In typical Leafs fashion, Toronto fans and media are abuzz about a player who played the bulk of his 70-game season last year on the fourth line. Yes, today is decision day for Nikita Soshnikov, and there are reasons to care about that being the case. Let’s address the situation in an FAQ-style format.

What’s the issue?

Simply put, the Leafs roster is full. Teams can only have 23 healthy players on their roster at once, and those spots are currently taken by the 20 men who will play tonight, Josh Leivo, Matt Martin, and Connor Carrick. Soshnikov will put them at 24 players, which doesn’t comply with league rules.

Why was he just on the Marlies this weekend?

Soshnikov was on a conditioning stint to help recover from long-term injury. A pair of hits by Zdeno Chara on March 20th, 2017 that included head impact led to a concussion for the then-23-year-old Russian winger and effectively ended his season. While he’s played previously this year, some issues were nagging. They appear to have cleared up now, but with so much time off, he needed to get into game action to get his legs back under him, which he did this past week in a three-game stint that was extended to five, the maximum allowed.

How did he do in his stint?

He looked stellar. No other way to say, really; the old Soshnikov, the one the Leafs brought over from the KHL a few years back and saw glimmers of at both the AHL and NHL levels, was on full display in his five-game stretch. Largely playing on the Marlies’ top line with Andreas Johnsson and either Miro Aaltonen or Ben Smith, Soshnikov put up 2 goals, 3 assists, a +5 rating, 17 shots on goal, and two penalty minutes over five games.

“It’s been nice to get my legs under me,” Soshnikov said of the stint after Sunday’s 5-2 win over the Binghamton Devils. “It helped me a lot. I’ve got to get back to that level, and we’ll see how it feels. I can’t tell you now, but hopefully, I’m in pretty good shape.”

Can they not just send him back down?

Yes and no. Two things make this a more difficult process than it appears: the waiver wire and a condition in his contract.

We’ll start with the first. Soshnikov is no longer waiver-exempt, which is why this assignment was done as a conditioning stint. In fact, he’s at the exact amount of games played that nullified his status; he had entered the season with three games of wiggle room but played that many with the Leafs before going back on IR. To assign him back to the Marlies, he’d have to clear waivers like any other player, which might be difficult with the performance he put up this past week and the reputation as a quality bang-for-buck risk that his prior seasons have attached to him.

As for the second, if the Leafs were to waive him and clear him, they have another looming risk of losing him for nothing. Soshnikov has a clause in his contract that, as of December 2017, allows for him to be loaned to a KHL team if assigned to the AHL. Soshnikov was asked if he was done with the AHL yesterday and gave a “You never know what could happen”-type response, so I lean towards it being unlikely that he has a KHL backup plan up his sleeve already, but it’s still a thing to consider.

Can they make a move not involving him?

Yes, the Leafs could move a player that is not Nikita Soshnikov out of the before the cutoff, if that’s what they find themselves needing to do. The issue with this, unfortunately, is that today is a game day, meaning that they won’t be able to make a paper move just to buy some time. A look at today’s morning skate lines shows a relatively normal Leafs lineup; Kasperi Kapanen is in, so despite his waiver-exempt status, I wouldn’t expect him to draw out. Travis Dermott is in, so he won’t slip out of the D core for a temporary assignment either.

Realistically, you’re looking at three players who could have a roster decision made for them today: Matt Martin, Josh Leivo, and Nikita Soshnikov. Leivo reportedly asked for a trade to be made if a roster spot couldn’t be found for him recently, and Martin’s time here, or at least in the lineup, appears to be all but done. So they’re names to keep an eye out for as well.

It is, of course, possible that a scratched player mysteriously gets hurt as well. Martin missed a game earlier in the year with a soreness-related ailment; some Lamoriello magic could make that “reoccur”. Some have floated the idea of a Josh Leivo conditioning stint to buy more time, though he strongly suggested last week that he’s seen about all he has to of the AHL.

Will they get much back for him?

It’s tough to say. My ideal use of Soshnikov would have been through being in a package trade to upgrade a position (my chaos deadline sends him to Edmonton), though again, it seems unlikely that Toronto will be moving roster regulars. A lack of a dominant NHL season likely means that they won’t be able to ignite a bidding war, though having parallel negotiations involving Leivo or Martin likely negates any forced-hand loss of leverage they would have had.

Odds are, we’re probably talking about a mid to late round draft pick in return, with a slight chance of a younger, waiver exempt prospect that’s a little further away from the NHL being on the table too. Ultimately, the timing is what’s going to mess them up here; if they had more opportunity to properly showcase him as the quality penalty killer and general utility player that he can be, they’d be in a more comfortable spot.

When do the decisions need to be made by?

The two key times to look at today are 12:00 PM and 5:00 PM. Noon is when the waiver wire resets, and 5 PM is when roster compliance kicks in. If Toronto were to waive Soshnikov, Leivo, or Martin, we’ll know within minutes of the first time, and if not, we’ll likely hear what the final decision is before the second.

Hopefully, they find a solution that benefits the team and whichever player sees a change of fate, though with this organization, trying to accurately guess an outcome can often be an exercise in futility.

UPDATE: What Just Happened?

So we got a temporary decision, and it is, indeed, Lou going full Lou. Soshnikov will remain on IR until the Leafs’ doctors clear him. Soshnikov did not attend practice today (easily brushed off as “well, he just played 3 in 3”), so there likely won’t be a check in today. This is, by the book, legal, as an AHL conditioning stint is technically used to determine health; the existence of games played isn’t, from an NHL sense, confirmation of it.

Is it all sorts of shady? Of course. If the Marlies cleared Soshnikov to play, the only way the Leafs doctors, who work down the street (and at the practice facility, down the hall) from each other would say otherwise is if something happened to Soshnikov on Sunday. But “shady and fits within the rules” is the Lamoriello model.

Make no mistake, this solves nothing. Toronto can’t just delay getting Soshnikov in front of a doctor until they’re ready. But it does likely buy them at least one more day to get this sorted. That, in turn, could buy them a day of a paper transaction, so it could be another few days until we see a proper move happen.

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