The Toronto Maple Leafs have placed Nick Ritchie on waivers just 30 games into his two-year, $2.5 million AAV contract.

Just 26 years old, Ritchie has been a disappointment so far with one goal and eight points in 30 games despite sharing the ice with Mitch Marner as his most common linemate (in fairness, he’s played with Wayne Simmonds only one second less than Marner). Outside of the lack of scoring, Ritchie hasn’t been particularly physical and didn’t manage to put his stamp on games when he wasn’t producing (which he’s barely done).

Throughout Ritchie’s struggles, the coaching staff has continually kept the message positive – at least publicly – and he has received looks on all four lines as well as on the power play when dressed. With his lack of impact and the team more or less healthy, he’s found himself outside of the top 12 forwards and now a cap casualty.

Should Ritchie clear waivers (which is expected given the extra year on his contract), the Leafs will free up $1.125 million by putting him on the taxi squad, which is the maximum amount of salary you can bury under the CBA this season.

It will be interesting to see if the Leafs send him to the Marlies to try to rebuild some of his confidence, an approach they’ve taken with other veteran NHLers with some success, such as in the case of Alex Galchenyuk or Kyle Clifford. It’ll be up to Ritchie to make the best of that opportunity and start to feel good about his game again, but considering the state of the league right now and his two-year contract, this almost certainly isn’t the last we’ve seen of Ritchie in a Leafs jersey.

Speaking of Clifford, his acquisition and generally solid play in a depth role (and Michael Bunting’s play in the top six, of course) also helps facilitate this move. Clifford provides some insurance in the form of another body capable of bringing physical play and taking a decent shift in the league – something the Leafs hoped Ritchie would provide on top of some goal production.

When fully healthy up front, this move solidifies what most of us thought the Leafs’ optimal top 12 forward group would settle into:

Bunting – Matthews – Marner
Kerfoot – Tavares – Nylander
Mikheyev – Kampf – Kase
Engvall – Spezza – Simmonds

The question for Kyle Dubas over the next three months leading up to the March 21 trade deadline: Is the forward group good enough to win a Stanley Cup, or does he need to add to it?

In the meantime, Nick Ritchie is the odd man out as the Leafs buy themselves a little extra cap room to make it all fit together.