The Sunday NHL waiver wire includes the names of two Leafs who dressed in last night’s lineup in Ottawa: Goaltender Aaron Dell and, somewhat surprisingly, forward Jason Spezza.

Let’s dig into the probable thinking of assistant GM Brandon Pridham and GM Kyle Dubas here.

The knee injury to Nick Robertson — said to be long-term, and he is likely LTIR bound — means Robertson will stay on the NHL roster, leaving the Leafs with 11 forwards currently and ~$820k in cap space to fill out their lineup. That’s not enough to return Alex Barabanov ($925k) to the active roster.

Third goalie Aaron Dell’s $800k, therefore, had to be waived off of the roster, but when it comes to Jason Spezza’s $700k, it appears to be a case of the Leafs opening up roster flexibility.

Note: The team will sit tight to the cap ceiling and place Robertson on LTIR this week, thus their maneuvering today/early this week. But this isn’t the same as free cap space. Using LTIR space going forward ensures the team accrues minimal cap savings, which it is prioritizing not doing this season (they would be hamstrung if they look to add during the season or at the deadline). The Leafs will want to get under the $81.5 million cap ceiling and continue accruing once Robertson is on LTIR.

If the Leafs successfully pass Spezza through waivers, it opens up the flexibility of moving him back and forth to the taxi squad and giving him rest nights off in the busiest stretches of the schedule in the next month (Spezza would be exempt for 30 days in the event that he clears).

The Leafs could give any of Travis Boyd, Adam Brooks, or Pierre Engvall (he will likely be formally called-up) some looks at the fourth-line center. Given Spezza’s age and the fact that he was a winger for the Leafs in the playoffs last August — and looked better suited there, with Engvall down the middle — some rest, rotation, and different looks are going to be desirable here.

This also provides the Leafs with the flexibility to freely move Barabanov and Spezza back and forth to the taxi squad should the Leafs want to go with a lineup of 11 forwards, 7 defensemen with Mikko Lehtonen (or Rasmus Sandin) in on defense.

The calculation here is that Spezza won’t be claimed, especially knowing the 19-year veteran’s desire to retire as a Leaf. In the Covid-era with a young family in Toronto, reports indicate Spezza would not even report to another team, and that’s something an interested team — if there is one — likely would do their due diligence on.

From the outside looking in, it may appear a little disrespectful to an esteemed veteran, but it’s very likely this has all been communicated to Spezza and he knows the deal here. If he wants any rest nights, and if the Leafs want to experiment with different fourth-line or 11F/7D looks while maximizing their cap savings, it was a necessary move.

Aaron Dell seems to be the more likely candidate to be claimed by a team with the need and space to add an extra goalie to their roster (LA, Edmonton, New Jersey are possibilities; of these teams, the Kings have first shot at him, the Devils second, Edmonton last). With the Leafs cap situation, the third goalie was always going to be a luxury the team was in tough to afford for the duration of the year with these kinds of eventualities such as the injury situation to Robertson.

Spezza has played a limited role at 5v5 for the Leafs so far this season, but he has contributed on faceoffs (winning 10 of 10 last night vs. Ottawa) and plays a secondary role on both the penalty kill and power play.

We’ll have confirmation by Noon on Monday if he will remain a Leaf.