The Toronto Maple Leafs’ goaltending depth looks a little bit lighter on Monday afternoon, as the New Jersey Devils claimed Aaron Dell off the waiver wire in a situation that Toronto had tried hard to avoid, but ultimately knew to be inevitable.
New Jersey claims Aaron Dell off waivers from Toronto.
— Chris Johnston (@reporterchris) January 18, 2021
The Maple Leafs signed Dell on October 13th to a 1-year, $800,000 contract that at the time seemed too good to be true. After all, the 31-year-old had been a dependable backup in San Jose for most of the prior four seasons, posting a 0.908 save percentage over 107 games. He remained on the market a few days into free agency, and Toronto pounced on the opportunity to get a cheap, yet premium third string goaltender.
The hope was that the waiver market would be even calmer this year than it usually is, and that gamble wasn’t unreasonable to make. However, early season injuries and second thoughts did kick in for a few teams, leaving Toronto in a tough spot that they tried to soften with a few extra days of patience.
Unfortunately for the Leafs, New Jersey’s early-season goaltending issue was not one that was going to be solved with a few days of patience. They lost Corey Crawford before the season started, as he opted to retire on January 9th. They did claim Eric Comrie off waivers via Winnipeg three days later, but the 25-year old is much less proven at the NHL level, with just eight games played and a 0.868 save percentage. Dell will undoubtedly get legitimate backup to low 1B minutes behind Mackenzie Blackwood, meaning a much improved role for him. In that respect, one should be happy for him. In the meantime, Michael Hutchinson becomes the third-stringer for the Maple Leafs – he cleared waivers weeks ago, so he is not prone to the same concerns.
On a more positive note, Jason Spezza cleared waivers, which was a predictable outcome, especially with the whole “threat of retirement if claimed” thing that came from his agent in the afternoon. As I mentioned yesterday, this changes very little for him – it won’t even take him out of the lineup tonight – it just allows the Leafs to assign him to the taxi squad on his rest nights, saving them cap space.
Head coach Sheldon Keefe gave an update on Nick Robertson this morning, saying that the winger’s MRI came out better than expected, and they expect him to miss four weeks. Robertson suffered a knee injury on Saturday against the Senators.
Heading into tonight’s game against Winnipeg, Mikko Lehtonen will be given his first NHL opportunity. Toronto will run an 11 forward, 7 defenceman lineup to make this work, meaning that Lehtonen is taking Robertson’s spot rather than knocking a healthy player out of the lineup. Adam Brooks was prepared to play in the event that a team did claim Jason Spezza, but that will not be necessary.
I’m typically not a fan of the 11-7 formation, but it does serve its purpose, especially against a team build like the Jets. Winnipeg are, in a lot of ways, what people claim the Leafs are – a lot of forward talent, and very few safe bets on the blue line. It may be in the Leafs’ interest to manage the minutes of their defenders to shut down those forwards, while loading up their top talent for extra minutes to overwhelm the defence. We’ll see if that’s the plan, or if this is just a measure of the moment, so to speak.