For teams around the league looking at depth additions down the stretch, big bodies, playoff experience and penalty killing ability are often in high demand. The Maple Leafs, who find themselves in the thick of a playoff race much earlier than expected in their rebuild, may have to look no further than their AHL squad to find some bottom-six depth if injuries should come into play.
The team has recently lost Mitch Marner for an indefinite period, and have had an almost clean bill of health all season. If they find themselves in a position to add some of that NHL experience, their Marlies team in the AHL already has a few names that might be familiar. Brooks Laich, Colin Greening and Milan Michalek have been with the minor league squad for almost the entire season, and though their goal-scoring days might be behind them, they could still provide a boost in a bottom-six role.
Laich was acquired from the Washington Capitals last season in a salary dump, and has six points in 21 games for the Marlies this season. He’s taken on a leadership role among the young team, understanding that the development of prospects is more important to the club than his ice time. He has lost a step from his 50+ point days in Washington, but has the work-ethic and defensive responsibility to help a fourth line somewhere. His versatility at center and wing is important to consider, as is the fact that he’s an unrestricted free agent this summer. In a recent piece from Joshua Kloke of The Athletic (subscription required), he quotes Laich as wanting to “pursue a Stanley Cup somewhere else” if he’s not in the Leafs NHL plans.
Michalek is a former 30-goal scorer that actually waived his no-trade clause to come to Toronto in last season’s Dion Phaneuf trade. He started the year with the NHL club, but was waived and sent down early on because of his cap-hit and the surplus of wingers on the Leafs. He’s been injured for much of the AHL season, but if he could get back to full health it’s an interesting depth option should a team need a bottom-six winger. Michalek has had a lot of penalty killing success in his career, even scoring nine short handed goals in his career.
Greening is the youngest of the trio at only 30 years old, but also has the least playoff experience. He’s also been the biggest physical presence in the past, recording over 200 hits for the Senators back in 2013-14. Another expiring contract, Greening wouldn’t cost the Leafs or an acquiring team very much for the last couple of months but would give them a big body to put on the fourth line should they need it.
Obviously none of these players are game-changers or even excellent options for an NHL squad. But with teams using draft pick and prospect currency to add role players at the deadline each year, the Maple Leafs might be in an enviable position down the stretch. As we’ve seen recently with the Senators, who have lost Mike Hoffman, Mark Stone, Bobby Ryan and Tommy Wingels in the past two days, depth is an important asset.
With their glut of young wing prospects to step into a scoring role should they lose any other top forwards, they have built some solid depth in the bottom six by just accepting bad contracts in their previous deals. While the salary cap has evened out the playing field somewhat between the rich and poor teams, the Maple Leafs have smartly used their financial muscle over the past few years in the few places that are still possible.