It appears, to some degree, the waiver issues prevented the Leafs from giving Morgan Rielly a five-game look, but circumstances as they are, it makes a lot more sense to send down Rielly now than risk losing Mike Kostka or Mark Fraser to waivers before they’re given a look in some NHL games. It was highly unlikely the Leafs would’ve let him stay for longer, burning a year of his ELC, so why risk assets for a teaser?
From here, Rielly returns to a Moose Jaw team that is dead last in the WHL’s Eastern Conference. After he plays out the remaining thirty five games for the Warriors, Rielly will be able to join the Marlies for their playoff run on an Amateur Tryout deal. It’s a ways away but the Marlies will probably be happy for the help as they’ve lost a number of defencemen and their PP units stand to take a hit in particular. Jake Gardiner and point-a-game Mike Kostka are unlikely to return, with the latter either making the Leafs or being subject to waivers.
It seems likely the Leafs will enter the season carrying nine defencemen: Phaneuf, Gunnarsson, Liles, Gardiner, Komisarek, Franson, Fraser, Kostka and Holzer. Kostka will be pushing Franson for his spot and likewise for Fraser on Komisarek once Gardiner returns. It sounds like, with Gardiner all but ruled out for tomorrow, Fraser may get a last pairing spot on opening night, at least that’s according to Cox. Obviously, something will have to give here in terms of player movement sooner than later, as the Leafs will likely give Gardiner non-roster status for now to fit everyone in under the limit. Korbinian Holzer is waiver exempt, adding an extra challenge for him in trying to stick (he does have the benefit of a one-way contract if he returns to the Marlies).
The Leafs also have excess forwards kicking around, and it’s here you can see why Frattin and Kadri were pitted against one another for a spot due to their waiver-exempt status. Frattin was sent down to the Marlies today, but hopefully isn’t in the AHL for long. He’s 25 and doesn’t stand to gain much down there. Carlyle may just have to count his chickens before he can find a place in the top nine for him.
As for Tim Connolly, I’d imagine the Leafs will begin to explore trade options now that he’s cleared waivers. It may seem strange that he could pass through the waiver wire, and then have a team interested in trading for him. But the trade route does offer the possibility of the Leafs retaining some of his salary, which for many teams is the bigger issue than his expiring hit underneath a current 70.2 million cap.
If a deal can’t be worked out, which also seems possible, Connolly can return to the NHL with impunity as re-entry waivers have been eliminated from the rulebook. He would be in the Leafs’ backpocket if a top sixer goes down to injury.
We’re looking at something along these lines for the opening night lineup:
Lupul – Bozak – Kessel
MacArthur – Grabovski – Kulemin
JvR – Kadri – Komarov
Orr/Steckel – McClement – Brown
Phaneuf – Gunnarsson
Liles – Komisarek
Franson – Fraser/Kostka
I’d guess the PK forward units will be comprised of combinations of McClement, Brown, Steckel, Komarov.
Expect the PP defensive pairings to be Phaneuf – Liles, Franson – Gunnarsson/Kostka until Gardiner returns.