Toronto Maple Leafs Weekly: Waiver Wire, Roster Set, Rivals Next

Welcome to my first edition of Toronto Maple Leafs Weekly — a piece I will be releasing every Monday summing up the past seven days for the club while taking a look at the week ahead.

I wanted to get a piece out prior to the season getting underway so we are able to touch on some of these subjects in next week’s piece. Additionally, there’s been plenty of roster news from the organization over the last 24 hours and beyond, so let’s get started with who didn’t make the team, who did and what lays ahead in the next week as we inch ever so close to Wednesday night’s opener.

Roster Cuts Hit the Waiver Wire

It was black Monday on the waiver front across the NHL as teams finalize their rosters, and of course, the Maple Leafs were no exception. The club placed four roster hopefuls on waivers on Monday including Kenny Agostino, Nic Petan, Kevin Gravel and the injured Garrett Wilson. Matt Read was released from his professional tryout, but was subsequently signed to an American Hockey League (AHL) contract with the Toronto Marlies.

Toronto Maple Leafs Nic Petan
Maple Leafs forward Nic Petan was unable to win an open forward spot at training camp. (Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sports)

Of the most recent batch of cuts, Petan goes down as the most surprising. Acquired from the Winnipeg Jets in a straight-up deal for Par Lindholm at the 2019 trade deadline, Petan scored one goal in five games with the Maple Leafs. However, the team signed him to a two-year contract in March, signalling their intent on using him as a cost-efficient depth piece with many restricted free agent negotiations on the horizon at the time.

I expected Petan to provide sneaky contributions to the team this season but clearly that won’t be the case — for now. While Petan impressed in camp and tallied three assists in four games while averaging a healthy 16:28 per game — albeit largely with the AHL group — he appeared to butt heads with head coach Mike Babcock in recent days — something that could very well have sealed his fate.

The Maple Leafs also placed depth defensemen Ben Harpur and Jordan Schmaltz on waivers over the weekend along with forwards Pontus Aberg and Tyler Gaudet. At this point, we know these four players have cleared and will open the season with the Marlies on Saturday night in Toronto. The fate of Monday’s four waiver wire placements remains to be seen until Tuesday morning.

The Roster Is Set

As a result of the final cuts and waiver wire moves, the Maple Leafs released their final 23-man roster they will carry into Wednesday’s series opener against the Ottawa Senators.

Among the biggest takeaways from the roster is the fact 22-year-old Dmytro Timashov appears to be the winner of the Maple Leafs’ final forward spot, although Nick Shore remains as well. Considering the lines at this morning’s practise, it would appear Timashov is set to dress on Wednesday night alongside the double-centre duo of Frederik Gauthier and Jason Spezza.

Timashov wasn’t exactly on my radar as a serious threat to win the job considering the wealth of competition aboard. However, he has factors working in his favor including the praise of his head coach and, perhaps more importantly, his contract.

With just a $694,444 cap hit at the NHL level, Timashov is a cheaper option than Petan, Agostino and Aberg, all of whom would have cost the team at least $700,000 at the NHL level — and significantly more in Petan’s case. More often that not, such small contract values aren’t going to hinder roster decisions; however, the Maple Leafs are projected to be just $10,840 under the salary cap after placing Nathan Horton, David Clarkson, Zach Hyman and Travis Dermott on long-term injured reserve — likely on Tuesday. Needless to say, this is a team that needs to pinch its pennies.

Although he didn’t record a point in four preseason contests, Timashov’s defensive play, skating ability and puck control impressed his new head coach. Things will change when Hyman returns in November, but for now Timashov is an NHL player set for a possible month’s-long audition that begins on Wednesday night.

Rivals Await

As noted, the Maple Leafs and Senators clash in the battle of Ontario to kick off the 2019-20 season on Wednesday night. It won’t be long before the team faces another heated rival when they host the Montreal Canadiens on a Saturday night in Toronto just three days later.

D.J. Smith, Ottawa Senators head coach
Former Mike Babcock assistant D.J. Smith is now the head coach for the rival Ottawa Senators. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick)

The season opener with Ottawa takes on a whole new meaning this time around. On top of the rivalry, there are familiar faces all over this one. D.J. Smith — one of Babcock’s assistants for the past four seasons — landed the head coaching gig with the Senators in late May. Smith, who oversaw the team’s defense in his Toronto tenure, remains the coach of former Maple Leafs defenders Nikita Zaitsev and Ron Hainsey. Zaitsev was traded to Ottawa on July 1 and Hainsey signed a free agent deal with the club that same day.

A pair of Senators forwards will also square off against their former club. Right-winger Connor Brown was an additional piece in the Zaitsev trade while forward Tyler Ennis signed with the Senators in free agency after impressing with 12 goals in just 51 games on an average of 9:56 of ice time with the Maple Leafs in 2018-19. Given Toronto’s cap situation, even his one-year, $800,000 deal was too rich for their blood.

On the flip side, the Maple Leafs’ Cody Ceci, the main return in the Zaitsev trade, will face his former club for the first regular season contest after playing six seasons with the Senators. Drafted 15th overall by the club in 2012, Ceci fell out of favor in recent seasons and was swapped for another defender in Zaitsev who was in need of new surroundings as well.

Carey Price, Montreal Canadiens
The Maple Leafs take on another rival in Carey Price and the Montreal Canadiens on Saturday, but that game will be their second in as many nights. (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Before the Maple Leafs take on the rival Canadiens on Saturday, they’ll head to Ohio on Friday night to take on the Columbus Blue Jackets. As a result, the Maple Leafs are faced with an early back-to-back situation. We should likely see backup goaltender Michael Hutchinson in net for the Blue Jackets contest against a team expected to struggle after some major offseason departures. That said, we’ll see more of Hutchinson than solely in back-to-back situations this season.

The Maple Leafs have an opportunity to get off to a nice start this season against a couple of non-playoff-projected clubs in the Senators and Blue Jackets. The Canadiens are always a challenge, but Toronto has gone 7-1-0 over their last eight against them and expect to win Saturday night’s contest on home ice.

Before they play three more games next week, including the reigning Stanley Cup champion St. Louis Blues and record-setting Tampa Bay Lightning from a season ago, the Maple Leafs should get three quick wins under their belt to open the season.

Make sure to check in every Monday for my Maple Leafs Weekly and be sure to drop a comment with your thoughts on the team as the season moves along!