Keefe liked the look of Marner at practice today:
“Based on his performance, doesn’t look like it’s too far away”
Dubas said the hope is Mitch will return “in coming days”
Eligible to come off IR on Wednesday (v COL) … the next game is Saturday (@ STL)
— Mark Masters (@markhmasters) December 2, 2019
Over the past five games the Leafs have successfully started making a case for their playoff chances and if that wasn’t impressive enough, they did that without the help of Mitchell Marner (Mitch for short.)
The return of Mitch Marner can only be viewed as good news, unless you are one of the players barely hanging onto a roster spot. We’ve been down this road before. When Hyman, Tavares, and Dermott were all returning the Leafs had to consider what their roster would look like with 19 skaters and 2 goaltenders, and a final decision was avoided at that time largely because of the Marner injury.
We received a small preview of what the decision would be as Martin Marincin and Nic Petan were both waived and sent down. Both would return, and Marincin has been sent down once more before he required waivers again. Nic Petan has now gone over a month without waivers, and will require them again.
Additionally there are two more things of note at the moment, that is we’re still waiting on the triumphant return of Trevor Moore, which doesn’t have the same level of fanfare attached to it as Marner’s return, and the Leafs promoted Pierre Engvall, who hasn’t looked out of place on the Leafs, but might have his fate sealed by the fact that he does not require waivers to return to the Marlies.
In short, the Leafs need to send down two players when Marner returns, and another one when Moore returns.
Things are a bit more up in the air than they were last time since a new coach means new player usage, and given the fact that Jason Spezza has thrived under Sheldon Keefe, and has become the third line center of late, he seems like a pretty safe bet to stick around.
Additionally, the Leafs are at six defensemen at the moment, so while I would love to tell you how much demoting Cody Ceci makes sense and how much joy it could potentially bring us all, I’ll spare you any of that discussion for the moment, as he’s staying put, his numbers having rebounded on the strength of the blowout game in Detroit.
Lastly, we’ll assume that Trevor Moore will return to the Leafs when he is healthy, and he won’t be demoted to the Marlies. Moore hasn’t been as solid as he was early in the season, but he hasn’t had the opportunity to play for Keefe at their new address.
That leaves Dmytro Timashov, Freddie Gauthier, Nic Petan, Nick Shore, and for arguments sake, we’ll assume that sending down Engvall isn’t a given.
Well, three of these guys, so it’s more about making the case for who stays than who is demoted.
Nic Petan has successfully cleared waivers twice this year and perhaps the best argument for sending him down again. He’s shown himself to be a peppery sparkplug who may some day show some offensive upside to go with his determination, but for now, he’s probably the easy choice to be demoted. Petan has been in the lineup for 4 out of the 5 games Keefe has coached, but that might be for the sole reason of wanting to see what they have in him before making a decision in the coming days.
Dmytro Timashov‘s story isn’t all that different from Nic Petan’s, but he has been with the Leafs since day one this year and maybe that stands for something. His production had fallen off until rebounding over the past couple of games, and despite being scratched for the first two games that Keefe coached, Timashov has held onto his spot for the past three, picking up a goal and an assist. Timashov would require waivers, and that might be enough of a reason to consider him as the 4th line LW or 13th forward.
Nick Shore seems like the odd man out. He’s at the unfortunate disadvantage of being the one guy on this list who hadn’t previously played for Sheldon Keefe, and picking up a goal in the one game he has played for Keefe doesn’t change the fact that he was given one game and only saw 5:25 minutes of ice time in it. Shore is also a bit older and it’s harder to envision him in the future of the Leafs, so cutting him makes sense, even if it does thin out the center depth. As for if Shore would get claimed, well, it depends on how many centers around the league are injured at the moment.
Freddie Gauthier is a name I will keep on floating as the right decision for demotion until I can no longer type, but the reality is, he’s probably the guy who will be staying. Keefe is very familiar with the Goat, and not only has Gauthier dressed in every game under Keefe, he’s played in every game this season. Poor shot differentials aside, Gauthier’s a safe bet to continue as a Leaf, though for the life of me, I’ll never know why. Only Nick Shore has worse numbers on the Leafs this year, and perhaps that is the reason why Gauthier is safe. Unless the Leafs act boldly and stick with Engvall. Like Shore, there is a chance that a team would claim Gauthier for center depth, and with Gauthier being younger and having a marginally better year, he has a chance of being claimed.
Pierre Engvall is the mystery box. Well that’s not fair. Pierre Engvall isn’t so much a mystery box as much as he’s already looking like the better alternative to Gauthier or Shore, and he seems to have the potential be more than that. The catch to Engvall is that he’s waivers exempt and easy to send down, therefore he probably will be demoted as the last minute transaction before Marner returns. That probably doesn’t mean he’s gone forever, it just means that we won’t see him until the next injury.
Engvall has upside that beyond just the 4C role that Gauthier or Shore will be filling and ultimately he might be given the job outright in the new year, but for the sake of quick turnaround on the roster and not having to put him on waivers 24 hours in advance to activate Marner means that he doesn’t really stand a chance on sticking with the Leafs in the moment. Which is honestly too bad.
It seems like Engvall and Shore are the locks to be sent down first with the return of Mitch Marner. When it comes to the return of Trevor Moore, that’s when the tough decision between Nic Petan and Dmytro Timashov will have to happen. While I’ll continue to make the case that the right choice is to send down Freddie Gauthier, I fully acknowledge the organization isn’t interested in my opinion, and given the poor underlying numbers, Timashov might be the better choice.
In closing, a fond farewell to the guys we won’t even notice is gone because we’re too excited about having Marner back. I hope you don’t get claimed off of waivers because depth is good, and I’m delusional enough to believe that you all could have some trade value if dealt from the AHL, but really, this is a great moment because the Leafs roster is finally optimal, the Leafs head coaching position has been upgraded, and we’re now just waiting on the Leafs to upgrade the backup goaltender position. December shows a lot of promise.