The Toronto Maple Leafs have placed Milan Michalek on waivers as of noon Monday and claimed Ben Smith from the Colorado Avalanche.
Instead of rotating in previous waiver claim Seth Griffith, the Leafs have decided to bring in Smith, who spent some time with the team last season following the trade with the Sharks that sent Roman Polak the other way at the deadline. Based on the practice lines, Connor Brown is going to move up the lineup into Michalek’s place alongside Nazem Kadri and Leo Komarov, while Smith will likely plug in on the right wing of the fourth line in Brown’s place.
Babcock’s thinking on adding Smith instead of playing Griffith, for now, appears to be based around the penalty kill. Smith played 14:26 on average in his 16 games with the team last season (two goals, six points) while playing over two minutes a game in a penalty killing role. Michalek was playing a small part on the PK (1:05 a game), so Smith will be added to the rotation in his place and could play more minutes in the role. Babcock likes that he’s a right-shot who can take some draws there:
Babcock says Ben Smith fills "niche" for Leafs; PKer who can take face-offs
Hyman, Komarov on top PK tandem, neither comfortable in circle
— Mark Masters (@markhmasters) October 24, 2016
Smith was a 56.5% on the faceoff dot in his 16 games with the Leafs last season.
The move comes on the heels of a poor performance by the Nazem Kadri line against Chicago’s top lines — they were outpossessed heavily, Kadri was a -3, Komarov was a -3, and Michalek was a -2. The line will benefit from the addition of a sparkplug like Brown. He can add some speed and offensive ability in the place of Michalek, who has been behind the pace in his five games so far. A few brief half-shifts in which Komarov and Brown shared the ice gave a few flashes of how effective those two can be together from a forechecking standpoint, which should help keep the other team’s best lines in their own zone rather than the one-and-done efforts we’ve seen from the line in the past few games.
Previously a line of three left-handed shots, Brown also adds a right-hander to the right wing and allows Komarov to switch to the left side. It should help that Kadri can send and receive passes to and from his right winger’s forehand.
Whether this hurts the fourth line, which has been a positive development in the young season, remains to be seen. It looks like Holland will now skate in between Matt Martin and Ben Smith starting Tuesday vs. Tampa Bay. Griffith remains an option as a member of the active roster, while Josh Leivo is still on IR.
The addition of Smith takes the Leafs 49 Standard Player Contracts, one below the limit. If Michalek goes down to the Marlies, the Leafs will save $950,000 of Michalek’s $4,000,000 cap hit while adding Ben Smith’s $675,000 — a difference of $275,000 in cap space gained, or $255,000 prorated for the rest of the season.
The 28-year-old Smith is a UFA at season’s end.
Babcock says Ben Smith adds to penalty killing depth for the Leafs
— Pierre LeBrun (@PierreVLeBrun) October 24, 2016
Toronto Maple Leafs Projected Lines vs. Tampa Bay Lightning (Oct. 25)
Leo Komarov – Nazem Kadri – Connor Brown
van Riemsdyk – Tyler Bozak – Mitch Marner
Zach Hyman – Auston Matthews – William Nylander
Matt Martin – Peter Holland – Ben Smith
Scratched: Seth Griffith
Injured: Josh Leivo
Morgan Rielly – Connor Carrick
Jake Gardiner – Roman Polak
Matt Hunwick – Nikita Zaitsev
Scratched: Frank Corrado, Martin Marincin