A few days later than expected, the Toronto Maple Leafs have sent down recently-waived Eric Fehr to the Toronto Marlies, ahead of their Saturday afternoon game against the Laval Rocket. There was a bit of a surprise attached to it, though, as Kasperi Kapanen found his way up in Fehr’s place. 

The timing of the Fehr demotion seems a little odd at face value, but makes a bit of sense. The Marlies are loaded enough with various talent forms that a player like him isn’t an absolute necessity in the lineup at the moment, and sending him down today instead of earlier in the week saved him a bus ride to Syracuse and back that he likely wouldn’t have gotten a rep out of.

Whether or not this is a permanent assignment or a paper move is up for debate; there’d be no doubt of the former without Kapanen coming up, but with Fehr’s clearance giving him about a month where he can bounce between the two lineups, it’s possible that he remains Toronto’s 13th/14th man.

Fehr was originally projected to be waived and sent to the Marlies at the beginning of the season but avoided assignment with a hard-working training camp, finding a way to crack the lineup as a centre instead of his traditional right-wing thanks to his penalty killing ability and the hope that he could fare well at the faceoff dot. While the former played out well, he struggled at the latter, and didn’t have the play-driving ability or offensive production to compensate for it, and ended up giving his spot up to Dominic Moore, who was expected to take it in the first place.

The Kapanen call-up, though, is much more curious. James van Riemsdyk is expected to miss tonight’s game following some nagging pains from an injury suffered against the Kings earlier in the week. He did draw into their Thursday game with Carolina (I assume because he wanted to play against his brother Trevor) but skipped yesterday’s practice.

Mike Babcock mentioned afterwards that Josh Leivo was “raring” to get into the lineup, which is unsurprising. Leivo is yet to play this season, a situation that I talked about at length before the Carolina game. You would think that tonight would be his ideal chance to get into the lineup, with Van Riemsdyk being the scoring forward that the team insists that he has to replace.

But suddenly, there’s this callup, and no one is quite sure what’s happening. When Kapanen came up last year, it was also a move that got in Leivo’s supposed way, but the player he was replacing was much different. In that instance, he was playing fourth line right wing, flanking Matt Martin and Brian Boyle in lieu of Nikita Soshnikov (and Fehr, for one game). Kapanen was specifically favoured because Toronto wanted a defensive specialist on that line that could play on their penalty killing unit.

That’s not the type of player that Van Riemsdyk is. JVR is on Toronto’s most one-dimensional scoring line and spends his special teams time on the powerplay. It’s fair to argue that Toronto could use some balance and that Kapanen could give them that, but it would be incredibly unfair to give Leivo a specific goalpost to be ready for and then shift it on him.

If that’s not what they’re doing, and they just want Kapanen to be the extra body in case of emergency, I’m still not sure how that helps his development; having two skilled forwards in purgatory makes little to no sense. The only reasonable explanations here would be as follows.

  • A second player is banged up or sick. Matt Martin missed a couple of shifts against Carolina, but Babcock didn’t make much out of his status other than saying he had a brief upper body injury. Maybe he’s got some sustained pain, and if that’s the case, better safe than sorry, though there’d be a twisted irony to Martin finally drawing out of the lineup, but only after playing the best back-to-back games he’s had as a hockey player since signing with the Leafs.
  • The blender is really, really hot. Perhaps the Leafs are moving one of their wingers (Marleau, Nylander, or Komarov) to centre to push Moore out tonight, and need another winger to balance things out. Toronto didn’t have a morning skate today, so there’s no indication of lines to work with.
  • Kapanen is converting to centre and taking Moore’s spot. I’m not holding my breath on this one. Besides, if you’re going to go full crazy, move him to defence and begin fulfilling the “17 forwards and Timothy Liljegren” master plan.

Whatever the case, it’s an odd call up. I’m curious to see what tonight’s lines look like, hopefully we know the rationale soon.

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