TORONTO – These are the dangers of walking the salary cap tightrope.
“This is an unfortunate situation, but it’s a good opportunity for him,” Alexander Kerfoot said of his surprise temporary teammate.
Petr Mrazek suffered a groin injury midway through Thursday’s loss in Ottawa and will miss an undetermined amount of time.
Mrazek’s injury requires further assessment, but coach Sheldon Keefe said it does not look like he’ll need to go on long-term injury reserve, which requires players to miss 10 games and 24 days.
Because the Leafs are so tight to the cap ceiling, they do not have the space to immediately recall an AHL goaltender (Michael Hutchinson) until Sunday.
Cap rules state that a team must play short at a position — in this case, goaltender, an important one — for one game before getting the necessary relief to make a recall.
Essentially, the Maple Leafs are electing to dress an amateur emergency backup instead of sending down a skater and playing with a short bench up front.
“It just comes down to the fact the flat cap has created some situations here that are a lot more difficult to manage even than they were a year ago, when we had a taxi squad and goalie emergency and all that kind of stuff,” Keefe explained.
“A lot of teams have already gone through it last season, and I suspect a lot more will this season, with the rules going back to normal and not necessarily having the COVID exemptions.”
That’s our very own Alex Bishop at @MapleLeafs morning skate! Tune in tonight!
— U of T Varsity Blues (@Varsity_Blues) October 16, 2021
Fans may remember the cap-crunched Vegas Golden Knights playing with a short bench last season.
The Maple Leafs only named 21 players to this season’s roster – not the maximum 23 – because they needed to slide salary under the $81.5-million cap.
Bishop, 24, signed a one-day amateur tryout with the Leafs so he could back up Campbell, and goalie coach Steve Briere has been getting him up to speed as best as possible.
The Richmond Hill, Ont., native and lifelong Leafs fan posted a 19-5 record with a .922 save percentage for U of T in 2019-20. The pandemic shut down varsity play for the Blues last season.
“Obviously an exciting opportunity for him, and we’re fortunate to have him here, so it’s just about enjoying the experience and relishing it,” said Kerfoot, who fired a few pucks Bishop’s way during the morning skate.
“I didn’t score any on him, so he looked pretty good.”
Complicating the Leafs’ EBUG situation is the status of Justin Holl.
The top-four defenceman is suffering cold symptoms, and Toronto is awaiting results of his PCR test.
Regardless of those results, Timothy Liljegren will make his season debut Saturday in Holl’s place, to the right of Jake Muzzin.
“He’s a skilled guy. His composure with the puck is something I’ve noticed,” T.J. Brodie said. “He’s one of those guys who can see the first pass easy and make the plays.”
Attention to Liljegren’s performance will take a back seat to eyes on Campbell’s health.
“Whether you’re a coach or a player, you don’t give much thought to the backup goaltender,” Keefe said. “It has nothing to do with what we’re trying to focus on tonight.”