The Toronto Maple Leafs have some interesting decisions to make in the upcoming weeks. Ones that could determine the fate of a couple players on this team, or leave things relatively status quo for everyone. The latter option would likely be the least popular move, and the least effective for the team moving forward.
We're talking about the situation on the blue line, as Mike Babcock awaits the return of Nikita Zaitsev - the defenseman is still nursing a broken foot, and he likely won't be back until the end of the month.
In his absence, Roman Polak's usage has been accentuated, while Travis Dermott, Connor Carrick, and Andreas Borgman rotate on the bottom pairing, with one of the three spending time in the press box at different times.
The tricky part comes when Zaitsev returns. The Leafs are currently working with a full roster, that is, they have 23 players up - the maximum allowed by the National Hockey League.
When Zaitsev is ready to go, he will slot back into the team's top 4, and one player will have to go back to the Toronto Marlies in the American Hockey League.
The question is - who? The fringe defenseman - Carrick, Dermott, Borgman, and Polak - are split into two groups. Waiver-eligible, and waiver-exempt.
Dermott and Borgman can freely be sent down to the Marlies, consequence free. Polak and Carrick would have to pass through waivers, so if Babcock decides he's had enough of one of them, their name will end up on the waiver wire.
Sending one of Dermott or Borgman down wouldn't actually be consequence free, as they have both been playing well, better than their counterparts if you ask anyone not named Mike Babcock.
Polak has been relied upon to play on the penalty kill despite it being proven that he doesn't actually help it, certainly not when he ends up in the penalty box himself. That happens at an alarming rate.
It's very unlikely Babcock sends Polak down. But what about Carrick?
He's young, but he's having a poor season, and could become the odd man out if Babcock decides based on performance, and not contractual issues.
The Athletic's James Mirtle outlines what is probably the best, and most likely outcome.
"Carrick has had a poor season, but it would be foolish to waive him at this point," Mirtle says.
"If you send Borgman down, that makes Dermott an everyday player at left defence, behind Rielly and Gardiner. That's good. Then your rotation becomes between Carrick and Polak on the right side, which makes sense given both have had tough years."
Most would like to see Dermott given a permanent role, as he is one of the future studs of this team's blue line. As early as it may be, the tools are all there, and he did not disappoint in his first 3 NHL games.
That being said, if Polak or Carrick ends up on waivers, that'll be a very interesting scenario to monitor. It's unlikely Polak gets claimed, but it's hard to imagine the other 30 teams in the league pass on Carrick.
What's your suggestion for solving the puzzle that is the Leafs' defense?