We knew the Toronto Maple Leafs were going to have to be creative with the salary cap situation. General Manager Kyle Dubas said there would be a lot of paperwork to file out to stay compliant, but it was just a formality for the most part. But that paperwork started a dumpster fire on Sunday morning. Jason Spezza hit the waiver wire, and within minutes it got worse. Sportsnet’s Chris Johnson spoke with Spezza’s agent, Rick Curran, who said Spezza would “simply retire” if another team claimed him.
What just happened? Spezza has played well as a fourth-line centre. He won all 10 of his face-offs on Saturday night in a win over the Ottawa Senators. He recorded his 600th career assist in the opening game against the Montreal Canadiens. He even played a few shifts on the second line with John Tavares and William Nylander. These facts did not lead anyone to imagine that his hometown team would waive the 37-year-old veteran.
I’m sure Dubas did not come to this decision lightly. It’s a ripple effect of Nic Robertson injuring his knee in the first period of the game on Saturday night. A move had to be made to bring up another player from the taxi squad. According to his agent, Spezza understood the risks of these roster moves when he resigned with Toronto. He was happy to continue to play a depth role and offer leadership.
Rough Ride for Spezza in Toronto
I get that this is business, but you have to feel for the guy. He came to Toronto to pursue his dream of winning a Stanley Cup. In his first game with the organization, Mike Babcock gave the veteran the healthy scratch with several family members in attendance. A move that lit up the Toronto sports commentators for weeks. Now just three games into his second season with the Maple Leafs, he is put on the waiver wire.
It seems unlikely Spezza will be claimed. However, Toronto may lose its third goalie. Aaron Dell has also been put on waivers. Toronto was carrying three goalies to offer more downtime to Frederik Andersen and Jack Campbell. Andersen didn’t dress on Saturday night.
A Move Was Coming
Before Saturday’s game, Sheldon Keefe was asked about his ability to make lineup changes. His answer left it open to this kind of move. “You get the extra goalie insurance the depth there, and of course we value,” said Keefe. “I think when you look at our situation carrying a 21 man roster, and one of those guys is a third goalie, it limits our ability to make lineup changes. But a lot can happen in a season, and things can change quickly.”
Those changes did happen quickly. Not only in Toronto, but the Edmonton Oilers are facing challenges. Mike Smith was placed on the long-term injured reserve list. Edmonton lost back-up Anton Forsberg, who had earlier been claimed off waivers. This left Edmonton one minor injury from a disaster in the net. The Oilers have signed two goalies since, but due to quarantine restrictions, they are not available to the team until January 27. Edmonton is 19th on the waiver wire list. Not only that, the Oilers are in Toronto for a game on Wednesday and Friday. It’s hard to imagine that Dell will not be claimed.
We are just three games into the 56-game regular season. We are getting a sense of how difficult it will be for teams and players to manage the new world of quarantine restrictions. Who could’ve predicted that Robertson’s knee injury could lead to a possible retirement of Spezza and could possibly help out a North Division rival? This is the new normal.
Kevin Armstrong is an award-winning journalist with more than two decades of experience. He’s been rink side for World Juniors, Memorial Cups, Calder Cups and Stanley Cups. Like many Canadian kids, his earliest memories include hockey. Kevin has spent countless hours in arenas throughout the country watching all levels of the game.