TORONTO – Mike Babcock wasn’t joking when he estimated it would take about 20 games worth of roster tinkering to get things right with the Toronto Maple Leafs.
Let’s review what the organization has been up to since finalizing its opening night roster, shall we?
Day 1: Beat Winnipeg 7-2 at Bell MTS Place with backup goalie Curtis McElhinney sitting on the bench and defenceman Martin Marincin watching from the press box as a healthy scratch.
Day 2: Place Marincin on waivers.
Day 3: Send Marincin to the American Hockey League while recalling Calle Rosén; acquire goaltender Calvin Pickard in a trade with Vegas for a 2018 sixth-round pick and AHLer Tobias Lindberg – thereby putting McElhinney’s future with the Leafs in doubt.
The carousel is in full swing before Toronto has even held its home opener and there’ll probably be a couple players looking over their shoulders when they report for duty at Air Canada Centre on Saturday morning.
Babcock heavily foreshadowed this approach throughout training camp, but it’s one thing to hear about it and quite another to see it.
The Pickard trade hints at more to come. While it’s believed the Leafs were only willing to complete the transaction after the 25-year-old cleared waivers – giving them the ability to send him directly to the AHL Marlies – he doesn’t look like a candidate to stay in the minors for long.
Not only is Pickard nine years younger than McElhinney, he’s already had two seasons as a NHL backup that were statistically stronger than anything the 34-year-old has previously managed during his career.
It would be unwise to write him off as a No. 3 following a short stay with the Golden Knights and a difficult stretch playing behind an historically inept Colorado Avalanche team last season. Between that, he won a silver medal as the goalie of record for Canada at the IIHF World Hockey Championship in May.
A career .914 save percentage in 86 appearances certainly suggests that Pickard is a viable NHL option behind Frederik Andersen.
McElhinney made some big starts down the stretch for the Leafs in 2016-17, including the win over Pittsburgh that secured a playoff berth on the final weekend of the season, and signed a $1.7-million, two-year extension on July 1.
Now he’s facing the possibility of being bumped from a NHL job without even playing a meaningful game since the ink dried.
To borrow one of Babcock’s patented phrases: “The truth today isn’t always the truth tomorrow.”
Heck, the Leafs coach planned to make lineup changes following the lopsided opener in Winnipeg. Rosén will replace Andreas Borgman on the blue line, while Dominic Moore takes Eric Fehr’s spot at fourth-line centre when the New York Rangers visit Saturday night.
It won’t stop there.
The organization is bursting with more depth than its had in a decade or more – with Kasperi Kapanen and Nikita Soshnikov among those currently in the AHL and Josh Leivo sitting out as the 14th forward at the NHL level. Veteran defenceman Roman Polak also continues to skate as a practice player with the Leafs in hopes of landing another contract.
Then there are the external options.
“The right people always end up on the team,” Babcock said at the start of training camp. “Sometimes they don’t end up on the team right away.”
For now, the Leafs will try to get a little closer to being who they want to be with each passing day.