At the conclusion of a 2-1-0 opening week, the Toronto Maple Leafs have made their first sequence of roster transactions in the regular season, placing goaltender Aaron Dell and forward Jason Spezza on waivers this afternoon.
Aaron Dell (TOR) and Jason Spezza (TOR) are among those on NHL waivers today.
— Chris Johnston (@reporterchris) January 17, 2021
The names in question may come as a surprise to some, but to others, they were a bit of an inevitability. Dell in particular was a matter of “when”, not “if”, with most expecting him to be on the wire either just before opening night or in the days prior.
Toronto’s hopes were that the bottom end of the goaltending market would sort itself out in time for them to be able to sneak Dell, who was signed in the fall to a lower-than-expected 1-year, $800,000 contract, through the wire. However, in the last six days, we’ve seen:
- Anton Forsberg was claimed by Carolina, from Edmonton
- Eric Comrie was claimed by New Jersey, from Winnipeg
- Anton Forsberg was claimed again, by Winnipeg, from Carolina
- Troy Grosenick was claimed by Edmonton, from Los Angeles
These four claims make up a little under half of the total waiver claims since training camps opened. Poking around the league, there are plenty of teams that could make room for a netminder like Dell to be their backup, or even their 1B – including the most obvious, and less quarantine-concerned option in the Edmonton Oilers. With Mike Smith going on Long-Term IR, I would be floored if they didn’t take advantage of the chance to get Dell, who would be an upgrade on Smith anyway, into their lineup. That is, of course, if they can even get there first – they’re 19th on the priority list.
The Leafs will be doing cartwheels if he clears, but I would assume he’s gone.
On the other hand, you have Jason Spezza, who is the bigger and more beloved name to fans but is likely in the opposite wing of concern. In his case, despite the value he still offers at $700,000, it’s pretty well known to most that he has no interest in playing anywhere else but Toronto. Skaters are less prone to being claimed in this market, especially this year, and I have to imagine that most teams know where his priorities lie.
A recent comparable to point at would be Corey Perry in Montreal, who also signed a near-minimum contract ($750,000) with Montreal, and passed through waivers without issue six days ago.
So, I’d bet that Spezza clears, and I’d bet this changes very little for the Leafs. Both of these moves are salary cap measures, and ones that will be of more significance now that Nick Robertson suffered a knee injury that will leave him out for “some time“. The goal for Spezza here is to buy a month where his nights off – an occasional rotation the Leafs were already doing with him last year – can have some cap flexibility, by sending him to the Taxi Squad (which operates like a pseudo-AHL from a cap perspective) rather than as a Healthy Scratch (where he would still accrue cap cost). They will have 30 days or 10 games played before they have to repeat this process with him – a process that I would not be surprised to see many teams do with their veterans this year with a bit of a “wink-wink” understanding between the various GMs.
All this is to say – don’t be shocked if Spezza not only clears, but even still plays on Monday against Winnipeg. As for Dell, if this is the end of the road for him in Toronto, we’ll always have the Blue and White Game.