Earlier today, the Toronto Maple Leafs swapped around Kasperi Kapanen and Frederik Gauthier. One of my first reactions to wonder whether Eric Fehr could have been a more logical option for the call-up if the reasons behind it were purely “we need a centre to play” related. It took the Leafs several days to assign Fehr to the Marlies after clearing waivers, and up until this point, he had yet to practice with the group in a team situation.
A few hours later, that concern has been answered.
— Leafs PR (@LeafsPR) November 7, 2017
On the surface, this seems like a bit of a peculiar move, but it doesn’t take much whittling down to figure out the meat of the idea from the perspectives of all parties.
Good For Fehr
As we’ve talked about at exhausting length as a media and fanbase, the Toronto Maple Leafs organization has an absolute glut of depth right now; particularly along the bubble, and especially at forward. Going into this preseason, Fehr wasn’t even expected to have much of a chance to get a roster spot, but returned from injury with the type of tenacity and compete that tends to get one of Mike Babcock’s players some serious bonus points.
It didn’t last super long, though; Fehr’s audition spilt only four games into his regular season before he hit the waiver wire in favour of siding with Dominic Moore and adding Roman Polak as an 8th defenceman. It’s one thing to ride the bubble when you’re on the positive side of it, but with Moore ahead and Miro Aaltonen, Frederik Gauthier, Chris Mueller, Colin Greening, and Ben Smith all breathing down your neck, it’s a tough place to sit.
That word “sit” is its own issue as well. Even if Fehr were to have committed to playing for the Marlies, there was zero promise that he’d get the heavy, consistent minutes that he’d need to stand out to either the Leafs in the event of injury or other teams in the event of interest. Toronto is only twelve games into the season and has just five players that haven’t been rotated out of the lineup (Smith, Greening, Mueller, Kerby Rychel, and Dmytro Timashov), and all have been mixed and matched into different lineup spots.
By going to San Diego, Fehr joins a team with its own share of forwards, but a smaller cast of on-the-cusp players. There, he’ll be able to immediately fight for regular top-six minutes in a league that he had presumably graduated from a decade ago, which should keep him on the radar of other teams.
Good For Toronto
All of this makes sense in the minds of the Leafs as well. Given the marginal difference between all the various 4th centre options, it would be in their best interest to get a couple out of the way. Outside of Moore, who is probably a lock to at least remain on the Leafs roster for a while yet, Fehr is the oldest, and likely the least willing to be a day-to-day AHLer. He also carries the most significant cap hit of the bunch, coming in at $2,000,000; about a million of which remains on the books even with him playing in the AHL, be it with Toronto, San Diego, or anybody else.
This makes him the depth forward that Toronto is most likely to want to move. Getting that extra $1.1 million off of the books as soon as possible only bolsters their budget as the trade deadline nears, so if the best way to pump him up is to let someone else take advantage of his skill set on a temporary basis, then so be it.
Good For Anaheim
As it so happens, his future home might not be terribly far from where he’s temporarily headed. The San Diego Gulls, who are coached by former Marlies bench boss Dallas Eakins and have some ex-Marlies on the roster (Sam Carrick, Spencer Abbott, and Steven Oleksy to name a few), are the AHL affiliate of the Anaheim Ducks.
If you don’t recall from Toronto’s recent game in Orange County, the Ducks are in a huge bind for centre depth right now. Their NHL depth chart lists Derek Grant, Chris Wagner, Antoine Vermette, and Dennis Rasmussen as their pivots, which is about as shallow as you’re going to get in 2017. Ryan Getzlaf is out for the next two months recovering from facial surgery, and while Ryan Kesler is progressing after hip surgery, he’s still got an ETA of late December.
The Ducks need centres badly, and while Fehr isn’t going to replace Getzlaf’s scoring, you’ll be hard-pressed to find someone that will, especially on an interim basis. The 32-year-old Manitoban is a prototypical, hard-nosed player, though, and combining that with his ability to play on the wing after the fact could be enticing to a team that loves to play tough and employs Randy Carlyle. Anaheim currently have just $600,000 in cap space to work with, but placing Getzlaf onto LTIR for a bit could provide enough relief to make a deal sooner. Alternatively, Fehr could be a piece of something bigger, should they see fit.
All Things Considered
This is a good move for all parties involved. Fehr gets an opportunity to play bigger minutes, the Leafs don’t have to worry about juggling even more depth on the Leafs and Marlies, the Gulls get a top-six forward and the Ducks might have a support player down the stretch if they think there’s a fit.
Particularly, I like that the Marlies have once again gone the loan route. It’s an avenue I floated at the beginning of the season, and they’ve since taken advantage of twice. We’ll see if any more come up throughout the year, but I doubt that there will be one that fits the bill as well as this one moving forward. The organization can only hope that this works out well for Fehr, and gives helps mend the reputation they earned in recent years for burying veterans with no hope of return.
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