The Toronto Maple Leafs lost the services of forward Keith Aucoin on Thursday, when he was picked up by the New York Islanders off of waivers. Jokingly mourned about online, Aucoin’s departure comes less than six months after then-GM Brian Burke signed the veteran to bolster the AHL Marlies. His acquisition by the Islanders marks the Leafs first loss to the roster due to waiver eligibility, but it probably won’t be the last.
Indeed, both the Leafs and the Marlies seem poised to lose some assets, all because timing is everything. And because the Lockout has far reaching effects that we’re still learning about.
The Leafs need to cut down to a 23-man roster by 3:00pm this afternoon. The forwards are mostly set, but the defense remains in need of trimming. The Leafs already have five spots on the back end filled between Dion Phaneuf, Carl Gunnarsson, Cody Franson, John Michael Liles and Mike Komisarek. Jake Gardiner will bring the number to six when he returns from his concussion, meaning that there are four defenders battling for as many for two depth spots; Marlies call-ups Mike Kostka, Mark Fraser and Korbinian and top prospect Morgan Rielly. Of the four, Holzer and Rielly are waiver exempt, while Fraser and Kostka are not. And therein lies the rub.
Much noise has been made about Kostka of late. The late-blooming D-man has flourished in his brief time with Toronto, scoring 34 points in 34 games for the Marlies this season. He’s put on one hell of a show at the Ricoh, so much so that he’s almost a lock to get a depth NHL job. Elsewhere, if he can’t win out in Toronto.
He’s sure to be an attractive commodity to a team needing a cheap option on the back end that can work a power play. The irony of it all is that without the Lockout, Kostka wouldn’t have had a strong resume to make him so tantalizing a pick up. Were training camps to have been held in September, Kostka probably could have been safely sent back down to the Marlies. But now? Nonis dare not chance it.
The same can be said, to a lesser extent, of Mark Fraser, a veteran of 98 NHL games. Though not as flashy as Kostka, Fraser plays a tough nosed game that might make him attractive to teams in need of grit.
The best obvious “on paper” solution would be to send Rielly back to Moose Jaw, and Holzer to the Marlies, while keeping a hold onto Fraser and Kostka. But what if Rielly stays and sticks with the team past 5 games because he’s that good? What if Holzer wins out and can provide better bottom pairing minutes than Kostka or Fraser? It’s hard enough to ice a team and prioritize roles without having this additional variable.
Under the current the current waiver rules in the CBA, teams can be caught in a punitive catch-22, hamstrung by and beholden to the contract type of their players. For the Leafs, they have already hemorrhaged assets (without getting a fair chance to use them) in Keith Aucoin. Should they have to lose any more?
Michael Grange just wrote an article extolling the virtues of the new waiver rules in the CBA, which eliminated the vindictive process of re-entry waivers. He’s correct in the assertion that it allows teams like the Toronto Maple Leafs to bury a Connolly in the minors, and be able to bring him back if the top six is depleted by either trade or injury with no risks.
But the changes do no good in helping the Leafs sustain what little depth they have to help them compete, nor do they help sustain a winning affiliate. The NHL might have fixed this one aspect of waiver rules, but they remain a contentious and potentially disruptive force in hockey. A force that will probably be felt again soon by Toronto.
Onto the Links
Steve Burtch at PPP took an in-depth look at a new fancy statistic called “passes.” Actually looks to be a tenable playmaking measure, another in a long list that proves Mikhail Grabovski is the team’s best all-around player.
Gus Katsaros at Leafs Nation had an incredibly in-depth piece on precisely why even Mike Komisarek’s good attributes are actually bad ones.
James Mirtle and Jonas Siegel with another Leaf Report podcast. Highlights include: negative season predictions, draft chat, and rosterbation! Also, there’s like 15 seconds of dead air when Mirtle has to do some math to quantify just how awful the Buds goaltending has been since the last lockout.
SBNation has a compendium of Thursday’s waiver transactions compiled. That Tim Connolly shares space with this murder’s row of mediocrity is probably a testament to his attitude in training camp (or his good salary and middling play. Or all three). But then again, I suppose it is hard to burn the boats with the boys when you burn all your bridges first.
Filed under “good news,” the Toronto Maple Leafs have unveiled the Lupe’s Troops program. Headed by Joffrey Lupul – and continuing the tradition started by former Leaf Luke Schenn – the team will donate tickets, jerseys and concessions to every Leaf home game this season. Side note: it’s probably really good that this spirit of charity was never espoused by Hakan Loob.