The Toronto Maple Leafs are in an interesting predicament this season by having an abundance of NHL calibre forwards. This is a good problem to have because it gives management a variation of options with the roster while also creating competition for the few open roster spots.
Unfortunately, with limit spots on the team, it means that a few players will need to be traded or else accept their relegation to the AHL. A trade should be expected just based on the number of players competing for spots, but who won’t make the cut?
Sorting the Forwards
Choosing which forwards make the cut will be difficult to decide when most of them deserve a spot. So to get a sense of who could realistically make the team we need to look at the Leafs Training Camp and all the players that have yet to be cut or sent down to the minors.
Based on the players that are sure to make the team we can narrow it down to only two open spots for eight players to battle over.
Veteran players like Tyler Bozak, Nazem Kadri, James van Riemsdyk, Leo Komarov and Matt Martin are unquestionably going to be on the team. Young prospects like Auston Matthews, William Nylander, and Mitch Marner could potentially miss the cut for the Leafs, but they are far too skilled for that to ever realistically happen.
Now some might think that Milan Michalek and Brooks Laich are too old to compete with the younger players vying for spots. But based on management’s desire to have older veterans mentor the young players, it’s likely that they will both be in the lineup. They both could be traded, but it’s more likely for them to be traded at the trade deadline as opposed to before the start of the season.
So with only two spots open, that leaves eight players to compete for the remaining spots. Nikita Soshnikov will probably start the season with the Toronto Marlies since it looks like he will miss the beginning of the season due to a lower-body injury.
Connor Brown, Kerby Rychel and Zach Hyman look to be headed for the Marlies unless they can manage to out-perform one of the veterans. They will be the first to see ice-time with the Leafs once the team starts to deal with injuries over the course of the season.
Forwards to Trade
So after sorting the forwards, it narrows the list down to four forwards that could be traded. Now there is the possibility that coach Mike Babcock has a few players that he could rotate every few games, but if that’s the case, then it’s more likely that some of the younger players fill that role as opposed to these four players.
Colin Greening is the biggest question mark of the four players because he actually had a good season last year with the Leafs. Greening was acquired in the Dion Phaneuf trade as a salary dump, but due to injuries, ended up playing with Nylander at the end of the season. Posting 15 points in 30 games with the Leafs was a surprise since expectations for him were so low.
That level of production could easily be a result of playing with Nylander, but if it was, then we could see Greening get another chance and play with Nylander to start the year. Greening looks the least likely to be traded right now when it would make more sense to wait until the trade deadline.
Byron Froese probably wouldn’t have gotten to play 56 games with the Leafs last season if Babcock wasn’t the coach. Babcock has a history of relying on certain players that others wouldn’t have kept around as long, like Daniel Cleary.
Froese was anchoring the Leafs fourth line for most of the 2015-16 season, which was fine when the Leafs had so many injuries. But now that there is an abundance of players at forward, it would be surprising to see Froese suit up for the Leafs again.
Froese will probably just be sent down to the Marlies, but with his time with the Leafs at an inevitable end, it would be best if he was moved.
This is the crucial year in Josh Leivo’s NHL career. After spending four seasons with the Marlies, it’s time for Leivo to make the jump to the NHL. In 12 games with the Leafs last year, Leivo had no assists but netted five goals.
That’s not enough to make him an easy choice for the roster spot, but with those goals, he showed that he has a shot that is NHL calibre and that he knows where to position himself around the net.
Leivo was great with the Marlies last season putting up 48 points in 51 games, but the challenge now is to transition that scoring ability up to the NHL. If he can’t make the Leafs, then a trade is almost certain to happen.
If there weren’t so many players competing for spots, then Peter Holland would unquestionably be on the team. He has a versatility, which means he could play on almost any NHL team; whether on the fourth-line or third-line in a defensive role, or even contributing with some points.
Holland put up 27 points in 65 games with the Leafs last season and 25 points in 62 games in 2014-15. There isn’t much more to expect from Holland, as it looks like he’s at his peak. Holland will likely start the season in the 11th or 12th forward spot, but with all the young players with the Marlies, it looks unlikely for Holland to be with the Leafs beyond this season.
To stay with the Leafs he would need to step up his game and show how invaluable he is to the team.
So which players would you have in the Leafs lineup and who would you trade?
Toronto Maple Leafs contributor for The Hockey Writers.
I’ve been a fan of the Toronto Maple Leafs since I was a kid and have always had an interest in writing. At The Hockey Writers, I get to enjoy both of my passions as well as writing about small convoluted details in player contracts and stats.