Lupul uncertainty affecting Maple Leafs’ final roster decisions

Shawn McKenzie and Chris Johnston discuss who will be sent down from the Toronto Maple Leafs blue line.

TORONTO – At minimum, it’s a nuisance.

In the worst-case scenario? Well, the Toronto Maple Leafs would enter this season with very little wiggle room under the $75-million salary cap.

Seemingly still to be resolved along with the team’s final cuts is whether Joffrey Lupul’s $5.25-million cap hit is eligible to be placed on long-term injured reserve once the new season opens.

"I know as much as you do," Leafs GM Lou Lamoriello said Monday, before adding a cryptic qualifier: "As far as his status, his status is the same unless something different develops."

All we know for sure is that the NHL asked Lupul to undergo an independent medical examination after he failed a physical with Leafs doctors before training camp. Of course, this also came after the 33-year-old winger publicly cast aspersions on the process in a comment posted to his Instagram account.

The results of that second physical, or even if Lupul has in fact undergone it, remained a mystery with Toronto needing to submit its cap-compliant 23-man roster by a 5 p.m. ET deadline on Tuesday.

"Still no update," deputy commissioner Bill Daly wrote Monday afternoon in an email.

It looms as a significant decision for the Leafs.

Their potential cap picture looks quite different with and without Lupul on LTIR. Basically, it amounts to having money to maneuver or being pressed up against the ceiling starting opening night.

In theory, it could also dictate how they proceed with the final round of cuts on Tuesday and throughout the first few weeks of the season.

Training camp has produced very few surprises so far. For those on the bubble, the competition was decided as much by the collective bargaining agreement as what happened on the ice.

Mike Babcock acknowledged as much back on Day 1 of training camp when he said, “We’re not going to do anything silly,” and, in the end, they didn’t.

There was a common thread among the most notable names assigned to the American Hockey League on Monday morning.

Travis Dermott, Kasperi Kapanen, Nikita Soshnikov and Miro Aaltonen didn’t require waivers to be sent to the Marlies.

With only low-leverage spots truly up for grabs in camp – fourth-line centre, No. 6 defenceman, etc. – the Leafs opted to prioritize asset management. This is an organization with designs on playing well into the spring so the depth will be necessary.

Keeping any of the players mentioned above would have required exposing a more proven commodity to the waiver wire. Even though you can usually sneak guys through before opening night, it’s not a guarantee.

Aaltonen had a strong camp, but it wasn’t enough to supplant Eric Fehr, Dominic Moore or Josh Leivo. Kapanen is unquestionably an NHL-calibre player but … you get the point.

Want to livestream 56 Leafs games this season? See how you can stream this + over 300 regular season NHL games with Sportsnet NOW.

The Leafs have at least three decisions to make before Tuesday’s roster deadline:

1) Will Andreas Borgman or Calle Rosén stick around for opening night in Winnipeg? The left-shot Swedish defencemen can both be sent directly to the AHL, with Martin Marincin needing waivers. There are only two jobs available for those three men. Borgman appears to have the inside edge after being paired with Connor Carrick for Monday’s practice.

2) Will Roman Polak be released from his PTO or choose to stick around as a practice player? Lamoriello made it clear that the veteran defenceman is not going to be offered a contract right away.

3) Where will first-rounder Timothy Liljegren end up? He’s eligible to be sent to the Marlies, Rogle BK back in Sweden or even the Canadian Hockey League. A decision hadn’t been finalized as of Monday.

When you factor in the uncertain Lupul situation, there’s quite a few balls still in the air.

Overall, this camp was a reminder of how far the Leafs have travelled in a relatively short period of time. Babcock has remarked that they used to just give jobs away – Mark Arcobello, a late-career Brad Boyes and Nick Spaling were part of the opening night roster two seasons ago – but numbers should be a problem moving forward.

It’s a good one to have.

The opening night roster is basically just a snapshot in time. There will be changes and potentially quite quickly.

"The beauty of the NHL is you’ve got a minor-league team," said Babcock. "You can send guys down, you can bring guys up, you can do lots of things here. It’s not the end of the world if you don’t get it right the first day.

"And just because you get it right the first day doesn’t mean it’s right 10 games in. So we’ll figure it out."

•••

A look at the Leafs projected lineup for Wednesday’s opener at Winnipeg:

Hyman-Matthews-Nylander
Marleau-Kadri-Komarov
van Riemsdyk-Bozak-Marner
Martin-Moore-Brown

Rielly-Hainsey
Gardiner-Zaitsev
Borgman-Carrick

Andersen
McElhinney

Scratches: Fehr, Leivo, Marincin.