Making Sense of The Toronto Maple Leafs Press Box Conundrum

The Toronto Maple Leafs have an abundance of forwards. Here’s what you need to know about which players will be watching and not playing in the games.

Before every game, NHL teams must submit their 23-player active roster and 20-player game roster. There are only 12 roster spots available for Toronto Maple Leafs forwards each game and six slots for defensemen. The goaltenders take the final two spots to round out the 20-man game roster.

Since only 20 men get to play in the game, it leaves three players who don’t get to touch the ice. With the Leafs signing new talent, it becomes somewhat of a challenge to predict who exactly will get to skate each game and who will be wearing a suit in a suite.

Here’s a full breakdown of who will and won’t be seen in the press box this season.

Toronto Maple Leafs Press Box  Lineup

In the past, there has been a great deal of attention paid to who doesn’t get to see game action. Cruelly, Jason Spezza was the odd man out in his first game with the Maple Leafs. Normally, that sort of coach’s decision doesn’t grab headlines but somehow Mike Babcock managed to turn it into a spectacle.

The coach managed to also embarrass former Leaf Frank Corrado in a similar fashion. The defenseman barely got the chance to play, spending almost every game under Babcock in the press box. Luckily, that same circus hasn’t existed with Sheldon Keefe at the helm. Even though it shouldn’t turn into front-page news, it’s inevitable that certain players will be healthy scratches.

In order to help figure out which players will become press box attendees, we should first eliminate those that we know will be regulars in the lineup. Assuming everyone is healthy, Auston Mattews, John Tavares, Mitch Marner, William Nylander, Alexander Kerfoot, and Ilya Mikheyev are almost all guaranteed to play.

That means the remaining forwards are Nick Ritchie,  David Kampf, Ondrej Kase, Pierre Engvall, Michael Bunting, Wayne Simmonds, Jason Spezza, Kurtis Gabriel, Michael Amadio, Adam Brooks, and Nick Robertson. There is also Josh Ho-Sang who has the potential to make the team after signing a PTO. There are just six remaining forward spots for this group of 10.

Five, most likely, since Nick Ritchie’s $2.5 million likely gets him into the lineup automatically, at least to start.

So let’s begin with Ho-Sang. Having been loaned out to play overseas last season, should he earn a contract, his most likely scenario is to begin in the AHL with the Toronto Marlies. Thanks to this logjam of talent, even though it appears as though Robertson is ready to be a full-time NHLer, he could will also likely begin the season with the Marlies.  This, however, entirely depends on training camp since, logically, the point of having so many borderline NHL players is to pit them against each other and let the hungriest players onto the team.

Unfortunately for both Amadio and Brooks, they too are probably headed to the minors. The 25-year-olds could each get their chance in the NHL this year but that may only come should injuries plague Leafs.

Kase’s situation is different from the rest. He missed almost the entirety of last season due to a concussion he suffered on Jan. 16. It took the right-winger until one of the last games of the season in May to get back into the Boston Bruins lineup. Unfortunately, he didn’t even finish that contest. He was knocked out of it after Adam Pelech of the New York Islanders leveled him with an open-ice hit.

Kase should become one of the three players the Leafs designate to sit out once he’s healthy. The 25-year-old right-winger can become a valuable member of the club. He even has a 20 goal season under his belt. In 2018, Kase played 66 regular-season games as a top-six forward for the Anaheim Ducks. He notched 20 goals and18 assists while going +18. Given, the opportunity, the Maple Leafs would be thrilled if he could replicate that level of production.

With Kase designated for the press box, that leaves two more scratches to find.

Bunting and Kampf were two of the Leafs recent UFA signings. They each should have a specific role with the team. Bunting has the potential to add secondary scoring, while Kampf’s two-way play and faceoff skills will be utilized regularly. Factor the pair in on the NHL roster.

There is no guarantee for either of the NHL veterans, Simmonds and Spezza, that their roster spot is safe. However, Keefe has only demonstrated respect for the pair in the past. They should be given the opportunity to start in the NHL. While either one could find themselves in the press box during the season, it would likely be as a move to help them refresh and recharge and not because they lost their slotting. Further, at this point, Engvall appears to be the right match to play with both Simmonds and Spezza. Together, the trio could very well makeup the team’s fourth line.

That just leaves Kurtis Gabriel. The 28-year-old right-winger who played his minor hockey in Markham, Ontario, came to Toronto on a one-year deal worth $750k. His role could be to fill in for resting or injured players but he will likely be watching most games from high above the ice.

Last season, Gabriel was with the San Jose Sharks organization. He competed in 11 NHL games for the Sharks where he averaged 7 minutes and 40 seconds of ice time. Opponents literally felt his impact. He threw a total of 46 hits. He also blocked 10 shots.

Additionally, Gabriel played two games for the Sharks AHL affiliate, the San Jose Barracuda a year ago. He made the most of that assignment by registering two goals and an assist to go along with 11 penalty minutes. When Gabriel gets tapped to play for the Leafs this season, even though he isn’t much of a scoring threat, he does have the capability.

The Defenseman in the Toronto Maple Leafs Press Box

There is less of a need to concentrate on the Toronto Maple Leafs blueline because there are very few questions to be answered. Pairings may get juggled but those players shouldn’t be concerned about losing their spot to anyone.

There are two defensemen who will likely start the season without an NHL position but could be eyeing one down the line. They are Timothy Liljegren and Alex Biega. Liljegren will likely start in the AHL and be the first to get an NHL call-up when the opportunity arises. Biega, on the other hand, may become very good friends with Gabriel and Kase.

Expect Biega to be the third player to be regularly scratched from the lineup. The 33-year-old Harvard alumnus has played parts of seven seasons in the NHL for the Vancouver Canucks and Detroit Red Wings. Last year he played in 13 games for the Red Wings. He played an average of 10 minutes and 40 seconds per night with unimpressive possession metrics. His Corsi-For rating at 5-on-5 was 41.4 which was -1.9 relative to his team. (stats from naturalstattrick.com).

It is always a good sign when there are so many great athletes in a team’s system that choosing three of them is difficult. For the Toronto Maple Leafs, it’s a good problem to have.