TORONTO – A concerted effort to carve every conceivable penny off their salary cap is preventing the Toronto Maple Leafs to dress the lineup they want.
Although the club would like to dress Timothy Liljegren Thursday against the powerful Pittsburgh Penguins — a team that has outscored Toronto 9-1 over its previous two meetings this season — temporarily demoting the emerging defenceman to the minors saves money.
General manager scooped up drafted-and-developed Leaf Adam Brooks off waivers from the Vegas Golden Knights Wednesday and thus had to send down Liljegren to make the cap picture fit. (Liljegren does not require waivers to go to the AHL.)
As a result, Leafs coach Sheldon Keefe has no decisions on whom to dress. He’ll simply roll with only 12 forwards and six defencemen on the roster, which means Travis Dermott draws in for Liljegren.
“That’s a Kyle decision,” Keefe said. “I’m told these are the guys we have available for the game tonight, and it’s a good chance for us to get Travis Dermott in. He’s someone I wanted to get back in anyway.”
Dermott has fallen to seventh position on the blueline’s depth chart and was a healthy scratch the past two games.
“Anytime that's the case, you hope the guy will step in and recognize an opportunity has come available and take advantage of it. That's really what you're looking for. It’s not the first time that he's had to take some time off and reflect,” Keefe said.
“We expect he’s going to bring some extra energy tonight.”
The coach is inclined to reshuffle his defensive pairings (i.e., not simply slide Dermott to the right of Rasmus Sandin) to get a fresh look and better deal with the Penguins’ relentless top nine forwards.
“I want to try some different things,” Keefe said.
On Thursday, Brooks was waived again and could call Liljegren back up before long. His cap hit ($725,000) is slightly more favourable than Liljegren’s ($863,333), saving Dubas a few extra dollars to go shopping by the March 21 trade deadline if he doesn't get claimed.
Brooks is also on injured reserve with an undisclosed ailment and a timeline for his return has not yet been provided.
Every dollar counts.
Toronto’s cap crunch forced the club to lose Brooks on waivers (to Montreal) back in October. Riding that thin line between AHLer and NHLer, he was later transferred to Vegas before coming back to the city that developed him.
“The idea behind it is, we didn't want to lose him initially,” Keefe said. “A chance to bring him back was intriguing, especially when you look at what we've gone through for this season, in particular with our centre depth. The loss of Brooks initially, [Kirill] Semyonov and [Michael] Amadio. So, it just felt like a chance to increase our depth at that position.”
While the Maple Leafs try hard to trade cap-heavy Nick Ritchie — who scored in his first game with the Marlies Wednesday — it appears Liljegren is forced to play the waiting game.
And reclaiming Brooks, who can provide fourth-line energy, serves the forward depth well as long as he doesn't get picked up on waivers again.
“I love Brooks. He's a great kid. He's a guy that I grew really fond of,” said Jason Spezza, who has kept in touch with the affable 25-year-old. “He's a sports nerd, so we talk lots of fantasy football and different stuff throughout the year.
“He's grown up in the organization, so he's got a lot of people rooting for him here. So, to have him back is great.”