A completely unsurprising bit of news via Elliotte Friedman on Hockey Night in Canada tonight: The Leafs are exploring their options to move out Nick Ritchie’s two-year, $2.5 million AAV contract.

Nick Ritchie is in the AHL right now. There is no official trade request, but everybody here understands it might be better to find him somewhere else to play. I think there has been some traction in the last few days around the league.

The thing that complicates it slightly is that he has one more year left. If, for argument’s sake, the Leafs were to buy him out, it is $300k on next year’s cap. I don’t think Toronto wants to retain anything more than that.

Depending on how this can all go and how it can all be worked out, it is believed there is some traction being gained on Ritchie around the league in clearing some room and finding him a space.

– Elliotte Friedman, February 12, 2022

Ritchie’s lack of impact — physically or on the score sheet (nine points in 32 games) — despite ample opportunity at the top of the Leafs‘ lineup needs no reminding, and he hasn’t been helped by all of the roster competition clearly surpassing him this season.

Michael Bunting has grabbed a firm hold of the top-line LW spot and not looked back; Pierre Engvall provides more value at the bottom of the lineup with his size, speed, and transition ability; regular penalty-killer and checking-line forward Ilya Mikheyev has returned from injury and found some of his scoring touch; and Alex Kerfoot brings far more versatility, 5v5 value, and special-teams utility while spending most of the season on John Tavares’ left wing.

In terms of depth options beyond the NHL roster, in addition to NHL veteran Kyle Clifford, Nick Robertson is now back healthy (and producing) at the AHL level, and Brett Seney — who has 55 games of NHL experience — has been a useful tweener piece for the Marlies. While he’s best left to develop in the AHL in his rookie pro season, Alex Steeves has emerged as a potential option in a pinch as well, not to mention Joey Anderson.

Ritchie is going to be biding his time unless/until an injury blows a hole in the lineup, and given the Leafs’ cap constraints, the best interest of all parties is clearly to find him a new home.  It makes no sense to have a $2.5 million forward on the Marlies burning $1.375 million in cap space when the team is trying to win a Cup this season and needs all the room it can get as they weigh their options in the trade market on the blue line and possibly scoring options on the left wing.

Ritchie’s contract structure doesn’t necessarily help the Leafs’ cause; his deal goes up to $3.3 million in base salary next season after earning just $1.7 million this year. If the price of offloading the contract outright is too rich in terms of trade sweeteners, a modest retention scenario is an idea worth considering for the Leafs; a buy-out of Ritchie’s deal this summer would mean $300k on the cap in 2022-23 but then $1.1 million on the books in 2023-24.