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Why the Leafs should look into claiming Alex Galchenyuk

“Um, I never thought I’d say this, but shouldn’t we be taking advantage of a lazy Sunday?”

Say the line, Jeff

“…I want to claim a fringe player off waivers”

Okay, now that that’s out of the way, it’s your favourite, or least favourite type of The Faceoff Circle content. Where the waiver wire comes out, someone who seems to make a moderate amount of sense for the team in the moment shows up, I argue their merits, and typically, nothing happens after that – the player clears or ends up somewhere else. Last month, it was Tyler Ennis, who was waived by the Oilers on January 25th and cleared on the 26th. The argument then was pretty simple – the Leafs had injured forwards, Elliotte Friedman thought the team was canvassing the market for a forward, and Ennis came at a low cap hit. Familiarity with the team was a plus as well.

Ennis ended up clearing, and has picked up three points in the four games he’s played with the Oilers since, seeing his ice time improve a bit too. Good for him.

Today, it’s Alex Galchenyuk, who joins a pretty deep group of players on the wire today. Paul Byron of Montreal, Par Lindholm of Boston, Danny Dekeyser of Detroit, and Gabriel Carlsson of Columbus are up for claim. In the case of those players, though, they either don’t carry much upside, or do carry a steep AAV – for example, Byron makes $3.4 million, and Dekeyser $5 million (!!). So none of them will be a topic of discussion.

Galchenyuk is a little more interesting in the sense that his cap hit meets the buriable threshold, carrying just one year at $1.05 million. This is more than many of Toronto’s depth players, but still enough that should they decide he’s not a fit and no one else wants to give him a chance, he can be sent to the taxi squad or AHL with no cap penalty. The 27-year-old was signed to this deal by the Ottawa Senators, but was traded to the Carolina Hurricanes yesterday as part of an asset-rearrangement move that sent Ryan Dzingel back to his former team, and Cedric Paquette to the Canes along with Galchenyuk.

The easiest case to be made against such a claim is that the Milwaukee-born forward was not able to create himself a role on the worst team in the league. The Senators played him in just eight games, and within those, he’s picked up just one goal, played just 9:30 per game (a career low), and put up poor metrics both in goals against (a plus/minus of -6), and shot attempt differential (a 42% Corsi).

There are reasons to believe a lot of that is an anomaly, however. For one, the Senators seem to have gone all in on DJ Smith’s image of being a grindy, hard-working team, which essentially means that any skill-based player who isn’t a young star isn’t going to be afforded much opportunity. So far this year, Galchenyuk’s primary linemates have been Derek Stepan and Auston Watson, with little time spent with more offensively-driven talents: 17 minutes with Evgenii Dadonov, one minute with Tim Stutlze, and just four seconds with Brady Tkachuk. The goal differential side of things feels like misfortune as well; the Senators have shot at 0% (!!) with him on the ice at even strength (career average: 8.1%), while stopping picks at a 0.844 rate (career average: 0.910). Lastly, The Senators are starting him in the offensive zone just 43% of the time (career average: 59%), and in the defensive zone 57% of the time (career average: 41%). He’s been afforded just 12 minutes of powerplay time as well.

None of this really makes sense for an offensively-driven player like Galchenyuk has shown himself that he can be. Heading into this season, the 2012 third overall pick had picked up 320 points in 549 career games – a rate of about 48 points every 82 games, which is pretty good for a player who has averaged 15 minutes per game of ice time. Even last year, where he split time between Pittsburgh and Minnesota in what was widely agreed to be a disappointing run, he still produced at a 33 point clip while averaging 12 minutes per game. While he hasn’t lived up to his career expectations, and he hasn’t shown the play-driving ability to carry his own upper-half line, there is still something to the thought that he could be a useful complimentary player to a line of drivers, or a scorer on an offensively driven sheltered line. Toronto’s current roster construction gives them the ability to offer him either option – flanking the Matthews/Marner or Tavares/Nylander duos in a best case scenario, or adding more scoring talent to the Spezza line at worst.

As far as need goes, Toronto’s circumstances haven’t changed all that much compared to when we talked about Ennis. Joe Thornton is close to returning, but Wayne Simmonds is out for a while. Friedman still believes the Leafs are on the prowl for a forward with some scoring, though he thinks it’s someone specific. Should they place a claim and land Galchenyuk for free, however, it could afford them an opportunity to make an improvement without having to concede major assets or do salary cap gymnastics. Should it not work, they could be another team on his ever-growing list of stops along the way.

Admittedly, this isn’t a guarantee to work, and I’ll admit a partiality to the player – I was a big fan of Galchenyuk’s in junior and thought he was the best player in his draft class at the time. I would really like to see him succeed and there is likely a part of me trying to wedge him into a favourable position. But the spot is there for the time being, the cost is low, and this is ultimately a player that’s scored 15 goals five times, scored 30 once, picked up 50 points twice, has been sum-neutral on possession over the course of his career, and seems to be having a rough patch. If nothing else, this would be a fun buy-low to take advantage of, and if it fails, it fails. I wouldn’t blame teams for letting him clear, but there’s potential here to get extra bases if a claim hits, and I think that’s something to think about for a team who can slot him in. Toronto seems like a team that can, and I’d like to see them go for it.

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