On September 27, the Toronto Maple Leafs announced that team captain John Tavares was injured and would be out for about three weeks with an oblique injury.
If Tavares were to miss exactly three weeks, it would put him out until October 18. By that date, the Maple Leafs will have played four games of the regular season.
The Maple Leafs Face Some Choices with Tavares
If the team wanted to make sure Tavares was completely healthy, it might decide to give him another week to rehab his injury. That would put them to October 25. Tavares would lose three more games, bringing the total number of games missed to seven.
If this were the case, the team could decide to place Tavares on the LTIR (Long-term Injury Reserve list). Might that move be worth consideration?
The LTIR Rules and How They Impact the Maple Leafs
When a player is placed on LTIR, he must remain there for 10 games or 24 days whichever is longer. However, there is a strange quirk in the 2022-23 NHL schedule.
While most of the league doesn’t start their season until October 12, the regular season actually starts on October 7. That’s the date when the San Jose Sharks and the Nashville Predators play in Prague, Czech Republic.
With that being the case, if the Maple Leafs placed Tavares on LTIR on October 7, the 24 days would take them to October 31. By that time, Tavares would also have missed the 10 required games.
If there is a chance that Tavares could return after missing only four games, why would they force him to miss six more games?
2 Reasons the Maple Leafs Might Use the LTIR with Tavares
One reason for utilizing the LTIR would be to keep Tavares out and ensure he’s 100% healthy. However, a secondary impact would be that putting Tavares on LTIR would give the Maple Leafs an extra $11 million in salary cap space.
That extra space would mean that some tough roster decisions would not have to be made until the end of October. It would give the Maple Leafs more time and flexibility to keep a larger number of the players presently fighting for roster spots.
It might also save losing a player to waivers. That extra time would allow more time to figure out the best players to keep on the roster.
Timothy Liljegren Gives Short-Term Salary Cap Relief
We fully expect Timothy Liljegren to also be placed on LTIR as soon as the regular season commences. That move would give the team another $1.4 million in cap relief.
If both returned at the end of October, by the time both Tavares and Liljegren returned to the lineup, it would not surprise us if there were other injuries and other players who could be placed on LTIR.
LTIR Exists For a Reason, Will the Maple Leafs Utilize It?
Injuries are obviously not the best way to solve salary-cap issues. An injury means that players who could help the team are out of the lineup. However, the LTIR is there to help teams manage injuries that occur by allowing the organization to use its own players to cover for the injured player. It isn’t perfect, but it helps put a proverbial band-aid on the problem.
If the Maple Leafs had their way, they would not have to be considering the application of LTIR rules. Both Tavares and Liljegren would be in the team’s lineup.
However, in this case, the LTIR offers Maple Leafs’ general manager Kyle Dubas a possible way to cover for these two injuries and allow the Maple Leafs to engage in some player assessment at the same time. Using the LTIR would enable the Maple Leafs to kick roster decisions down the road even further.
Will the Maple Leafs utilize this option?
[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.]
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