At this point, the team’s next scheduled game is New Year’s day at home to the Ottawa Senators. Whether that game goes or not is still up in the air.  

Item Two: Upcoming Maple Leafs’ Games Iffy

Tuesday afternoon the Senators announced that head coach D.J. Smith, goalie Filip Gustavsson, and four other members of their support staff were placed on the 10-day Covid-19 protocol list. On Monday, goaltender Anton Forsberg was also placed on the list.  

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The Maple Leafs’ next game following the Senators’ game was supposed to be January 3 at home against the Carolina Hurricane. That game has already been postponed, along with the game in Montreal on January 6. The team is still scheduled to play at home against the Edmonton Oilers on January 5. 

Similar to the Leafs, the Oilers are starting to get players back off of the protocol. They did place Zack Kassian on their Covid-19 list yesterday. If the Senators’ and Oilers’ games do go, that means the Maple Leafs will only have two games between now and January 9.  

Item Three: The Reinstatement of Taxi Squads

The NHL has reinstated the taxi squads for the near future. Some notable rules are that these squads can contain six players. If a team cannot ice 12 forwards, six defensemen, or two goalies, it can use a player from the taxi squad without having to officially remove anyone from its roster or have anyone clear waivers.  

Other stipulations must also be met, the main one being that players on the taxi squad cannot be making more than $1 million per season. Taxi squads will be in place until the all-star break. The full breakdown of the Taxi Squad rules can be found by clicking this link.

A quick check on the Capfriendly site shows that the Maple Leafs presently have forwards Kyle Clifford, Joey Anderson, along with defensemen Filip Kral, Alex Biega, Kristians Reubens, and Carl Dahlstrom on their taxi squad.  

Alex Biega Detroit Red Wings
Alex Biega, when he played for the Detroit Red Wings (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

Jake Muzzin was added to the COVID-19 protocol list on Boxing Day, bringing the total number of players who are, or were, on the list to 14. 

Item Four: Maple Leafs’ Lines at Practice Yesterday

At practice yesterday the lines were:

Forwards

First Line: Michael Bunting-Auston Matthews-Mitch Marner

Second Line: Alex Kerfoot-John Tavares-Ondrej Kase

Third Line: Kyle Clifford-Pierre Engvall-Joey Anderson

Fourth Line: Nick Ritchie-Jason Spezza-Wayne Simmonds

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Defensive Pairings

Pairing One: T.J. Brodie-Timothy Liljegren

Pairing Two: Travis Dermott-Justin Holl

Pairing Three: Carl Dahlstrom-Alex Biega

Extras: Kristians Reubens-Filip Kral

Goalies:

Jack Campbell (who departed from practice early) 

Ian Scott

Andrew D’Agostini (practice goalie)

Note that, if the game were to be played on Saturday neither Morgan Rielly nor Jake Muzzin would be eligible to play.  

Item Five: Still Some Questions about Mitch Marner’s Eligibility

Although Mitch Marner is practicing, Maple Leafs’ general manager Kyle Dubas, as recently as Boxing Day, would not commit to having him play in their next game. Dubas stated the team feels no need to rush Marner, and they would take it day-to-day. Marner does appear to be ready, or close to it.  

Mitch Marner Toronto Maple Leafs
Mitch Marner, Toronto Maple Leafs (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

The other question is the application of the long-term injured reserve (LTIR) rules which stipulated a player placed on LTIR cannot play for 29 days and 10 games. Marner has sat the required number of days but has missed only six games. The question is whether the four postponed games to date count towards the 10 games. 

Dubas stated recently that Brandon Pridham has been in contact with the league office, and the team was waiting for a ruling. He also stated that it would not make sense, in the present climate, for the league to prevent healthy players from playing. 

We will have to see how the NHL rules on that issue. Dubas said they would have to make adjustments to remain cap compliant if he were allowed to return.

Item Six: The Status of Rasmus Sandin

That brings us to one player who seems to be lost in the shuffle, Rasmus Sandin. Sandin was injured on December 5, has been placed on Injury Reserve but not on LTIR. Therefore, he still counts against the cap. 

Rasmus Sandin Toronto Maple Leafs
Rasmus Sandin, Toronto Maple Leafs (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

To this point Sandin has been off 24 days but has only actually missed four games. If the league allows teams to count suspended games, that brings his total to eight games. Sandin isn’t practicing, which would indicate he’s not ready to return. It is possible, especially if the league rules that suspended games count, that the Maple Leafs could place Sandin on LTIR retroactive to Dec 5th, which could help to keep them under the cap.

What’s Next for the Maple Leafs?

We, like most fans we’re sure, are getting a bit antsy for the Maple Leafs to get back into action. Still, we don’t want anyone further compromised with either COVID-19 exposure or injury. 

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Much remains up in the air.   

[Note: I want to thank long-time Maple Leafs’ fan Stan Smith for collaborating with me on this post. Stan’s Facebook profile can be found here.]